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Entering Arctic, exiting climate talks

Industrial expansion into the Arctic will not help reduce Russian emissions. Photo: Gazprom.ru

Russia, one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases and a key stakeholder in handling the global climate challenge, is out of the extended Kyoto Protocol.

Location

The country, vastly rich in natural resources, is considered a crucial player in hammering out a global climate deal. Still, the country in last week’s climate talks in Doha, Qatar reconfirmed its exit from the Kyoto Protocol.

Russia argues that the treaty fails to prevent climate change and does not bring benefits to the country’s economy, Russia Today reports. Also Japan and New Zealand decided not to commit themselves to the updated protocol.

Russia is the world’s fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter, following India, and in 2010 emitted 2,202 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Following a major drop in the 1990s, Russia’s carbon emissions in 1998–2010 increased by more than 10 percent, and a further increase is expected in the years to come.

Going Arctic
Paradoxically, the country exits the climate protocol as its oil industry is taking an unprecedented step into the Arctic, the region by far worst affected by climate change. Spearheaded by state-controlled Gazprom and Rosneft, a number of grand energy projects are now soon to unfold in Arctic waters.

At the same time, Russia holds some of the keys to handling the climate challenge. Deforestation and the melting of permafrost as well as a growing amount of black carbon in snow-covered territories could have considerable implications for global efforts to effectively mitigate climate change.

As highlighted by Russian chief negotiator Aleksandr Bedritsy in a speech in Doha, Russia will still continue to take climate measures and plans for a 25 percent drop in emissions by 2020. The country in 2009 adopted a Climate Doctrine and in 2010 the Russian government set a target to reduce the energy intensity of the Russian economy by 40 percent by 2020.

Benefiting from climate change?
However, as highlighted in a new report from the Carneige Endowment for International Peace, Russian policymakers actually feel little need to take steps domestically to mitigate emissions, and public pressure for tackling the issue is nearly absent. Furthermore, the potential benefits of climate change are also widely present in public discourse, which has further prevented Russia from taking a more proactive stance.

As a matter of fact, the situation in the Arctic well illustrates the Russian climate reality. Here, rapidly melting sea ice is benefiting Russian oil and gas exploration and creates new opportunities for navigation. As reported by BarentsObserver, shipping volumes along the Northern Sea Route has over the last few years increased from zero to about 1.3 million tons. And more is to come, researchers believe that the Arctic ice layers in summer might all vanish within two decades.

Russia has under the Kyoto Protocol from 1997 been able to benefit from trade with climate quotas. However, the country has only partly taken advantage of the system. While Russian industry was believed to be able to sell quotas for as much as €30 billion, the actual figures for the period are instead closer to €600 million, Vedomosti reports.