Climate change fails to make Russia’s top 50 priorities

By Olga Dobrovidova

The cat is out of the bag: climate change policy clearly does not make it into the top 50 priorities of long term development in Russia, according to Oleg Pluzhnikov of the Ministry of Economic Development.

That is, apparently, painfully obvious from all official documents detailing the country’s development plans.

“Is climate policy one of Russia’s long term development priorities? As a MED representative I can tell you that there is a multitude of other priorities… I would say it’s definitely not in the top 50”, Pluzhnikov told an audience of business and NGO experts in Moscow.

He went on to explain that a whole lot of issues directly or indirectly related to climate change – energy efficiency and forest management, for instance – are recognized and dealt with separately, without any climate context whatsoever.

So thinking that climate policy could be a development driver in Russia “would be premature and, frankly, a bit naive”, says Pluzhnikov.

It is unclear how seriously the Kremlin takes climate change, despite the potential threats it faces from melting Arctic tundra

The round table where this revelation occurred was about a possible Russian emissions trading system, something that MED regarded as desirable in its recommendations unveiled earlier this year.

According to Pluzhnikov, for now MED would rather focus on a detailed and thorough examination of what others have been doing, especially the somewhat mixed European experience.

No one, by the way, has any significant hopes for the 2015 agreement – the cautious consensus at the table was that it would not happen (hello there, ADP in Bonn!).

That, in Pluzhnikov’s view, is also a reason why we should cool down on emissions trading.

Others were quick to note that, if anything, regional developments are now pretty much disconnected from the international policy track – so yes, they probably won’t make it, so what?

Plus, there are several internal policy challenges, mainly in the energy sector, that could be tackled much more effectively when framed as CO2-related.

But as long as climate policy is out of the cool kids’ club for Russia, those challenges are on their own.

The Government Analytical Center, a relatively new think tank hosting the event, posed a list of detailed questions for experts, outlining possible risks and benefits of carbon markets, market readiness and so on.

But the real question that matters surfaced almost immediately – why?

As WWF Russia’s Alexey Kokorin pointed out, counties which do have a price on carbon often have it for reasons that are far more pragmatic than just tackling climate change.

Some want to achieve energy independence (hint: sometimes even from Russia), others feel that their economic competitiveness is threatened by global or local “green” trends.

So, why would Russia want a Russian emissions trading scheme? That, apparently, remains everyone’s homework assignment.

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