While polluting companies use sanctions to get rid of climate regulation, Russian scientists are unable to share crucial equipment and data.
As the European Union moves closer to an embargo deal on Russian oil, there is much talk about the impact of war-related sanctions on Europe’s energy transition and the world’s decarbonisation efforts.
But the sanctions also have strong implications for Russia’s already slow and rather unsure green transition, be it the modernisation of its energy sector or climate science.
What Russia does or does not do matters for the rest of us: the world’s eleventh-largest economy also happens to be the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the second-largest crude oil exporter, and the world’s largest gas exporter.
Russian economy is dependent on the exploitation and use of fossil fuels and energy-intensive industry. Oil and gas alone account for 35-40% federal budget revenue in recent decades. Hydrocarbons fuel Russia’s elite’s wealth and power but are also framed as a source of energy security and welfare for the country’s citizens.
Russia was, until recently, viewed as a country in a weak position in international climate negotiations. At best, it was a passive player, and at worst, a saboteur for global ambition.
Things have changed over time, most notably after November 2021 when its government adopted framework climate legislation with an objective of achieving a net-zero target for 2060. It also introduced a greenhouse gas emission reporting system to large emitters, adopted its first national Climate Adaptation Plan, and initiated a carbon-trading program in its remote far Eastern region with the aim of reaching carbon neutrality by 2025.
Some will argue that these initiatives are driven by outsiders. For example, as part of the European Union’s Green Deal package, the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) is set to place a carbon price on imports entering the European single market from non-EU countries such as Russia from 2026. The border tariff, which would see imports covered by carbon pricing equivalent to Europe’s carbon market, the emissions trading system, has been credited with inspiring the Russian government and industry to finally take climate change seriously.
However, with every passing day of war these external incentives lose traction, making Russia’s domestic climate policy more uncertain than ever.
On the one hand, it would be mistaken to claim all that is left of Russia’s climate policy is a tabula rasa. The truth is, today’s policy programmes and “green” business strategies do not fully hinge on foreign pressure. Although Russia’s parliament, the Duma, debated leaving the Paris Agreement earlier this week, there remains political will to uphold it.
The chairman of the Duma’s Committee on Ecology, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, Vyacheslav Fetisov, for example, has said: “Russia does not plan to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement [and] is not going to abandon the implementation of this most important environmental international legal instrument.”
State agencies, companies, think tanks and other institutions that have developed “green” strategies over the past years, insist on their enduring relevance for the global fight against climate change, but also climate impacts on Russia and future trade prospects.
The climate head of WWF Russia, Aleksey Kokorin, has even voiced optimism that gas surpluses resulting from sanctions could be used to substitute the country’s coal and prompt the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to drop.
UkraineRussia faces legal charges for environmental damage
Yet, it is clear that decarbonisation plans have been made more difficult by the economic crisis, the sanctions and the stronger anti-Western rhetoric resulting from the war. Politicians and lobbyists who have been opposed to decarbonisation efforts are now calling for a withdrawal of the Paris Agreement.
Many businesses are taking advantage to force the government to reduce environmental regulation to help them manage harsher economic conditions. Recent bills have already pointed in this direction.
Reports indicate that there are talks between the government & energy companies about the possibility of relaxing verification and reporting on greenhouse gas emissions. For example, one of the country’s biggest oil suppliers, Lukoil, has pushed the government to scrap a legislation compelling large energy companies to verify their reporting on greenhouse gas emissions with an independent company starting from 1 January 2023.
Import restrictions on technology, the dwindling of foreign capital sources and the freezing of international programmes have further stalled plans to modernise the country’s old industries. Russia’s fledging renewables sector has also taken a hit, with some international investors (including Vestas, Fortum and ENEL) halting their plans in Russia or withdrawing from the country completely.
This has led politicians, businesspeople, scientists, and others to discuss alternative technologies and domestic financing options for the energy transition.
African nations’ dash for gas exposes division at the UN and ‘hypocrisy’ in Europe
The sanctions have also had a serious impact upon climate science in Russia. This matters not only to those who implement concrete decarbonisation measures, but also to global science communities.
This is especially striking in light of other instances in Russian history where scientists have succeeded in overcoming political tensions. Despite the Cold War climate scientists were able advance global climate science within 1972 USSR environmental accord, which allowed for the exchange data, equipment, and joint publications.
However, international governments and scientific bodies have sanctioned Russian research institutions. Meanwhile, the EU has suspended Russia’s participation in its flagship research programme Horizon Europe and national research councils of several European states paused collaborations with Russia.
Research areas that rely heavily on foreign equipment are particularly affected. For instance, Germany’s Max Planck Institute (MPI) has received a 64-page list with electronic devices that the EU forbids scientists to share with Russian colleagues on the grounds they could be used for military purposes.
In early February, the Russian government announced plans to invest 5.9 billion roubles (at the time of writing, approximately $92 million) into climate and decarbonisation research, and create Russia’s own system to track carbon emissions.
Alexander Chernokulsky from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of Russia Academy of Sciences told us that the future of this project is uncertain due to the lack of foreign equipment.
Similar results have been obtained by German and Russian scientists who have been measuring CO for many years.2 concentration changes in the atmosphere from a tall tower observatory, ZOTTO, in the southwest Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk, considered a “hot spot” because of its potential for large carbon storage or leak. Here again, in an e-mail exchange with us, MPI scientist Sönke Zaehle has warned that the medium- and long-term future of the station are at risk from a lack of maintenance support from the German side.
Arctic research is critical for understanding climate change. Here, at least 12 international collaborations with Russia were also stalled. There are particular concerns about the maintenance of long term measuring systems essential for climate modelling. “There is this fear of a blind spot, no matter what research topic in the Arctic you approach,” Anne Morgenstern, a coordinator of the German Alfred Wegener Institute’s scientific cooperation with Russia, told us.
Russian climate scientists have also lost access the Climate Data Store. This single point provides access to a variety of climate datasets for past and future climates. These include satellite observations, in situ measurements, climate model projections, and seasonal forecasts.
They cannot access supercomputers based elsewhere, and the departure of technology firms like Intel will eventually lead the to a decline in computing capacity in general, according Evgeny Volodin (a climate modeller at Institute of Computational Mathematics, Russian Academy of Sciences).
Wartime could lead to environmental concerns being ignored. We are at a time in earth history when the opportunities to reduce climate catastrophe are diminishing. Therefore, we do not believe that subordinating climate matters to the demands and temporalities wars make sense. Attempts to stop the war have to stand alongside efforts to advance transnational climate cooperation and action, despite the damages and dilemmas caused by Russia’s war.
Ambitious international climate goals, including phasing-out oil and gas production as rapidly as possible, are vital to increase pressure upon the fossil fuel industry, war machine, as well as to support those forces within Russia who are still committed to decarbonisation.
Katja Doose is a senior researcher at the University of Fribourg and Alexander Vorbrugg is a geographer at Université de Berne.
Angelina Davydova, a climate and environmental journalist. She is currently a fellow at Berlin-based Media in Cooperation and Transition programme (MICT) and a coordinator at N-ost, a network that supports cross-border journalism.
This article is republished under Creative Commons license from The Conversation. Read the original article.
Source: Climate Change News