Visions for the future of the Russian coal industry in light of the global decarbonisation trend

Policy Brief, Climate Strategies, 2021, 9 p.

This paper presents two discourses, which illustrate the main Russian approaches to the collision course between coal mining and the global low-carbon trend. Despite declining demand and unprofitability, the conservative ‘keep coal’ vision, advocated by the Russian coal sector and political leadership, does not foresee an end to coal mining and exports. In contrast, the ‘low-carbon trend’ proposes to adjust to external low-carbon triggers which cannot be avoided to remain competitive in a global low-carbon economy. Besides these two economically and politically motivated discourses, a ‘local environmental’ discourse provides an example of a Russian environmentally-driven discourse. This environmental discourse is concerned with the coal industry’s impact on environmental pollution and health rather than climate change. None of the discourses advocate for a coal phase-out. With the possibility to redirect coal exports to the East, Russia’s coal course is likely to continue for the next decades. The coal sector is increasingly dependent on future coal demand in Asia, China in particular, and the global market price of coal which continues to fluctuate. Consequently, already impoverished coal communities may be further economically disadvantaged increasing the likelihood of social unrest and political instability. The political leadership aims to avoid such instabilities by introducing additional subsidies to the sector, whilst a domestic debate on a coal phase-out and measures to economically diversify affected regions could avoid adverse long-term social and economic consequences.

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