All eyes on EU Taxonomy discussion: Risks Russia watering down sustainable criteria to meet EU’s new low bar 

gas Credit: Pexels

The EU Taxonomy on climate change mitigation has successfully caused international ripple effects, with heavy hitters such as China, South Korea and Russia publishing corresponding sustainability frameworks– and more are expected to follow. But, the most recent EU Commission proposal, introducing exceptions to the coveted technology neutrality principle for fossil gas, set a dangerous international precedent. We sat down with Ksenia Vakhrusheva from Bellona’s Russian office in St. Petersburg to learn first-hand what effect the ongoing EU discussions have on the Russian Taxonomy. 

“All countries will now look to the EU authorities and how they will check and keep with principles and choices made in the EU Taxonomy”, explains Vakhrusheva. “If they see that these are sets of principles that be changed further, and introduced exceptions to the general rules favourable to specific industries or concrete companies, they will see it as a notification that they can do the same”. 

Russian Taxonomy stands firm on technology neutrality principle and 100g threshold – for now
Much is still unknown about the Russian Taxonomy, and while differences from the EU Taxonomy are present in its treatment of waste incinerators, hydro power and its voluntary nature, one specific principle is the same: unabated fossil gas is not included as sustainable. Just as in the recommendations of the Technical Expert Group (TEG) to the European Commission, the Russian Taxonomy sets the threshold for electricity generation, also from gas power plants, at 100g CO2e/kWh.  

This might all be about to change, however, as the European Commission’s most recent proposal seem to budge under the massive pressure from the gas lobby, proposing exceptions to the technology neutrality principle solely for fossil gas, justified in weak safeguards and promises in bad faith 

As a response to EU Taxonomy, Russian Taxonomy likely to mirror potential exceptions in long-run
As Vakhrusheva makes clear, this is likely to heavily influence the Russian Taxonomy: “It is obvious to us that the Russian Taxonomy is a direct response to the EU Taxonomy. While the EU Taxonomy’s basis is in its efforts to reduce emissions, its Russian counterpart seek to ensure access to international markets for Russian actors – reductions in emissions being a side effect”. “This is not good or bad, it’s just what it is” says Vakhrusheva, highlighting just how positive it is that the EU has been able to influence such efforts and side effect reducing emissions in Russia – intended or not.  

Vakhrusheva makes clear, however, that in this context it is all-the-more important that the EU sticks to its defined principles. Deviations are likely to be mirrored in Russia, as well as in other countries’ Taxonomies. The successful strides made by the EU in introducing the Taxonomy could all be undone, contributing to the Taxonomy becoming an international tool for greenwashing. Seeing the uptake of Taxonomies internationally, directly corresponding to the EU’s efforts, this is an immense opportunity cost delaying our efforts to reach net-zero by 2050 significantly.  

“We should keep in mind that it is not the willingness to reduce climate change that is at the heart of the Russian Taxonomy, it is the desire to keep up with the rules of the international market and gain access to it – if the EU Taxonomy rules change, Russia is likely to follow”.