Russia to use land sink to cover up growing emissions, EU must lead by example

The new Climate Doctrine of Russia, approved by the presidential decree on October 26, 2023, indicates that the country will increase greenhouse gas emissions in the near future. 

The doctrine repeats the goal formulated by the presidential decree of November 4, 2020 “On reducing greenhouse gas emissions” – to limit emissions by 2030 to not more than 2.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent, which is almost 1.5 times more than Russia’s emissions in 2020 (1.5 billion tons). 

The word “reduction” in this case, although it seems logically incorrect, is legally justified by using 1990 as the base year, on the eve of the collapse of the USSR, when all the inefficient heavy industry was still working. Therefore, it turns out that in 2020 Russia “reduced” greenhouse gas emissions to 48% of the 1990 level, and in 2030 it can reduce emissions to 70% of the 1990 level. 

At the same time, the doctrine states that additional decarbonisation measures should ensure the level of greenhouse gas emissions at 1,7 billion tons by 2030, which is still higher than now, but significantly lower than the previously set goal. 

Notably, a long-term goal until 2060 has been set: to ensure a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and their absorption by natural ecosystems, meaning the path to reach climate neutrality. For this purpose, it is planned to carry out climate projects, including in forestry, as well as to develop methods for sink inventories. 

In general, the doctrine recognises the potential image risk for the country from the lack of proper attention to climate issues, therefore it lists all possible aspects of climate problems and the need to work with them – from global migration to local adaptation measures. But specific steps are not spelled out. And not a word is said about fossil fuels. While discussing climate issues, it also highlighted, “the inadmissibility of unjustified discrimination when taking measures to combat climate change affecting international trade.” This reference seemed to allude to the European carbon import tax. 

Simultaneously, Russia is actively developing and planning new large-scale projects for the extraction and processing of oil and gas, which contradicts with the recent recommendations of the IEA urging for no new long-lead-term oil and gas projects. Rosneft is gradually putting into operation fields in the Arctic regions of the Krasnoyarsk Territory and the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, united by the Vostok Oil project, and plans to increase production to 100 million tons of oil per year by 2030. Novatek is developing projects for the production of natural gas and its processing into LNG also in the Arctic – “Arctic LNG 1” with a capacity of up to 20 million tons of LNG per year and “Arctic LNG 2” with a capacity of up to 19.8 million tons of LNG per year. These projects will add more than 19 million tons of CO2e as direct emissions and about 371 million tons of indirect emissions of CO2e due to further use of the extracted fossil fuel. 

The Russian approach to climate strategy, especially using the absorption capacity of natural ecosystems to level out the growth of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, may give a signal to other countries to manipulate climate statistics in a similar way.  

“The EU should be worried by Russia’s approach to climate targets. Allowing natural sinks to counterbalance fossil emissions is a carbon timebomb which we cannot afford,” said Mark Preston Aragones, Carbon Accounting Policy Manager at Bellona Europa. “The EU should provide a good example to the rest of the world by setting separate targets for emission reductions, natural carbon sinks, and permanent carbon removal. If the EU doesn’t do this, it will only endorse Russia’s poor climate policy.”