By John Helmer, Moscow
When the Russian delegation arrives in Peru next week for a fresh session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), it is proposing several initiatives for debate and vote. None of them proposes to cut greenhouse gas emissions below the target set a year ago by President Vladimir Putin. But according to a report issued this week in Moscow, that target has already been achieved. For further cuts there is next to no enthusiasm from state or business officials.
Alexander Bedritsky is the head of the Russian delegation and chief negotiator on climate change. Now 68, for many years he was the head of the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet). Between 2003 and 2011 he was President of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). In 2009 then-President Dmitry Medvedev appointed him advisor on climate change, defining his responsibility for “establishing and advancing Russia’s position on climate change.” For international negotiations he was then given the rank of special presidential envoy.
Bedritsky has published a list of his appearances on the Kremlin website , along with his principal speeches outlining what Russian policy on climate change is. A year ago, in Warsaw, Bedritsky declared : “We favour the bottom-up approach to country commitments. The alternative (top-down approach) has not proven successful in the multilateral process. The most preferable format for a new agreement is, in our view, a protocol to the Convention, which would have a commitment period of no less than 10 years. “
Bedritsky was being diplomatic. What he meant was that the US, China, and a great many other countries, including Russia, lack the domestic consensus and the national interest to accept across-the-board reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to targets which the non-governmental climate lobby groups have been advocating, particularly in Europe. Bottom-up means that individual governments will decide what cuts they will implement over what period of time, and in what conditions of economic growth. For Russia, Russian official sources now say, these cuts should be called “contributions” — a significant change of wording from “commitments”.
A year ago, Bedritsky added that “in the current absence of an agreement covering the period up to 2020 (although the 2nd KP commitment period does regulate about 15% of global emissions), we believe it is necessary to recognize national 2020 pledges made under the Convention by a special decision of the Conference of the Parties. It would bolster faith in the negotiation process and heighten countries’ sense of responsibility.”
At the same time, the Russian proposals to the negotiations, which will reconvene next week in Lima, set procedural criteria for quorum and consensus which Russian critics call stumbling blocks to the negotiating process. According to
Mikhail Yulkin (right), “it would be desirable to see Russia joining the ‘main chorus’ and contributing to the adoption in Paris of a new climate agreement, in any format that will satisfy everyone. It would be desirable if Russia’s position
would be constructive, so that we did not make an agenda of unnecessary and superfluous issues which can complicate and confuse the substantive decisions.”
One of the leading Russian analysts of climate change, Yulkin is head of the Climate Change Working Group of the business lobby, Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP). He also sits on the government’s commission on climate change which includes ministries and public sector representatives. He is not a direct critic of Bedritsky; he acknowledges that the government’s hands are being tied by the resistance to costs as the economy worsens.
Others in the Russian science community say they are also concerned at the way in which the US sanctions war is casting a shadow on the involvement of Russian scientists in international forums, as well as Russian negotiators in inter-government meetings like next week’s Conference of the Parties (COP 20).
In September of this year Bedritsky spoke  on what Russia wants out of the COP 20 conference in Lima, and is willing to put into the draft agreement on climate change, due for finalization in Paris next year. Again he repeated “Regarding possible commitments for the post-2020 period, we favour the ‘bottom-up’ approach, which means that countries should determine their commitments themselves. In our view, the new climate agreement should be based on the principles established by the UNFCCC, including the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Commitments of developed and developing countries may be different but at the same time they should have equal status and be subject to accountability.”
This week Bedritsky was scheduled to appear at a climate change conference in Moscow, and to answer public and press questions. He didn’t arrive. At his Kremlin office, he was asked to clarify the bottom-up idea by identifying what countries come closest to Russia, and what coordination of policy positions Russia is pursuing with members of the BRICS group – Brazil, India, China and South Africa – and with the members and candidates of the Eurasian Customs Union – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. Bedritsky declined to reply.
In 2011, the Kremlin announced that Bedritsky (below, 2nd from right) had met with Xie Zhenhua (centre), Deputy Chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, and “reviewed practical cooperation between Russia and China in the sphere of economic and social adaptation to climate change.” “Expanding climate cooperation among the BRICS states” was also reported as a topic of their talks.
Moscow sources say there has been talk of coordinating climate change policy with the Chinese and South African governments, but nothing has happened. According to Yulkin, “no concerted action was taken. Kazakhstan has its own system of regulation. Belarus is also going to do something different. There is not even a joint working group. There is an exchange of experience at the expert level, but at the level of interstate decision-making a coordination, there is nothing.”
Critics of the government believe that Bedritsky is under pressure from other government officials and from Russian corporations not to go too far into coordinated negotiating lest Russia find itself bound by commitments Russian business doesn’t want to keep.
