Russian Climate Strategy: Imitating Leadership

Climate Strategies, 2023, 19 p.

Russian climate strategy is aligned with the country’s position as a fossil-fuel exporter. Even though Russia aims at positioning itself internationally as a climate leader, its climate actions are not real, but ‘imitational’. On the one hand, the federal government has set goals and adopted policies and laws aimed at combatting climate change, for instance increasing carbon sequestration and improving energy efficiency. On the other hand, such policies are seldom implemented; the regulatory framework is not credible; and unrealistic assumptions are used to justify the plan for action. Several targets and regulations have been ‘ghosted’ – abandoned and forgotten when implementation failed. The role of laws, regulations and plans is different from that in the West; in Russia, they serve the interests of the elites, and are established to do so through informal processes within the administrative state. In effect, climate laws, regulations and strategies are adopted in order to dilute any effective carbon-reduction policies that may threaten the rents for the elites.

Russia adopted a Low Carbon Strategy in 2021. Its overall target is carbon neutrality by 2060, with a significant (1 Gt) increase in carbon absorption by forests to justify inaction in industrial and energy sectors. This approach is clearly ‘imitational’, and not meant to be implemented. Scientific data show that Russia’s forest carbon sinks will decline – not grow. Cuts in energy intensity are expected to deliver part of the target – however, without being backed by new measures. Previously introduced policies cannot deliver cuts: the 2008 target to reduce energy intensity of GDP by 40% by 2020 was ‘ghosted’ and the reasons for its failure never officially analysed. Another major problem is the lack of financing. The Strategy does not include any mechanism for putting a price on carbon, although that could finance policy implementation. It remains unclear how the investment flows required for low-carbon development, 1% to 2% of GDP, are to be generated.

Russian official sources consider that the 2021 Law on Limiting Greenhouse Gas Emissions provides a sufficient regulatory framework for implementation and financing. It consists of two main parts: mandatory greenhouse gas emission reporting for industry and voluntary ‘climate projects’ – but both of these are only ‘imitational’. No verification of the emissions data submitted by the companies is required. Moreover, the ‘climate projects’ fail to generate validated emission reductions: the regulatory framework lacks a credible system for project verification, and disregards public transparency of project data and international approaches to additionality criteria. Thus, allowing access for Russian carbon credits would compromise the environmental integrity of foreign greenhouse gas regulation systems.

While the ‘imitational’ approach to climate policy is nothing new, the tightening of societal and political suppression further curbs critical views on federal decisions also inside the administration. Also, environmental NGOs in Russia have been largely closed or silenced through administrative and criminal prosecution for criticizing governmental decisions, and some critics have been denounced as foreign agents.

Although it is clear that, as a result of the Russian War in Ukraine, climate cooperation with Russia is not currently feasible, it is nevertheless possible for other countries to limit Russia’s impact on the global climate. National and regional carbon-regulation systems must maintain rigorous criteria for linking to foreign systems, to ensure that Russia’s non-additional carbon credits will not be allowed to dilute them. It is up to the Russian government to establish a credible and transparent system that can generate additional emissions reductions. Further, under the current regime, the declining exports of fossil fuels due to sanctions limit Russia’s direct impact on the global climate. Given the state of relations between Russia and the West, Russian demands for lifting Western sanctions on low-carbon technologies are ignored; after all, Russia’s history of non-action on climate and abandoned cooperation projects can hardly encourage cooperation even in peaceful times.



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