A taxpayer’s view of Russia’s position at the UN climate talks in South Africa.
“Below 2C”, Russian non-governmental observers’ newsletter at the UN climate talks, issue 50
Translation by Maria Kaminskaya
The ongoing UN climate talks inDurbanare supposed to seal the fate of the Kyoto Protocol – so say some observers. Others argue the goal is to reach agreements on technical issues. But there is one intriguing question that is of a more immediate interest: If Russia – the world’s fourth or sixth biggest emitter, depending on estimates – has no plans to join the protocol’s second commitment period, then what is Moscow’s delegation even doing in South Africa?
Indeed, what is the point of Russia’s participation in the negotiations over the Kyoto Protocol inDurban? We could have just as well, at the very least, cut the number of delegates by half and saved Russian taxpayers more than a handful of roubles on the envoys’ travel expenses.
It was thanks toRussiathat the Kyoto Protocol came into force, andRussiaexpects the world’s gratitude for that, official representatives fromMoscowkeep emphasizing. Now, along withCanadaandJapan, we are arguing against further participation in this climate deal. By extension, then,Russianeed not be involved in those mechanisms that were developed as part of the protocol, either.
To be sure, the Kyoto Protocol does not at present bindRussiaby any obligations: Our greenhouse gas emissions are so below the allowed levels that we really have no reason to worry about any negative effects on our economy. Furthermore, last year’s presidential energy efficiency initiative could result in additional cuts in our emissions.
It logically follows that continued participation in the Kyoto Protocol carries no particular concerns for Russia – while quitting it would force us to relinquish our right to avail ourselves of such Kyoto mechanisms as greenhouse gas emissions trading, thus forfeiting profits that could have otherwise been used toward environmentally beneficial modernization of Russian industry. For no apparent reason,Russia’s official delegates seem to want none of the opportunities, nor the money they offer. So what, then, are we doing inDurban? Why are we so insistent on having our forests taken into account? Why have we even announced a 15 to 25 percent emission reduction target by 2020?
Russia,Canada,Japan, and other countries are vigorously opposing the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. The rationale drivingRussia’s bedfellows in this resistance campaign is understandable – emission reductions are a costly enterprise. But why wouldRussiarefuse to save the protocol, being itself in such an advantageous position?
The very palpable risk is that the single legally binding international agreement that imposes on the world community at least some sort of duty to curb emissions will soon cease to exist. True, it’s imperfect, and yes, its requirements do not cover all countries. But it is the only one we have – and likely, no other will appear in the next five or seven years at least, if not a decade. If by then, the world has gladly forgotten what it felt like to be bound by a common pledge to stop climate change, will anyone even want to resurrect it?
Let’s be honest. If Russia does not want the only legally binding climate agreement there is – however imperfect it may be – to continue to exist, then we need to step away from the UN negotiations table and take our leave, because otherwise there is no sense in participating in such expensive events.
Russianeither receives any financial aid via its climate obligations, nor does it provide any to other countries. So why should Russian taxpayers foot the bill for Moscow’s officials’ biding their time between receptions and coffee breaks in Durban? We need to let other countries, those with a vested interest in a global climate deal, reach an agreement – rather than keep standing in their way. And if we want to save the climate and prevent a global catastrophe, then we really need to participate, and urge others to do the same.
The UN climate negotiations have lost what kept it going and gave the world a hope – the drive to solve the climate problem. Recently, decisions made and positions taken look more and more as if they were devised with the ultimate goal of deriving a profit, cashing in on the suffering that the less fortunate countries are experiencing from the advancing climate change. Was this what the whole process was about? Climate change is happening at an alarming pace, and its disastrous effects are clear and evident.
ForRussia, the choice is clear: Either we aim for progress in our emission reductions and join the world’s efforts to keep global temperature rise within two degrees Celsius – or we stop pretending that we believe in climate change and our ability to overcome it. And if we choose the latter, let’s stop spending our taxpayers’ money in vain. That money may yet serveRussiawell one day – to survive climate change when it hits us for real.
This English translation was first published, with minor variations, on the English page of the environmental organization Bellona.