History suggests bleak future for Russia’s climate ambition

By Olga Dobrovidova

As RTCC readers know, right now the UN climate talks are basically stalled by a messy agenda fight in one of the subsidiary bodies that has already eaten up half of its negotiating time.

So, at this moment of pure and endless joy we are all having courtesy of Russia et al, G77 and China and their admirable resolve, let me tell you a story.

It started in May 2012 – yes, that’s right, at a previous Bonn session of the talks. I had just arrived to the festivities and almost instantly had to write a very inspiring story, one of great hope and optimism.

Russia’s luke warm enthusiasm for climate measures at the G8 has not survived far beyond the meetings’ end (Source: Flickr/White House)

At the G8 summit across the pond, in the US, the good guys had won, and Russia had stopped blocking the portion of the Camp David Declaration about dealing with short-lived climate factors – specifically about all G8 members joining the freshly-minted Climate and Clean Air Coalition.

Wow, I thought. The Russian authorities finally managed to get past automatically rejecting everything, looked into the matter and joined what could be an important component of global climate action outside the UN. Kudos, I thought.

Let me tell you what happened next. Do you know what we did last summer? That’s right, we argued over who should be the national focal point for the coalition – seriously, we spent more than three months doing that. Guess which ministry did not want to have anything to do with climate and clean air? Yes, that was our Ministry of Environment.

When that was settled, apparently, much to their dismay, all that was left was a plan of action. Completely voluntary and non-binding action, mind you, and since there’s no formal divide in the Coalition, Russia could, in principle, get other countries to help fund it.


Imagine a nationwide monitoring program for black carbon in the Arctic, something that is currently on the table at the Arctic Council. Imagine finally getting to know how much methane exactly is escaping the national pipeline system every year.

Imagining those things is as close as we can get, because so far, Russia has not produced its national plan of action and therefore is not a member of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. Russia is also the only G8 member failing to deliver on the promise made more than a year ago. Furthermore, the Russian presidential advisor and special envoy on climate change, Alexander Bedritsky, has already openly questioned the purpose and usefulness of CCAC.

Many of my fellow journalists referred to the Coalition meeting on the sidelines of COP18 in Doha as one of the few examples of real progress, a breath of fresh, methane-, HFC- and soot-free air between the clouds of bullying and acronyms. At the press conference afterwards, people were asking, “why do you think it’s so easy for countries to agree in this room and so hard in all the others?”.

The question I came there to ask, though, was “where the hell is Russia?”. It makes me so sad that, despite Achim Steiner personally telling me it was a matter of weeks if not days, six months from that moment, I can still ask the same question.

But I’d rather choose a different one, and it’s for all those people who want the future climate agreement, if any, to both be legally binding and have ambitious emissions reduction targets. Here’s a country that is clearly failing to live up to its own promise of completely voluntary climate action – how likely do you think it is to meaningfully contribute to something more serious?

Take a moment to think about that – the SBI plenary is not expected before 6 pm anyway.

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