Doha Climate Negotiations Kick Off. Russia’s Position Still Weak

The first three days of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha (COP18) have not resulted in any significant decisions so far, as predicted. Russia is practically not ready to take part in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. This will result both in lost opportunities for joint implementation projects and a reduced input of the country to climate mitigation. KP is losing participants, but gaining new ones –Australia announced the willing to join.

The first three days of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha (COP18) have not resulted in any significant decisions so far, as predicted, and were not marked by any radical statements by the participants. Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, once again demonstrated her unlimited optimism by calling upon the COP parties to finalize the conference on Friday the 7th of December (not the following Monday morning, like in Durban last year) by adopting all the necessary decisions to save the Kyoto. But many analysts agree that this negotiations round is very unlikely have any significant outcomes.

Russian official delegation’s speech at the plenary session on the 28th of November seems to justify such an opinion. Despite previous positive interpretations of statements made by some Russian officials in the run-up to Doha and a seemingly warmer attitude towards Kyoto2, Russia’s position has not changed. “Russia will take the commitments for the Kyoto2 only if the leading countries of the world take part as well” – said Russian vice-PM Arkadiy Dvorkovich. The official rhetoric has slightly changed though. No negations are used anymore, and a readiness to act in case of similar actions by others is demonstrated.

At the same time the KP is losing the following. Recently New Zealand withdrew from committing within the second commitment period, and there were high hopes for it as a base for the regional carbon market. Japan which did not join the KP and Canada which withdrew from the KP, have no intention to review their positions. Still the good news is there – Australia announces the willing to join Kyoto-2.

As for the EU, one of main Kyoto’s endorsers, it is too slow at taking any new commitments upon itself to reduce its emissions. Recently EU proudly announced that the previously announced 20-20-20 goal (a 20% reduction compared to 1990 levels by 2020 and 20% renewables in total energy production) is reached way ahead of time (10 years ahead!). But now the EU, apparently overwhelmed by such an achievement, is not doing anything to commit to further reduction, which may also serve as an excuse for Russia in the future, when the time comes to talk about the emissions reduction targets.

But Russia’s refusal to join Kyoto-2 means the inability to continue with the development of joint implementation projects, which will deprive the country of a very serious support mechanism of investment to energy efficient technology and renewable energy development. As RSEU Climate Secretariat repeatedly mentioned, Russia is facing the loss of financing and technologies, which will significantly reduce the country’s opportunity to contribute to fighting climate change globally.

On Tuesday the 27th of November a report by UNDP was presented at the conference. It provides a lot of details on the negative aspects of climate change consequences which are most likely to strike Russia in the first place. The thawing of permafrost as the result of global warming will not only threaten the overall safety of population and infrastructure of permafrost-based regions. If the global community will not manage to keep the warming within 2 degrees, the consequences for permafrost can be pitiful. The average temperature increase by 3 degrees centigrade will result in +6 degrees in the Arctic. As the result we may lose 30 to 85% of sub-surface permafrost. As it thaws and subsequently degrades, the organic matter will release tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. This will, in its turn, further speed-up climate changes. According to the estimations listed in the report, by 2100 these emissions may reach up to 39% of total anthropogenic emissions. And at the same time Russia is not undertaking any decisive steps to avoid or slow down this process.

Russian NGOs say that Russia’s position at the current negotiations is far from being constructive and does not serve our country’s interests. At the same time it weakens the overall status of the second commitment period of the KP. It is in Russia’s interest to support Kyoto-2 in order to gain additional opportunities for its own low-carbon development, energy efficient modernization of the national economy as well as to create a better image and increase the role of our country to contribute to the global effort of climate change mitigation.