Russian announces higher emissions cuts in 11th hour before Copenhagen

Publish date: November 19, 2009

Written by: Charles Digges

NEW YORK – European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said Wednesday that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has agreed to cut emissions by 20 to 25 percent below 1990 levels in a move that comes only three weeks before the UN Climate talks in Copenhagen, news agencies reported.

The catch is that Russia will only agree to the cuts if other nations stick to their guns and do the same.   The promise from Medvedev is a steeper version of  the 10 to 15 percent cuts Russia tabled earlier this year. Russia’s current proposal is therefore equal to cuts the European Union and other European nation have obligated themselves to.

Moscow’s promise of cuts that are in line with EU recommendations will potentially the nations them the upper hand at Copenhagen in demanding deeper cuts from other key players like the United States and Canada.  

But getting nations to commit to deeper cuts than they are currently proposing will be an uphill battle.  Earlier this world leaders, including US President Barack Obama and Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who is also chairing the Copenhagen talks, agreed last week to shelve the notion of reaching a legally binding agreement, and said they would instead shoot for a political commitment.

A legally binding agreement, said the leaders who were meeting at the APEC Summit in Singapore, would be best put off until the UN Climate meeting in Mexico in 2010.

After Singapore announcement, does Russias proposal make a difference?
The announcement all but deflated hopes that Copenhagen would be a watershed event of international proportions, and the event is already being criticised for watering down real united commitments to an agreement involving individuals nations’ to begin laying groundwork for their own national cuts.

Nonetheless, the Russian proposal was greeted by European leaders as a step in the right direction.  

"I very much welcome the signal from President [Dmitry] Medvedev today on the proposed emission reduction target of 25 percent,” EC President José Manuel Barroso said, speaking to reporters after an EU-Russia summit in Stockholm.

“This is very encouraging," he said.

Russian Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said in a conference call with reporters that Russia’s cuts to its CO2 emissions could be between 22 percent and 25 percent by 2020.

"What was stressed in particular at the summit was the need to engage the private sector," the ambassador said, according to the Dow Jones Newswire.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said on this government’s website that the parties were in agreement on a maximum 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature and the need for further reductions of harmful emissions to achieve it.

"Russia is one of the world’s greatest emitting countries, so it has an important role to play if the world is to reach a climate agreement in Copenhagen," Reinfeldt said in his statement.

"We also agreed that we should stick to the CO2 target of reducing CO2 emissions by 20 percent," he added.

Medvedev said that "Our countries (Sweden and Russia) are among the most advanced in terms of commitments (to address climate change) and the desire to move ahead" in Copenhagen.

Proposed cuts actually allow for increases
Earlier this year, Medvedev had put forth more modest goals for emissions cuts of 15 percent below 1990 levels – not even meeting the US promise of 17 percent. Russia is currently emitting 34 percent less that it did in 1990, and its earlier proposal for the Copenhagen meeting was jeered by environmentalists, who noted correctly that Russia’s agenda actually implied bringing  emissions increased to the bargaining tables in Copenhagen.

Yet even the 20 to 25 percent emissions cuts proposed suggest the same, as Medvedev’s new announcement suggest a 9 percent to 14 percent rise in Russia’s emissions. Russian officials with the Kremlin did not immediately return phone and email requests for comment about this apparent contradiction to the purposes of Copenhagen’s goals.

But questions still remain as to how Russia will maintain its lower emissions, as the government has yet to spell out anything but vague policies, and had published only one position piece in its so-called climate doctrine.
The Interfax news agency, citing an unidentified source, said Russia could attain the 25 percent figure through a 40 percent increase in energy efficiency. But the source did not discuss the methods by which this level of energy efficiency would be achieved.

Over the last year, Russian environmentalists have called over and over on Russian authorities to strengthen their commitment to emissions cuts and thereby become a leading nations in the climate negotiations and the development of an international emissions cut agreement.