Domestic frames on Russia’s role in international climate diplomacy

Climate Policy, Vol 20, No 1, 2020, pp. 109-123

How are climate change and Russia’s role in international climate diplomacy understood in Russia? This article enhances our understanding of the cultural drivers of Russia’s international climate position by using extensive interview data with Russian (non-climate) professionals to explore domestic assumptions, perceptions, and beliefs beyond official positions expressed in international diplomatic discourses. Underlying cultural framings are understood as societal beliefs widely shared in Russian society. A framing analysis of the interview data indicates that Russian participation in climate diplomacy is underpinned by assumptions concerning Russian self-interest – such as benefit-seeking, foreign-policy goals and suspicion of the motives of other countries – that are often unrelated to environmental concerns. Societal beliefs in Russia’s great-power status together with a focus on national economic and political interests, societal cynicism/zero-sum game beliefs, conspiracy theories and a dualistic approach to science are reflected in these assumptions, and provide persuasive cultural explanations for understanding official climate change statements. The influence of the political leadership on societal beliefs on climate change helps to explain the prevalence of these beliefs; wider societal beliefs are a further significant explanatory factor.

Key policy insights 

  • Most informants supported Russia’s participation in climate negotiations but often based on concerns other than environmental ones.
  • The main reasons for participating in international climate diplomacy beyond environmental concerns were related to foreign policy and expected economic or political benefits while suspicions of the motives of other countries spoke against participation; similar elements were identified in Russia’s official climate position.
  • Beliefs in climate change largely as a natural phenomenon reduce the rationale for mitigation actions.
  • Russian societal beliefs in the country’s great power status, societal cynicism/zero-sum thinking and conspiracies, and a dualistic approach to science, anchor Russia’s climate position to wider cultural dynamics and make Russia’s more active engagement in climate mitigation unlikely.

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