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Russia’s Climate Epiphany May Be Greenwashing

Russia’s Climate Epiphany May Be Greenwashing

				A view of the Omsk Refinery. Following multiple complaints from city residents on foul smell, the Omsk Ecological Monitoring Center registered an exceedance of the maximum acceptable concentration of ammonia and hydrogen sulphide in the air. 				 				Yevgeny Sofiychuk / TASS

Russia’s about-face in 2021 on its attitude to climate change may be little more than window dressing to protect its industrial giants, experts fear. 

During his two decades in power, Russian President Vladimir Putin has moved from joking about the climate crisis to accepting responsibility for responding to climate change as its effects have become more pronounced in Russia, the world’s fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter which is warming faster than the rest of the planet.

Putin stated that climate change was a serious global problem in his annual Direct Line telephone-in on June 30, and that Russia is working towards carbon neutrality by 2060.

But analysts and activists told The Moscow Times that the Kremlin’s efforts are aimed more at protecting the economic status quo than fighting climate change.

“The government has treated the climate as a low-priority issue before and continues to do so,” said Georgy Safonov, head of the climate economics department at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. “What has changed is Russia’s attitude toward carbon regulations.”

In 2020 the EU proposed the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism — a system of tariffs on imports from highly polluting industries to take effect in 2023. 

The idea has caused great concern among Russia’s biggest energy companies — especially coal producers — as the EU is Russia’s biggest trade partner and the levies are likely to cause them damage because carbon emissions are not yet regulated in Russia. 

The companies are pressing the government for protection from the tariffs. The Kremlin has decided to lip service to climate change, Safonov stated.

Angelina Davydova is the director of the Office of Environmental Information St. Petersburg. She stated that climate is perhaps the most important issue within global politics.

“Russia is slowly starting to understand this,” she added.

Putin was elected to the presidency in July Signed the carbon emissions law – the first document aimed at regulating emissions in Russia’s history. Safonov stated that many of the promising regulatory measures, such as imposing carbon fines for the most polluting parties, were trimmed to appease the fossil fuel industries. 

“The carbon emissions regulation has passed. It does not regulate emissions. It’s hard to look at the final version without tears,” he added.

Russia published its long-awaited Climate Strategy in 2021. While it is more progressive than industry lobbyists would like, according to Safonov, it still doesn’t make clear when and how Russian regions and companies have to cut their emissions.

Meanwhile, Russia’s 2020 energy strategy still calls for expansion in fossil fuel industries and government support for the solar and wind energy industries has been cut this year.

The picture may become clearer in 2022, when Russian regions will present their climate adaptation strategies.

“So far it is all very slow, new, and not enough,” Davydova said. “But it is too early to draw conclusions now, we have to see how these things mature and develop.”

				A view of the Omsk Refinery. Following multiple complaints from city residents on foul smell, the Omsk Ecological Monitoring Center registered an exceedance of the maximum acceptable concentration of ammonia and hydrogen sulphide in the air. 				 				Yevgeny Sofiychuk / TASS
A view of the Omsk Refinery. The Omsk Ecological Monitoring Center received multiple complaints about the foul-smelling air from residents.
Yevgeny Sofiychuk / TASS


Global leaders gathered in Glasgow for the COP26 UN Climate Conference in November. Although Putin was not present, Russia made key climate promises including stopping deforestation by 2030, and reaching net zero emissions by 2060.

“Russia didn’t stand out from other major emitter countries at COP,” said Davydova.

 Along with other big economies, Russia promised to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century. Russia, however, plans to increase its emissions until 2030, which is different from the G7 economies.

“I did not expect any miracles,” said Fridays For Future activist Arshak Makichyan, who attended COP26. “People in Russia still don’t understand what energy transition is, or what a just energy transition is. But we are talking about it, even though there are just a few of us,” he added.

Russia at COP26 It didn’tJoin 12 other countries in pledging not to use coal or reduce methane emission. It did, however. JoinMore than 130 other states have also pledged to end deforestation by 2020.

Trees play a big role in Russia’s plans to cut its emissions. In 2021 Russia introduced a new way of accounting for the ability of its forests to absorb carbon by factoring all of its forest land into the country’s environmental impact. However, some scientists have criticized this new accounting system as it might misrepresent Russia’s carbon sink potential. Vlada Zhuravleva, Fridays For Future Russia coordinator, stated that. 

“Fridays For Future and many other Russian experts are viewing the net-zero by 2060 target as greenwashing,” she said.

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Extreme weather

Extreme weather events have already been caused by the climate emergency. Russia is likely to face the most severe climate-related risks in 2020, including droughts, floods, forest fires and flooding.  

Different parts of Russia are likely to be damaged by the climate crisis in different ways, said World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) Russia’s head of climate and energy research Alexei Kokorin. 

Southern agrarian zones are likely to suffer more droughts and heatwaves. Arctic regions could experience blizzards as well as storms. The country is seeing more rain in other areas. This year, St. Petersburg HadIts rainiest May in its history, while Moscow HadIt saw its largest snowfall in 70+ years, in December.

Yakutia was the scene of one of the largest forest fires ever recorded. It is located 7,000 kilometers east from Moscow. Local officials believe that the main cause of the disaster was climate-related drought. .

				Wildfires in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).
Wildfires in Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)

“Forest fires were especially fierce this year. Partly it was due to bad forestry and lack of coordination but the climate change factor is here and it’s growing,” Kokorin said.

He added that extreme heatwaves and fires will become more frequent.  PointingMoscow from July to August TemperaturesIt remained at 30 degrees Celsius for nearly a month. 

“These kinds of heatwaves happened in the past. But they used to happen every 50 years, now they happen every 10 years,” Kokorin said.

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