In 1994 Russia ratified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and subsequently took part in all of its Conferences of the Parties. The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, was ratified by Russia in 2004. Developed countries, including Russia, have committed themselves to an annual 5% emission reduction compared to 1990 levels. But for Russia, these commitments do not imply a real "environmental breakthrough". To give an idea, in 2000, for example, emissions were 40% lower than in 1990. In 2015, the Russian authorities reported that greenhouse gas emissions from all sources were 44% below the 1990 levels, one of the biggest reductions in the world.
In 2015, the Kyoto Protocol was replaced by the Paris Agreement, which Russia adopted in 2019. In the same year, the national climate change adaptation plan for the first phase for the period 2020-2022 was approved. Subsequently, a new concept of “climate change adaptation” appeared in Russian political and legal discourse, providing for the development and implementation of operational and long-term measures. Regional and federal authorities are now developing an appropriate legal framework to ensure adaptation, in particular a system of targets and statistical indicators, methodological recommendations on climate risk assessment, etc. Regional climate adaptation plans must be approved by May 2022.
Moreover, to implement the Paris Agreement, a Strategy for the Long-Term Development of the Russian Federation with Low Greenhouse Gas Emissions until 2050 has been adopted. This document has been heavily criticised by the environmental community, in particular for its lack of ambition - the proposed scenario assumes a 48% reduction in emissions by 2050, which essentially means maintaining the current level of emissions.
In addition to commitments to participate in global climate action, Russia has developed its own national projects, most notably the national "Ecology" programme for 2019-2024. Increasingly, this "green response" is also reflected at corporate level, where, contrary to global trends, most "green companies" are engaged in non-ecological production, but are striving to minimise their "ecological footprint" - e.g. Rusal, Sibur and Alrosa.
Hence, not only is Russia a participant in the global environmental agenda but it also politically supports the emerging global 'green consensus'. The status of active player in the green agenda is also essential for participation in the decision-making process.
Russia's climatic and environmental situation
Despite the figures, the climate situation in the country does not leave much room for optimism. The ecological and climatic situation is unfavourable, even critical, in some regions of the country. Russia is one of the world's worst performers in CO2 emissions, after China, the US and India. The structure of greenhouse gas emissions by sector has remained stable over the last decades, with the energy sector accounting for around 80%. Emissions of air pollutants from stationary sources are closely correlated with the structure of the country's economy; in 2019, the largest sector in terms of emissions from stationary sources was manufacturing (33.9%), followed by mining, including oil and gas, coal and metal ores (28.7%).
Experts assume that Russia is warming 2.5 times faster than the global average due to its northern latitude; in 2020 temperatures in the Arctic Circle hit new record levels. Environmental problems such the pollution of water bodies by industrial waste and rubbish, flooding and thawing of permafrost, illegal logging and forest fires, as well as unauthorised landfills, are increasing year by year. Another crucial problem is energy efficiency, in particular that of buildings. According to Roshydromet, about 1000 hazardous hydro-meteorological phenomena are registered in Russia every year, with 35 to 45% of these phenomena causing significant damage to the economy and livelihood of the local population.
In October 2020, a sociological survey was carried out in Russia, entitled 'The Environmental Agenda: 10 months before the Duma elections’. Among other things, the data revealed that more than 60% of interviewees assess the ecological situation in Russia as favourable, while 53% believe that the ecological situation in Russia has slightly deteriorated. The majority of Russians, however, do not seem to be concerned with environmental issues. This is indirectly confirmed by another survey stating that more than half of Russians (63%) have never heard of the eco-activist Greta Thunberg.
The EU's Green Deal Diplomacy
For Russia, the Paris Agreement does not pose a serious threat, as the stated target remains unambitious. However, the European Union's Green Deal might pose a bigger challenge; Russia is not taking part in it and is not making any commitments, but the imminent drop in demand for Russian energy implies a significant reduction in revenue for the Russian budget.
The EU is sending some important messages to Russia: climate change makes no winners; ecology has no boundaries; the cost of inaction is much higher than the cost of action. Implementing the Green Deal does not just require additional funding and investment, but also a restructuring of the economic system. This, of course, applies first and foremost to the EU member states though: the Visegrad countries have taken a tough stance and have voiced their reluctance to accept this pan-European green levelling. At the same time, the “coronacrisis” could be a convenient excuse to postpone the Green Deal’s implementation . Brussels, however, for its part, is convinced that the Green Deal is key to its growth strategy and even foreign policy.
Today, the EU is already a globally recognised environmental leader (representing only 7.5% of global emissions). The EU is not only establishing itself as the flagship of international climate policy, but it is also establishing the environment as an essential principle, particularly in its approach to third countries. The EU has already proposed to make the Paris Agreement an essential element of all future comprehensive trade agreements.
In other words, environmental norms and standards are becoming part of the EU’s normative power. For instance, one of the EU’s main arguments for active involvement in the Arctic is that pollution there harms the lives of Europeans and autochthonous peoples living in EU territory (though the EU has no Arctic territories). The EU has already called on the International Maritime Organization to ban the use of heavy fuel by Arctic ships on environmental grounds. If it does not agree, the EU has threatened to ban all foreign ships using such fuel from entering its ports.
Global challenge means global cooperation
Implementation of the Green Deal confirms the EU's status as a global environmental leader and, since the environment has no national borders, the EU expects to be able to extend its regulatory power beyond its territory. The situation may become particularly acute in the Arctic.
On a global level, the Russian government fully supports the climate agenda and sets competitive if not exactly ambitious goals. At the national level, however, the situation is different and the environment is not protected adequately. With the adoption of the European Green Deal, Russia finds itself at a crossroads. There are two scenarios: either to continue the current passive environmental policy or to choose the paradigm of green development, albeit gradual. Obviously, the second scenario requires much more effort and implies high costs - financial, technological and managerial.
Russian-European relations will depend on the path Russia chooses: the EU has already made its choice. Russia and the EU member states are linked culturally and economically, but the economic link is and will continue to be weakened by the EU's declining energy imports. EU-Russia green dialogue has the potential to create new bridges between the sides and serve as a platform for the normalisation of relations (“win-win strategy”) in areas such as science and technology, as well as civil society and business. This, however, can only happen if the EU pursues a strategy of gradual engagement, and not one of “pressure and punishment”, which has proven ineffective on several occasions in the case of Russia.