Letter to Russia: don’t shoot yourself in both feet at UN climate talks

Russia’s 2020 climate targets are “borderline delusional” says a seasoned Kremlin carbon observer


By Olga Dobrovidova in Warsaw

As Russia prepares to deliver its ministerial statement in the talks on Wednesday, I too would like to take this opportunity to address my homeland.

And I apologize for my somewhat worn and probably copyrighted choice of words, but I do have some inconvenient truth to tell.

The country’s economy is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and that sure sounds like an approaching train. Here’s a quote from the new draft 2030 economic forecast recently leaked to the media: “In the next 20 years, the Russian economy will not be able to return to its growth trajectory of 2000-2008, and even slower growth will require substantial reforms”.

The words used by experts to describe the outlook are ‘stagnation’ and ‘flaccid’ – at best. The 2013 and 2014 GDP projections have been lowered almost by everyone who does them, including the government, and growth in industry this year is expected to stay within the boundaries of statistical error.

This, in my view, makes our 2020 target not just lacking ambition but borderline delusional.

The recently formalized 25% below 1990 was essentially born four or five years ago, before the global recession really hit, and in expectations of a small dip, a speedy recovery and continued growth. But planning for emissions increase when you have a bad economic decade ahead of you is anything but ‘pulling your weight’ in international cooperation on climate change.

Frankly, it’s closer to shooting yourself in both feet. Not only does this embarrassment of a target attracts unnecessary attention and anger at Russia and leaves us with a weaker hand at the negotiating table, it also implies that we are OK with the kind of growth we’ve had so far and, larger, with the kind of economy we’ve had so far.

Which, need I remind you, is screeching to a halt.Do we really want to continue single-handedly flaring as much associated petroleum gas as the next three countries – Nigeria, Iran and Iraq – combined?

Do we want to go on with massive deforestation in the next decade too? Are we fine with losses in central heating system that amount to 40%? Those are not the ratings to top, this might be – and you’ve been sliding down since Copenhagen.Speaking of which – the UN climate process seems to have finally got over 2009, and we should too.

It’s time we stopped freaking out over the prospect of Actually Decreasing Emissions, because, clearly, so far this has not been working out so well.

My dearest Russia, you love the concept of decoupling so much you never fail to mention the fact that in 1998-2011 Russian GDP doubled while its energy intensity almost halved.

In a sense, this pre-2020 approach of yours – when emissions are expected to grow while GDP is not – is decoupling too, but, trust me, it’s the kind you don’t want to flaunt.

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