Russia’s climate agenda amid Glasgow summit

The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, was held in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 to November 12, 2021.

The efforts of the conference participants were focused on 2030 emissions reduction targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century as well as on limiting the rise in temperature to 1.5ºC. To deliver on these stretching targets, the countries of the world will need to accelerate the phase-out of coal, curtail deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables. World leaders agreed to stop deforestation and cut methane emissions by 30% by the end of the decade. The strategic goal is to return the planet to the climatic state of the pre-industrial era.

The successes of this summit can hardly be called as a breakthrough. Forests were already negotiated in 2014, but since then, deforestation has only increased, as Brazil, Indonesia and other countries have to produce palm oil, cocoa beans and soybeans in the deforested areas to ensure global consumption.

With ambitions still falling short of limiting climate change to 1.5ºC, climate finance of 100 billion USD a year will remain a key sticking point in the coming years. And if developed economies cannot coordinate and fulfil the international agreements on climate, it undermines not only climate finance and the Paris Agreement, but also, the functioning of the entire international system designed to control the planet’s climate. Many countries recognize that they are making ambitious climate commitments with no roadmap, no scientific evidence and unjustified hopes for new technologies. Apparently, this position is unacceptable, since it has already provoked the current energy crisis and the price rally, reaching all-time highs in global coal, gas and oil markets. Rapid coal phase-out policy at any cost led to the decrease in coal supply, the surge in electricity prices in Europe, that was especially acute amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent growth in demand for energy resources.

At the same time, the position of the United States, the UK and Germany, calling for developing countries to become carbon neutral, looks at least hypocritical, when the mentioned countries currently generate more coal-fired energy than not only in 2020, but also in 2019.

Moreover, even the implementation of all the renewable energy projects planned in the world does not guarantee that the temperature on the planet will become lower. However, there are reliable ways to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, both through the natural absorption of this gas by forests and other natural ecosystems as well as through industrial systems for its capture and subsequent utilization, the so-called CCUS (Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage).

The Russian delegation presented three main theses at the summit: recognition of all sources of electricity generation, including nuclear power, which Russia considers low-carbon, as well as acknowledgment of Russian assessments of the absorptive capacity of forests and mutual approval of carbon units emitted in different countries.

Vladimir Putin addressed to the summit participants with a video message, in which he noted that ‘the preservation of forests and other natural ecosystems is one of the key components of international efforts to solve the problem of global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions’. ‘Russia relies on the unique resource of our forest ecosystems, their significant potential for the absorption of carbon dioxide and the production of oxygen, because about 20% of all world forests are located in our country’.

This is reflected in the draft strategy for low-carbon development of Russia until 2050. Its baseline scenario envisages full maintenance of the balance of forest reproduction, expansion of their protection area and a significant reduction in deforestation, that will lead to a decrease in the carbon intensity of Russia’s GDP compared to the level of 2017 by 9% in 2030 and by 48% in 2050. At the same time over the past 20 years, the rate of decrease in the carbon intensity of Russian GDP is higher than in Europe, the United States and China and is 2 times ahead of the world average.

It is no coincidence that Putin is pushing the theme of forests forward. In fact, this redirects the global environmental agenda. World industrial policy changes and the transition to green technologies are painful and costly for many developing countries, while forests are a clean environmental policy that concerns many countries, including Europe and Latin America. On the way to preserving the climate, solutions can be different: it is necessary not only to rebuild industrial production and reduce CO2, but also to carry out such projects when nature itself will absorb carbon dioxide.

The Russian Ministry of Economic Development has submitted for government approval a low-carbon development strategy aimed at carbon neutrality by 2060. The strategy assumes that the share of coal-fired power generation in Russian energy consumption mix will decrease to about 4-5% by 2050, compared to 12-13% at present time.

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