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Russia’s rhetoric changes on climate action

Russia’s rhetoric changes on climate action

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Leaders' Summit on Climate in April 2021

Vladimir Putin, Russian President, is a long-standing climate change skeptic. He has often questioned the role humans played in altering the climate.

He has been directing his government over the past few months to make plans for Russia’s carbon neutrality goal by 2060. He also declared that Russia would surpass the European Union as far as overall emission reductions go by 2050.

Addressing a meeting of the world’s 20 most developed economies in October, Putin warned that Russia — which is the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases — was currently warming 2.5 times faster than the rest of the planet, exposing it to threats like desertification and melting permafrost, which covers some 65% of Russia’s territory.

It’s a remarkable shift from a man once jokingly claiming that Russians should embrace Climate Change because it implied better grain harvests, and lower fur coat costs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Leaders' Summit on Climate in April 2021

Vladimir Putin’s climate policy has seen a slight reversal by President Putin

Mixed messages

Damir Yanakhov is the Russian Climate Fund’s decarbonization coordinator. This NGO works to reduce the impacts of climate change. He described Moscow’s 2060 plan for carbon neutrality as “without doubt ambitious” and extremely difficult.

He told DW it would require a radical restructuring of Russia’s relationship with energy, starting with how the country heats its buildings right through to its export of hydrocarbons — one of the pillars of the economy.

Despite making noises about having accepted the reality of anthropogenic climate change, Russia’s 2035 energy strategy foresees an increase in coal production primarily for Asian markets, as well as an expansion in the production of natural gas — which is being widely touted as a controversial transition fuel on the road to carbon neutrality.

Climate Action Tracker, a global research organization that monitors the progress of cutting carbon emissions, said that a strong focus in increasing dependence on fossil fuel revenues could pose a significant economic risk in a Paris Agreement-compliant world.

Russia's permafrost is melting

Russia’s permafrost melting and shrinking at alarming speeds

Putin also declined to travel to the COP26 climate conference, Glasgow, Scotland. He initially opted to attend via video link, but then canceled his attendance completely. The official reason for the cancellation was not given.

It’s time to “make the leap”

Dmitry Peskov (Kremlin spokesperson) has repeatedly stressed Moscow’s interest in climate preservation over the past week, telling reporters that the warming planet was “one.” [Russian]These are the most important priorities in foreign policy.

Alexander Lebedev (a senior business lecturer from Moscow’s Higher School of Economics) remains confident that the Kremlin is serious about its shift on climate action, despite apparent inconsistencies.

“The Russian government believes there is a fair tradeoff [in making the transition to a carbon neutral economy]In comments to DW, he stated that the moment has come to make the leap. The EU moves away from coal.

Russia’s forests are being used to capture carbon

Lebedev believes carbon capture can be used to offset continued hydrocarbon extractions like gas. Russia has “a great advantage” over other countries in terms of its natural resources that can be used to sequester carbon2.

Moscow plans to use its There are 760 million hectares (1.87 trillion acres) of forest land. as well as its wetlands as carbon sinks to trap much of the greenhouse gas produced by Russian industry. This would require increased protections for wild spaces, as well as a shift toward actively cultivating them in order to capture the maximum amount of CO2.

Sakhalin Island is a pilot project that is currently underway in Russia’s Far East. According to government data, Sakhalin’s human activity produces approximately 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Most of this comes from natural gas and coal extraction. Its forests can absorb approximately 11 million tons. Sakhalin’s forests might soon absorb more carbon, if they make a few small changes.

Yanakhov from the Russian Climate Fund agrees that the overall plan for carbon capture has potential.

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Yanakhov said, “After collapse of Soviet Union, there were a lot abandoned agricultural territory.” Yanakhov stated, “If these forests are transferred to managed forests we can increase their carbon capture capability.”

He stressed however that Russia must also reduce overall emissions by moving away fossil fuels.

And some climate scientists and economists warn that using Russia’s forests as an offset to justify further CO2 production would amount to giving Moscow a license to continue to pollute. Furthermore, any widespread attempts to decarbonize the Russian economy are likely to face major headwinds from the country’s entrenched oil and gas lobby.

While the sector only represents 1.5% Russia’s labor force, it generates a substantial amount of Russia’s wealth. According to government estimates, fossil fuels account for 60% of the country’s GDP.

COVID crisis triggers environmental concern

Lebedev, an HSE lecturer, said that the public mood is shifting and that more Russians are concerned about the health their natural spaces. They have historically been a source for national pride.

“I have been watching it for the past year and a quarter. COVID began with lockdowns. People started to be more concerned about their own health, their environment, and their health.

He stated that the Siberian forest fires that have plagued the country since the outbreak of the pandemic have increased awareness about environmental issues.

Damir Yanakhov also noticed this change.

He says, “When you watch federal TV channels, you can see that they are taking up more environmental subjects including issues surrounding climate change.” 

“I first noticed it in August when there were very serious forest fires. Vladimir Putin said there were two components to the fires — the human factor and climate change.”

Edited By: Tamsin and Jennifer Collins 



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