Birch trees vs. carbon

Following Sakhalin, the Kaliningrad region volunteered to conduct climate experiments on its territory. In the nearest future, at least seven carbonic landfills and more carbonic farms will appear in Russia. Representatives of public environmental organizations believe that reduction of emissions from energy and industry, sustainable forest management, and protection of natural ecosystems can help the climate in the first place.



The term "carbon test site" began to sound in Russia after the country signed the Paris Agreement. This is the name given to an experimental site or laboratory for testing all kinds of low-carbon solutions to reduce emissions of “hostile” to the climate-carbon (carbon). Our country plans to develop and test technologies for measuring emissions of greenhouse gases - carbon, methane, nitrous oxide - at carbon test sites located in different climatic zones.

"We need methods of measuring emissions and absorption of greenhouse gases,” Nikolai Durmanov, vice-chairman of the Expert Board for Scientific Support of the Development of Carbon Control Technologies, explains the necessity to create carbonic test areas. “The national network of carbon dumps will include forests, swamps, farmlands...”. According to Valery Falkov, Minister of Science and Higher Education, the first seven carbon test sites will appear in the Sverdlovsk, Kaluga, Tyumen, Kaliningrad, Novosibirsk regions, the Krasnodar Territory, and the Chechen Republic.

“Organizers of the testing ground will have to submit an observation plan, which depends on both the profile of the testing ground and the type of landscape. This will determine which methods and instruments will be used to measure flows, and which approaches will be used for remote observations, explains the website of the Ministry of Education and Science.

Another part of the experiment will be carbon farms, which are created in parallel with testing grounds. If carbon testing grounds will work with measurement and control technologies, then carbon farms will become a place where emissions should be reduced “in practice” - it is planned that natural forests or plantations will absorb carbon.

Even now there are enough people in the regions who want to become carbon farmers - the idea of making money “out of thin air" has interested many people.  The official procedure for setting up a carbon farm has not been written down yet, but some people are saying that one of the options will be to lease forests like the “Far Eastern Hectare.” Lessees would have to invest in the restoration and upkeep of the forests. In return, companies would be able to receive the equivalent of carbon credits, i.e., compensation quotas, which can be sold at carbon sites or somehow be exchanged for the possibility of exemption from carbon tax when exporting their products to Europe.

Experts estimate that the emerging carbon market in recent years promises to become “capital-intensive.” According to Reuters, the global carbon market was worth $164 billion in 2018. At the end of 2020, carbon credits were trading at 32.03 euros per ton. It seems not long before carbon trading becomes the world’s “second oil.”

“Such an industry is one of Russia’s main trump cards for the next 30-40 years because we have huge territories covered with forests and other vegetation, there is free land for the creation of large ‘carbon’ plantations,” says Nikolai Durmanov. “It is necessary to use natural and territorial advantages of Russia in this new wonderful world of total decarbonization.”

Not so optimistic about the prospects of growing carbon forests is the head of the Moscow Environmental Investment Center, the director of CarbonLab, Mikhail Yulkin. In his opinion, the idea to turn Russia into a carbon capture center is far from the best: as a rule, not very developed countries try to implement such models. According to the expert, it is not very prestigious to live at the expense of forests. Developed countries are supposed to solve the problem of greenhouse gas emissions not at the expense of forests, but primarily through the development of low-carbon technology and reduction of emissions in energy and industry. Russia’s annual CO2 emissions are about 2.2 billion tons, and another 2 billion tons are emissions associated with the use of Russian fuels by importing countries. “The total has to be offset by 4 billion tons. According to official data, Russian forests absorb about 0.5 billion tons. So I wouldn’t get too carried away with carbon landfills,” the expert says.

“Not every forest can absorb greenhouse gases, turning any site into a carbon farm is not the best solution,” says Olga Senova, Climate Secretariat of the Russian Socio-Ecological Union (RSoEU). “To ensure that forests absorb greenhouse gases and not become a source of emissions, the forest management system must be made sustainable. Not only forests, but also other natural ecosystems, such as wetlands, are a powerful climate-forming factor, and their preservation must be part of climate policy and practice.”

Representatives of public environmental organizations cite data from an analytical report prepared by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs “Russian forests and climate change”:  “published in recent years, estimates of the amount of carbon accumulated by ecosystems of Russian forests vary within a very wide range - from 96 to 191 billion tons, with predominant values in the region of 120-130 billion tons.”

In their position, RSEP representatives  point out the priority of restoration of natural ecosystems and emphasize that “it is extremely important to exclude intact and especially valuable forest ecosystems from economic use, develop sustainable forest use on already developed territories, effectively protect forests from fires, and preserve wetlands as natural regulators of carbon exchange.”

Together with other Russian and international environmental organizations, representatives of the Russian Socio-Ecological Union signed an Appeal to recognize the value and role of natural ecosystems for climate conservation. Environmental activists emphasize that “under conditions of increasing efforts and understanding of the threat of climate change today, it is necessary to recognize and support the unique and irreplaceable role of natural ecosystems in preserving the climate and a livable environment.  Adjustments in international climate policy and fundamental changes in national development strategies are needed.”