Low-carbon strategy with high emissions

The Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation has sent a new version of the draft Low-Carbon Development Strategy until 2050 for approval by the departments. The implementation of the most likely scenario does not lead to carbon neutrality, and greenhouse gas emissions will increase. Instead of reducing emissions from carbon-intensive industries, it relies on forests to absorb CO2, say public environmental activists.

The Ministry of Economic Development announced the Strategy of Long-Term Development of Russia with Low Greenhouse Gas Emissions up to 2050 in March last year. But because of the pandemic, it was decided to postpone the promotion of the document.

nevertheless, the activity of the European Union on carbon regulation and the April decree of President Vladimir Putin, prescribing to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to lower levels than in the European Union, accelerated the process.

The current version of the Strategy, like the previous one, has four scenarios. At first sight, the new document looks more ambitious: instead of the “without state support measures” scenario, there is now an “aggressive” development option, and the scenario, which was initially listed as the basic one, has moved into the “inertial” category.

However, there are no serious plans to reduce emissions in the most likely - baseline - scenario. From the text of the document, it follows that the actual CO2 emissions by 2050 will increase in almost all industries, including metallurgy, transport, and agriculture.  It is assumed that electricity consumption will increase and will reach 1.48 trillion kWh by 2050, which is 38% more than in 2019. It is stated that the growth will be associated “with the electrification of transport and other sectors of the economy.”

A slight reduction is expected in the fuel and energy complex - by 300 million tons and in the housing and utilities sector - by 25 million tons. The total volume of emissions by 2050 will be 2.29 billion tons of CO2.

In addition, the Ministry of Economic Development has decided not to include a mandatory fee for carbon dioxide emissions in the baseline scenario of the Low-Carbon Development Strategy. The accounting system will be voluntary.

According to the more ambitious intensive scenario, emissions could be reduced by 17%, to 1.76 billion tons of CO2. It is indicated that “the structure of electricity generation will change significantly due to the replacement of inefficient coal and gas generation by renewable energy sources.” The authors of the Strategy add nuclear power plants and large hydropower stations to “clean energy” and state that if the intensive scenario is implemented, the total share of electricity generation by nuclear, hydropower and renewables will reach 73% by 2050.

To implement this option, the Ministry of Economic Development proposes to introduce a mandatory fee for emissions, although not for all but for “a number of the most carbon-intensive sectors of the economy.” At the same time, it is stated that the implementation of this scenario will be possible under the condition of increased foreign investment in the Russian economy and this is akin to calculations with the scenario “without state support” from the previous version.

Carbon neutrality, a goal that has been identified by more than a hundred countries, according to the Strategy, is achieved in the intensive (by 2060) or aggressive (by 2050) scenarios. However, it is noted that the latter scenario carries “more significant risks for sustainable economic growth and preservation of macroeconomic stability.”

The greatest climatic hopes of the authors of the new version of the Strategy are associated with an increase in the absorption of greenhouse gases in the sector of land use and forestry. All scenarios are given taking into account and hoping for an increase in absorption by these sectors.

The most spectacular are the figures on net emissions: the balance between emissions and absorption of greenhouse gases. It is assumed that in the inertia scenario, the net emissions level will be 1.72 billion tons CO2.  In the baseline, it amounts to 1.19 billion tons, the absorption in land use and forestry should more than double, and this will allow absorbing about 1.1 billion tons ofCO2. Even more impressive are the net emission figures in the intensive scenario - 263 mln tCO2. And in an aggressive scenario, Russia becomes a donor, absorbing 362 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Since the level of greenhouse gas emissions of the EU is currently twice as high as that of Russia, formally, the implementation of any of the scenarios of the Strategy will allow fulfilling the assignment of the President of the Russian Federation.

Evaluating the new version of the Strategy, experts note that the development paths considered in the document are little focused on the actual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. “Other countries and regions that commit themselves to achieving zero emissions by 2050 focus on reducing emissions rather than on increasing their absorption,” Yuri Melnikov of the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management Center for Energy commented in an interview with Kommersant.

Experts doubt the validity of hopes on the future increase of absorption capacity of Russian forests and readiness of the world community to accept them. In the analytical report “Russia’s Forests and Climate Change” prepared by the Russian Socio-Ecological Union (RSEU), it is stated that estimates of the amount of carbon stored in ecosystems vary quite widely, and the increasing frequency of forest fires and the low level of forest management may lead to a loss of the absorption capacity of Russian forests.

“The current version of the Low-Carbon Development Strategy contradicts the intentions to reduce the carbon footprint of products and make them competitive and does not contain points to encourage the introduction of low-carbon solutions and modernization of production. Energy efficiency and renewable energy are priority measures for reduction of emissions, whereas emission compensation by absorption may be a supplement, and preservation and restoration of natural ecosystems are primary here, rather than decorative measures for creation of “technical plant absorbers,” Olga Senova, Climate Secretariat of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, said.


“The development of the Russian economy will be facilitated by the creation in the country of a reliable, verified and internationally recognized system of carbon reporting, as well as infrastructure for implementing climate projects, circulation of carbon units and certificates of origin of electricity,” says Mikhail Yulkin, an expert at the International Center for Sustainable Energy Development and general director of OOO CarbonLab.

Experts believe it is necessary to provide for the introduction of carbon regulation in each of the proposed scenarios, as this mechanism is one of the effective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.