Russia after Paris: Green Light to International Dialogue on Low-Carbon Development

Intensive international cooperation is a key prerequisite for successful and ambitious global climate action. Russia, one of the world’s top 5 greenhouse gas emitters and the second largest producer of crude oil and natural gas, has long been regarded as one of the major veto players in international climate politics. Nevertheless, during the last decade climate awareness among Russian policymakers and other relevant stakeholders has increased dramatically. This is illustrated by the fact that the updated Strategy of National Security of the Russian Federation refers to climate change as a threat to national and public security. The Paris Agreement gave the Russian climate policy a strong new impetus.

At present, Russia’s climate action is guided primarily by the government’s action plan on mitigation, which was issued in 2014. According to the plan, first priority areas include the establishment of an MRV system at the corporate level, the assessment of emissions reduction potentials as well as the choice of the most suitable mitigation instruments. Although the current objective to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and by 25-30% by 2030 is considered to be fairly moderate in terms of ambition, important decisions regarding emissions management have intentionally been delayed until the period after 2017, when the MRV system is to be completed. Over the course of the next two years, Russia will develop the economic model for managing emissions and modify the relevant legislation.

Although these high-level political signals are encouraging, national climate policies are largely formed as a result of bottom-up processes. This occurs at multiple levels, involving a wide range of stakeholders, such as business actors, academia, civil society and subnational authorities. In Russia, think tanks, businesses and federal subjects are taking their first steps in bringing the economy onto a low-carbon development path. In particular, in 2015, the Climate Partnership of Russia was launched comprising 11 large enterprises favouring green development, increased carbon transparency and the introduction of market-based instruments that would stimulate technology modernisation.

Along with the business community, several pioneer regions and municipalities are developing climate-friendly strategies and adopting concrete measures. For instance, projects on sustainable transport have been realised in the Republic of Tatarstan and Kaliningrad, several federal subjects have adopted climate change mitigation and sustainable development strategies and action plans; Saint Petersburg prepared the first regional adaptation strategy. Sustainable forest management is being promoted in Altai Krai, whereas other federal subjects are enhancing the use of renewable energy (e.g. solar plants in Belgorod Oblast, Republic of Bashkortostan, Sakha Republic).

Notwithstanding the progress made, there is still an urgent need for strengthening the Russian climate change agenda. Thus far, Russia has not adopted a national strategy of low-carbon development. Private actors and subnational entities lack comprehensive understanding of what measures are most feasible and beneficial to follow a low-emission path. Limited institutional, technological and legal capacities are only some of the problems faced by the actors, together with insufficient experience in introducing climate-friendly policy instruments. Many of the problems mentioned can be solved by means of intensifying bilateral and multilateral cooperation in climate diplomacy. Here are some important aspects for Russia’s international partners to consider:

  • Modernisation of the economy is a key policy priority. In Russia, low-carbon development is increasingly seen as an attractive opportunity for modernising the economy by introducing energy-efficient technologies and further innovations. As one of the most energy-intensive countries in the world, Russia has a special interest in modernising its economy in order to maintain its competitiveness. As early as 2008, the government set a target to reduce energy intensity by 40% of 2007 levels by 2020. In 2014, however, support for energy-efficiency programmes was substantially cut due to economic stagnation. Nevertheless, the country is still interested in projects that aim to enhance technological modernisation and increase energy efficiency.
  • Knowledge transfer is crucial for low-carbon development in Russia. International experience shows that knowledge transfer is especially valuable for the development of climate policy instruments, such as emissions trading systems. In spite of the huge potential for cooperation on climate and low-carbon development, the number of existing bilateral projects and programmes in these spheres involving Russia is extremely low. The situation is exacerbated by political sanctions, which have resulted in a de-facto termination of many bilateral contacts. It is, however, essential to restore dialogue and support the green transformation of the Russian economy by encouraging knowledge transfer and exchange.
  • Civil society actors are key strategic dialogue partners. Civil society organisations such as the National Carbon Sequestration Foundation or ECOPOLIS occupy an important niche in the formation of Russian climate policy. They inform the law-making process, keep track of the fulfilment of Russia’s international commitments, engage in resource mobilisation and raise climate awareness. They are also key strategic dialogue partners, as they have strong ties to other relevant stakeholders including the business community and regional actors.
  • Providing support for already launched initiatives is essential. Significant progress has already been made and it is highly important to support the existing initiatives and prevent current developments from stagnating. What is more, many of the initiatives are open and willing to cooperate with international partners. This applies, for instance, to the businesses comprising the Climate Partnership of Russia and the influential business association “Delovaya Rossiya” (“Business Russia”) that unites small and medium-sized enterprises from more than 40 sectors. Supporting progress at the regional level is also vital, because instruments adopted by the regions can have a bottom-up effect and be a source of knowledge and experience both for the neighbouring regions and the federal level.

There has never been a more suitable and strategically important moment to cooperate with Russia on climate change and low-carbon development. What can be observed now is a reverse tendency towards freezing international ties with Russia. Cutting cooperation, especially in the areas of investment and technology, can, however, result in the loss of all the progress made so far. Intensive international collaboration can, on the contrary, reinforce the decarbonisation of the Russian economy. Taking into consideration the aspects mentioned above will ensure that cooperation is fruitful and strategically focused.