Сhanges are awaited on the climate front

Russian climate policy exists, according to the authors of the report published in the scientific bulletin of the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, but it has more "window dressing" than real action. The experts consider inadequate assessment of damage to national security, which may be caused by climate change, to be the barrier to the advancement of climate on the political agenda.

The climate policy review was prepared by Alexey Kokorin, the head of the Climate and Energy Programme of the WWF Russia, and Anna Korppo, a Senior Research Fellow at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI). The experts analyze internal and external factors affecting Russian policy on climate change.

The researchers call the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol an important Russia’s political contribution in the international climate policy. The experts believe that the visit of the President of the Russian Federation to the UN Climate Conference in 2009 in Copenhagen was a signal that the Russian leadership recognizes climate change as a real problem. At the same time, analysts note that the Russian government has failed to initiate practical actions after a sufficient amount of time.

The review authors give several examples of "gestures" from Moscow not supported by real action. In 2010, after a round of climate negotiations in Cancun, where countries could make public the action plans, the section on Russia’s financial assistance to developing countries was deleted from the negotiated text. Then, instead of the new program, the country unveiled a plan that represented a compilation of existing federal programs weakly coupled with the climate, without a separate budget and means of implementation.

In 2012, during a G8 meeting, Russia joined the voluntary coalition on short-lived pollutants, apparently in an attempt to demonstrate its constructive and friendly attitude to climate. However, no further action followed.

The only practical result of another "beautiful step" – the Climate Doctrine - is Hydromet information campaign to raise public awareness about climate change.

A recent example of inconsistency is the draft program for long-term socio-economic development of Russia until 2030. The Ministry of Economic Development on its website at the end of January 2013, representing the official data on the projected peak in greenhouse gas emissions after 2020, disclosed the figures for "growth safety margins" of 70 to 75% of 1990 levels by 2020 and decline to 70% of the control level in 2030. The forecasts in the official document can be considered as an ambitious goal and an occasion to step up efforts to develop a "green economy." However, only appropriate legal status, which is still absent, may give the real weight to these provisions. In addition, the document in its current form ignores such important climate areas like renewable energy and adaptation issues.

The agenda of the International Energy Forum held in April of this year in Moscow became another striking example of the lack of climate priorities in Russian politics. The emphasis was placed on the preservation of Russia's position in the global market of fossil fuels. A look at the "new energy" of the country, represented by key ministries and academia, fell on a variety of technological "challenges and threats," ignoring the effects of climate change and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector.

The experts say that it is not easy to shift the priorities in the current situation. They consider the presence of "the climate front" in Russia as a positive factor. Among the non-governmental organizations which promote formation of the climate policy, the experts note the Social Ecological Union, WWF, and organizations whose projects were supported by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and Bellona. The experts add: "Unfortunately, the Russian leadership sees NGO activities as attempts to manipulate, as evidenced by numerous laws enacted to limit their activities."

The authors of the review think that "the Climate Coalition experiences lack of funding and opportunities for large-scale outreach to the public and the media, who can make a difference." Namely this, according to experts, causes the presence of a significant proportion of climate skeptics in the country. "The population feeds on sensational rumors of climatic disasters, but without possibilities to understand the true nature of climate change, even excluded from the curriculum."

The experts believe that the lack of progress in the climate policy agenda is the result of an inadequate appreciation of threats to the national interests from climate change. The fact that Russia with its technological backwardness is considered one of the most carbon-intensive economies in the world is underestimated, while it cannot reduce its competitiveness on the world markets. Meanwhile, the Russian leadership is inclined to assess the warnings of climate experts as hypothetical ones.

The report states: "Russia could participate constructively in the future climate agreement and implement real measures on emission reductions and adaptation, but the leadership of the country ignores the threats to Russian territory, instead relying on oil and gas exports."

The year 2012 was marked by a sharp increase in the number of "Kyoto" Joint Implementation (JI) projects. Low-carbon movement "from below" grows in this country: low-carbon plans are promoted by the leading business associations (the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and the "Business Russia").

The experts believe that threats from climate change will inevitably lead to much higher costs in the future, and the "short-term thinking" is short-sighted. "In spite of these facts, it would be wrong to say that the President and the Government of the Russian Federation do not recognize the problem of climate change. But it seems that they are waiting for efforts by the United States and China.

There is hope that Russia can take real action to combat anthropogenic climate change as a reliable member of the international environmental policy. However, a clear numerical evaluation of climate damage is needed for its implementation.

The media and other political leaders (G8, the UNFCCC, the EU, etc.) can convince Russian leaders in the necessity of a "climate breakthrough." However, the main role remains for climate scientists and economists, namely they have to convince the leadership that very serious losses are coming. Until that happens, we can hardly expect climate breakthrough from Russia.