Oleg Pluzhnikov, deputy director for energy efficiency at the Ministry of Economic Development, said this week: “cooperation with other countries is not developing at an exponential rate, but we have some cooperation. Quite recently we have begun to communicate with experts on the establishment of a working group with China.”
The presidential decree on reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, signed by President Vladimir Putin on September 30, 2013, set the target of 75% of the emissions recorded in 1990 to be achieved by 2020. But the wording is too vague, Yulkin says . There is no identification of which gases should be cut, nor how to measure the volumes targeted for reduction. Does the Kremlin plan refer, Yulkin asks, only to industrial emissions, or to natural phenomena resulting from agricultural and forest operations; to emissions from inside Russia, or from shipping around Russia’s coasts, air operations over Russian territory, and transport of imports to Russia?
Yulkin calculates that in 2011, “the latest year for which there is an official report on GHG emissions in Russia, anthropogenic GHG emissions, calculated in accordance with the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol, without the balance of emissions related to land and forest management, amounted to 2.3 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent — 69% of 1990 emissions. Taking into account land and forest management, [the total is] 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent. That is 50% of the emissions in 1990. Look at the difference!”
“There is an understandable desire not to incur unnecessarily stringent obligations. It is not clear how this relates to the goal to reduce GHG emissions globally by 50% by 2050, which Russia supports and shares. The [Kremlin] plan sounds paradoxical. If we take into account that the current level of GHG emissions is below the level established by the decree, it turns out that the government should provide in its plan actions to increase GHG emissions by 2020.”
This week in Moscow CDP, an international climate-change study group, held a conference of Russian government and business officials, and presented CDP’s “Russia Climate Change Report 2014”. Coca Cola and Ernst & Young were sponsors; research and writing of the report was supervised by Melsa Ararat of Sabancı University in Turkey. Bedritsky’s keynote speech was notable by its absence. The full CDP report can be read here .
On the one hand, the report acknowledges that “as a resource rich emerging economy strongly reliant on the production and sale of non-renewable hydrocarbons, Russia has seemingly little interest in making the transition to a low-carbon model. On the other hand, energy efficiency remains a clear priority of the Government.”
Assessing the recorded volume of greenhouse gas emissions, the report notes that the volume is down significantly from the 1990 level. But reflecting the impact of the 2008 recession, and the subsequent recovery, the volume of emissions has risen significantly since then.
Breaking the emission figures down by type of gas and by the sectoral source of emission, a more disturbing picture emerges.
This table and the accompanying analysis indicate the biggest contributors to gas emission increases are from motor vehicles (64.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent). The oil and gas industry is responsible for another 30.6 million tonnes of the increased emissions since 2008; this aggregate is evenly split between flaring of gas; leakage of methane from oil and gas production; and combustion at oil refineries.
A comparison of emission cuts by sector since 1990 indicates which Russian industries are lagging behind the presidential target of 75%. Evidently, the oil and gas sector has been increasing emissions over the 1990 benchmark, not cutting. So too, motor transport, housing, and waste management. Coal-mining is unchanged, while the steel industry has recorded the most significant improvement.
With the oil and gas majors lining up on the wrong side of the Kremlin targets, it is unsurprising that Rosneft did not participate in CDP’s current survey; Gazprom, Novatek, LUKoil and Surgutneftgas did participate. According to CDP, “many Russian companies are reluctant to participate in the CDP Climate Change information request and disclose information about their climate-change related activities and results. The overall numbers of Russian companies participating in the CDP in 2013 and 2014 are much lower compared to other developed and leading emerging economies, including Brazil, India, China and South Africa.”
Alexei Kokorin  (right) directs the climate and energy programme at the Russian office of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). He believes that Russian climate-change negotiators are increasing their coordination with Kazakhstan and Belarus, but that there are obstacles in the way of a coordinated position with BRICS. “China, India, Brazil, and South Africa have formed a group [of their own] to emphasize their particular role. They hold regular consultations in which Russia does not participate.”
Kokorin said there is a clear consensus in the Russian scientific community that man-made sources are contributing to global warming, and that they should be reduced. Russian public opinion, he and other sources note, is more focused on direct air and water pollution, than on climate change. The sources are reluctant to confront Russian business opposition to numerical targets and the expenditure required to meet them.
Kokorin said that Russia’s negotiating emphasis on procedural issues cannot lead to deadlock on the terms of a new agreement, while consensus is possible. “Perhaps there will be a compromise — that the agreement will contain only principles, without numerical contributions. Numerical parameters may be in a separate document of the United Nations.”
Yulkin sums up: “The question of the [decision-making] procedures is very important; of course this question must be solved. But it is much more important to agree between the countries on the same direction, to make an agreement how this should work, and then to discuss procedural issues. Better [for Russia] to coordinate positions with the major players, and not improvise on the airplane to Paris next year, when that risks all sorts of complications.”