Climate change: Will Russian heat wave prompt serious action from Moscow?
In recent years, Russia viewed the threat of climate change in naive or cavalier terms. But this summer's devastating weather was a wake-up call.
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Opportunities for economic stimulus
Taking steps to reduce carbon emissions, and collaborating with other nations and with the international community to do so, could actually stimulate Russian economic development rather than inhibit it. This is not only because of the damage that unregulated climate change will unleash on the country and hence on its economic prospects. Responding actively to climate change and more generally to problems of sustainability can be a major vehicle for the economic modernization the leadership seeks.Skip to next paragraph
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Countries that bring up the rear in terms of investment in low-carbon technologies and low-carbon life-styles are likely to become progressively less competitive economically in the future. Vanguard states, such as Germany, Portugal, China, South Korea and, significantly, several of the leading oil- and gas-producing countries in the Middle East are already investing heavily in these areas. Russia risks being left even further behind than at present if it does not start to make the shift now.
Most discussion of climate change policy worldwide until recently was carried on in terms of costs. More recently, much greater emphasis has been placed upon opportunities, and rightly so, given the considerations just mentioned. Where there are significant costs, Russia should be able to engage the active help of other nations and international organizations. The emissions permits that Russia holds could be put to good use to provide funding for an active turn toward more environmentally responsible policies.
The stakes for Russia – and the world
In July, after years of inaction, the government endorsed 15 clean energy projects, to start to make use of its carbon credits. The rest of the world has a major interest in limiting the damage likely to result from the effects of global warming upon Russia’s frozen peat bogs. As they melt they will release vast amounts of methane into the air – and methane is a greenhouse gas many times more potent than CO2. Serious outside investment could come Russia’s way to help develop ways of limiting this process.
Can a country that has found it very difficult to break away from its reliance on oil and gas revenues, and to modernize other industrial sectors, feasibly make the kind of transition I am talking about? It will be extremely testing, and support from other countries will be essential. The sense of emergency may soon fade when the temperature drops again. Yet it is actually in Russia’s national and strategic interests, not contrary to them, to treat climate change with due seriousness. If Russia’s leaders can take this point fully on board, and communicate it successfully to the public, the sense of fatalism in the face of disaster coupled to bureaucratic stasis and corruption that so often inhibit innovation in the country can be challenged.