Russia: More Formalities than Realities

In his speech in Paris in 2015 President Putin acknowledged the severe consequences of global warming, a far cry from the disparaging remarks on the topic he made some years ago. But the Russian ambition for emission reductions is still low. 

By Arild Moe, FNI

Two years ago Putin announced that Russia plans to reduce emissions to 70 per cent of 1990-levels by 2030. But he also stressed the importance of forests as sinks. This was reiterated by the Russian government’s representative during the signing of the agreement on 22 April 2016: “This potential should be fully utilized – without artificial limitations”.  This is a clear indication that Russia plans to subtract absorption by sinks from GHG emissions.

A tool for monitoring and reporting of emissions which had been in the works for years was confirmed by the government in April. This is to be introduced stepwise until 2020. Some big companies have already developed inventories voluntarily.  At the same time, the financing of energy efficiency and emission reductions is slashed in the state budget. However, this should be seen in connection with the country's tight budget situation in general. Foreign donors and investors have disappeared because of the tense political atmosphere.

A government order dated 3 November 2016 presents a plan for improved government regulation of emissions. The document does not contain any concrete policy proposals, however, only a timeline for preparation of necessary documents up until 2020.

At COP23 in Marrakesh in December 2016 Russia announced that it would not reduce hydrocarbon production. It would cut emissions by energy efficiency measures, reforestation and development of nuclear and hydro energy. Russia also announced that it would not ratify the Paris Agreement until it had worked out rules for its implementation as well as analyzed its impact on the country’s economy. It has yet to submit an NDC.

There are voices in government, heard for instance at the St. Petersburg Economic  Summit, who put climate policies into a modernization and economic development discourse, arguing that it can be very dangerous for the competitiveness of Russian companies to ignore new tendencies in world economic development, including a price on carbon. At the same time there is an emerging opposition to real climate measures – notably the suggestion of a carbon tax. Several electricity generating companies warned in a letter to the prime minister in June 2016 that such a tax could spell disaster for Russian industry. Thus climate policy is being brought into the general Russian debate about economic policies and reforms.

The Russian ambition for emission reductions is low, given the still very high energy intensity of the Russian economy and the wish to include forest sinks in the calculation. Russian domestic policy initiatives and plans after Paris must be termed cautious. This also reflects the low prominence  climate policies have had on the political agenda for years.

Climate issues enjoyed some political attention as Russia at a late stage ratified and thus ‘saved’ the Kyoto Protocol. Also use of KPs flexibility mechanisms helped create a small climate lobby but since the joint implementation projects ended it has been rather quiet. In Russia’s statements at the annual COPs a recurrent theme has been the need to include all countries in a new climate compact. For this reason Russia would not participate in the second commitment period of the KP. Russian representatives have more or less explicitly pointed to China and India. With the Paris agreement this has become a moot point. Moreover, if China takes a leading role in international climate politics Russia may feel pressure from that direction to adopt a more active climate policy as political and economic relations with China have become more and more important for Russia.