Russia enlists Gazprom to drive down transport pollution levels

Kremlin aims to cut rising pollution and emission levels by investing in gas-powered cars, buses and lorries

(Pic: Thawt Hawthje/Flickr)

(Pic: Thawt Hawthje/Flickr)

By Olga Dobrovidova in Moscow

The Russian Ministry of Transport is extremely concerned by rapidly growing CO2 emissions from the country’s transportation sector.

So concerned that it has apparently befriended Gazprom, one of the top five companies responsible for global historical greenhouse gas emissions, in the hopes of tackling this difficult issue.

Motor transportation was the main driving force behind a sharp rise in Russia’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2011. The sector saw its emissions rise some 55% above pre-crisis peak 2008 levels.

Automobiles now come second, right behind Russia’s enormous fuel and energy sector – beating industry and construction. In 2011, transport emissions stood at 181.4 million tonnes of CO2, that is, around one third of total emissions in the UK.

Recognizing the problem, the Ministry of Transport and UN Development Program in 2012 launched a five-year project on GHG emissions reduction from road transport. Last week, the two institutions held a round table on the issue during a major annual sector conference in Moscow, which was unexpectedly chaired by Maxim Sokolov, the minister himself.

The round table featured several UNEP and UNDP experts who talked about various approaches to the feasible task of increasing fuel efficiency and reducing emissions – from labeling and fuel standards to a revenue neutral carbon tax. But it looks like the ministry has found a somewhat unlikely silver bullet.

2020 targets

Sokolov in his opening remarks focused entirely on the huge potential market for gas-based vehicles in Russia. He cited a government decree signed in May 2013 which had established a 2020 goal of up to 50% of all public transport in biggest cities running on either natural gas or autogas (LPG). The government is to present a detailed plan of achieving this target by 1 January 2014.

According to sources in the joint working group tasked with developing economic mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions, the transportation ministry in its remarks “pretty much said that gas as motor fuel will save us all”, mentioning little else.

Some experts view this as “lobbying for specific suppliers’ specific interests at the expense of the state” – and while no one really mentions Gazprom, with plans to maintain a 75% share of domestic market up to 2020, the company will clearly benefit from a wide state-sponsored transition to gas in transport.

And, of course, given the shale gas revolution and headaches it’s been giving Gazprom, expanding that domestic market also sounds like a good idea.

The world’s largest extractor of natural gas, single-handedly responsible for 2.2% of global historical emissions since 1751, has long been presenting natural gas as a climate-friendly solution.

But since fuel switch in the energy sector, where gas typically replaces coal, is not a particularly pressing issue in Russia (coal already accounts for around 20% in the energy mix, almost half the global average), Gazprom chose a different target.

Back in December 2012, the company created a subsidiary which was subsequently designated as “market development operator” for gas-based transport. Since then, Gazprom has signed a number of contracts and memoranda of understanding with regional governments and foreign companies.

Fuel monopoly

In 2005, Gazprom produced a quarter of all LPG in Russia and almost all compressed natural gas (CNG), another kind of gas-based fuel. More recent data for 2009 puts CNG production at 330 million cubic meters with just 0.3% of Russian cars using this fuel – autogas is somewhat more common with 2.3 million tons sold and 2.7% share of the car pool.

According to Gazprom Export estimates, in 2020 gas will be fueling 50% of public transport, 30% of cargo road transport and 20% of agricultural vehicles in Russia.

The round table also ended with calls for a roadmap to a mass transition from gasoline to gas in road transport. But Andrey Veselkov from Russian Auto Federation, an all-country union of car owners, says price should and will be the biggest stimulus for switching to gas.

“With fuel economy you also get bigger car mass, lower payload, lower mileage with full tank and a 20% higher car price… only if gas prices are adequate compared to these factors will the owner ignore the obvious drawbacks”, said Veselkov, quoted by Rossijskaya Gazeta, a state newspaper.


Private car owners’ reluctance to share MoT and Gazprom’s enthusiasm for gas-based vehicles can be a serious obstacle on the way to the initial goal of reducing CO2 emissions.

That’s why carbon market experts are looking at the source of the problem – the joint working group earlier suggested listing “suppliers of fossil fuels” as companies potentially subject to carbon regulations. This, according to Anton Galenovich of Delovaya Rossiya, the business lobby group, was primarily aimed at tackling road transport emissions.

Galenovich concedes that this approach will most likely lead to an increase in fuel prices, a socially explosive development in the weakening Russian economy.

But he says doing this the right way will ultimately prove to be less costly than technical regulation or tightening fuel standards. The working group is expected to discuss feedback from various stakeholders on the draft proposals it had presented later in December.

In any case, solving the transport’s ‘greenhouse problem’ will take more than just fuel-focused measures.

Michael Yulkin of CCGS, a Russian consultancy, who was the first to draw attention to rapidly growing emissions in the sector, notes that while there are no ready-made solutions, the required reforms involve transport infrastructure and road management, public transportation networks and urban planning.

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