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From Durban to Doha: Russia has a chance to improve its climate image

Olga Podosenova

Some observers call the climate negotiations session that ended last week in Bonn one of the most unsuccessful. Others are somewhat more optimistic: "Although absolutely nothing has been done, at least, nothing happened that could endanger the most important cause - the beginning of work on a new agreement."

During the two weeks of the negotiating session in Bonn, the parties managed to agree only on procedural and technical issues. According to observers, a major factor hindering the negotiation process is the uncertainty of countries with economies in transition in designation of their climate policy and emissions reductions.

During the session in Bonn, Russia, Ukraine and other countries with economies in transition did not speak in informal seminars where developed and developing countries explained their climate policies and measures to implement the commitments. However, they were in favor of transfer of "hot air" to the next period.

The situation with former Soviet countries is somewhat cunning, because their commitments on emissions reductions are actually above the level, which their emissions will reach according to forecasts. For example, Russia announces plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15-25% from 1990 levels. Also, Russia indicates that this figure will depend on "accounting for the potential of Russian forests in the context of contribution in implementation of commitments to reduce anthropogenic emissions" and on "adoption of legally binding commitments to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by all major emitters." However, in 2010, Russia’s emissions were below 1990 levels by 34.25% or 1.15 billion tons of CO2-equivalent.

The issue of quotas transfer, which has not been settled in Bonn, is called a kind of "airbag" for countries with economies in transition, which can raise funds for implementation of green technologies. Many countries have already refused to buy "hot air". That makes it obvious that selling quotas will be actually impossible. Therefore, the quotas for greenhouse gas emissions reserved from the first period of the Kyoto Protocol could encourage these countries to take higher commitments from 2013.

In Bonn, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) put forward the best solution to the dual situation with quotas. They proposed to put authorization or prohibition on transfer of quotas in direct dependence on the declared ambition of targets for reducing emissions. The opposite approach would lead to accumulation of surplus carbon units, which do not produce any real environmental benefits.

Until now, when it comes in the negotiation process to countries with economies in transition, experts make serious complaints about the quality of data on emissions, especially in the land use sector. The overall uncertainty in the plans of post-Soviet countries does not allow to have the overview of global emission reductions. Already now, UN experts estimate the gap between total commitment of countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the level necessary to keep the rise in global average temperature within two degrees Celsius as 9-11 billion tons of CO2-equivalent. It is obvious that the efforts being made by countries at this stage are insufficient to combat climate change.

The Bonn climate session left a lot of questions, most of which are to be interpreted and resolved at the final conference in Doha (Qatar) in November-December, 2012. According to Christiana Figueres, the Secretary of the Climate Convention, the conference will give the countries that have not yet submitted their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to do this at the end of 2012.

By the end of this year, Russia can do much for the climate process. Russian non-governmental organizations also write about this in their Statement following the UN Climate Conference in Durban. For example, our country can commit not to the growth of emissions, but to their actual decrease (increase its voluntary commitments up to 40%), to refuse from quotas transfer, to intensify efforts on attraction and registration of joint implementation projects. Only such actions will stop all the talk about the ambiguity of Russia's behavior and raise its climate image.