Russia’s Ostrich Approach to Climate Change and the Paris Agreement

Russia’s Ostrich Approach to Climate Change and the Paris Agreement

Russia’s leaders do not recognize the importance of climate change despite the latest evidence from Russian climate scientists. They argue that the country’s political leadership backtracked from its 2009 recognition of the human origin of climate change. This is obviously in stark contrast to most other governments, which recognize that there is no longer a doubt about the human contribution to the environmental changes.

Russian leadership has nonetheless acknowledged the negative nature of changes in the environment and pinpointed some changes and risks to Russian territory. It also stresses the importance of adaptation, in contrast to previous tendency to dismiss such risks. In the Kremlin’s view, the global economic trend recognized by the Paris Agreement will pose a risk to the Russian economy, but only in the distant future.

This idea therefore clearly leads to delays in adopting effective measures for low-carbon development, and explains the focus on short-term energy efficiency measures. Russia’s greenhouse emissions target clearly demonstrates a “business-as-usual” approach to climate change, although there is a short-term focus on energy-efficiency improvements as well. Yet, if the emissions stay above the current Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (or INDC) in 2030, it would send the signal of a country lagging behind global low-carbon developments.

The Russian leadership relies on the global fossil-fuel era that will continue for the foreseeable future and omits recent signs that would call for phasing out coal and oil. Carbon regulation is already a policy tool to introduce new technologies but this is to be launched on an economy-wide scale only in the next decade. Russia’s main trade partners, namely China, Germany, Japan, Korea, and the Nordic countries, should therefore use the various international platforms to push Moscow towards climate policies and regulations that are being adopted by most countries around the world, not least out of self-interest. In lagging behind now, Russia risks not being ready for the post-fossil fuels era.

Failure to recognize the acute need for action, including the direct impact of the environmental factors for the country, might throw Russia into deep crisis, because the world’s decrease in oil demand could decrease Russian revenues while the costs entailed by extreme weather events would go up dramatically. If Russia fails to develop domestic renewable energy in time, the consequences could be costly both at the financial and technological level.

‘Russia’s Ostrich Approach to Climate Change and the Paris Agreement’ – Policy Paper by Alexey Kokorin and Anna Korppoo – Centre for European Policy Studies.

(The Policy Paper can be downloaded here)