Russia ratifies Paris climate accord - but targets are 'critically insufficient'

Alec Luhn, Moscow  23 September 2019 •

Russia has ratified the Paris climate agreement, marking a shift in rhetoric for the world's fourth largest greenhouse polluter even though its pledged targets are so low it can still increase emissions. 

PM Dmitry Medvedev told ministers on Monday he had signed a government order to ratify the 2015 accord, arguing that climate change could endanger key sectors like agriculture as well as the “safety of people living in areas with permafrost,” which covers two-thirds of the country.

As part of a national programme to reduce hazardous pollutants and restore forests, Moscow would now have to take into account the international goals of limiting greenhouse gases, he said. 

Under the Paris agreement, which allowed countries to set their own targets, Russia pledged to reduce emissions to 25 to 30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. 

But this is little more than a sleight of hand, since Russian industry today is still running at a far slower clip than it was before the collapse of the Soviet command economy. As of 2017, Russia's emissions were 32 per cent lower than in 1990. Thus it can actually pollute more and still meet its current Paris agreement goals. 

The Climate Action Tracker NGO has included Russia among the five countries whose commitments are “critically insufficient” to hold warming within the 2 degrees Celsius that, according to studies, will set off a “new climate regime” in many regions of the world. 

As the second-largest oil exporter, Russia contributes to the burning of greenhouse gases around the world and is continuing to develop its oil, gas and coal industries. 

At the same time, it is also the world's top exporter of wheat and nuclear technology. The country is warming 2.5 times faster than the rest of the planet and has suffered climate-related catastrophes this year like flooding in the Irkutsk region and record-breaking wildfires across Siberia

In a speech in July, president Vladimir Putin said Russia is “being hit the hardest” by climate change, but argued that new technologies like nuclear fusion were the solution, rather than an "absolutist, blind faith" in sustainable energy. 

He claimed that wind turbines killed birds and “cause worms to come out of the soil,” even though fossil fuel power plants are far more harmful to wildlife. 

Mr Putin has denied that global warming is caused by humans, a position that remains unchanged despite the ratification, his spokesman told Bloomberg.

Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund welcomed the decision on the Paris accord, albeit with reservations about the targets.

“Against the background of these statements is a different reality, and Russia should take real, visible measures (to reduce emissions),” said Vasily Yablokov of Greenpeace. “Because while there is accounting and figures, there are no real actions to develop a low-carbon economy.”

At a discussion of the budget with Mr Putin on Monday, Mr Medvedev said financing for environmental programmes would increase but did not mention the Paris agreement.

On Thursday, the Italian company Enel broke ground on Russia's biggest wind power park near the Arctic port of Murmansk, which is planned to include 57 wind turbines by 2021. But the country is still well behind a 2009 energy strategy goal to generate 4.5 per cent of power from alternative energy by 2020. 

Mr Putin has reportedly been lobbied by his European counterparts to finally ratify the accord, and he may be afraid of losing out on trade with major partners like Germany, who are implementing stricter standards.

The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs backtracked on its opposition to the climate agreement in January, citing fear of sanctions against Russian companies.  

The decision to ratify the Paris accord via a government order rather than a parliamentary vote may reflect opposition to such environmental measures among many officials. 

Russia faces tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure damage from thawing permafrost soil as well as the potential release of ancient diseases and nuclear weapons testing fallout. 

“Russia is suffering palpable harm from climate change, and it's in the interests of Russian government to reduce this effect,” Mr Yablokov said. “And without action by Russia it will be impossible to limit warming worldwide.”


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most the urban areas have residential NG.  I don't know about the rural areas.

Good.  Compared to other underground utilities, natural gas lines are smaller and considerably more flexible.  Not completely earthquake proof but as close as any infrastructure can be.  Easier to trench particularly in urban areas and avoids many of the connections required with rigid lines.  Of course public acceptance/support would be crucial and that is a problem in California.  Particularly, I would suspect, in the Bay Area.  I do not blame the public having a less than favorable opinion of natural gas in many instances.  I blame the industry for not jumping on the fugitive emissions issue years ago.  And using their massive PR machine to support wider use of natural gas.

I never heard any concerns about natural gas in the 10 years I lived there.  But there was that large gas line explosion (also PG&E) in San Bruno (10 miles S of San Francisco) that killed people and burned down a number of homes.  But generally, the complaints weren't about NG, but about the very poor maintenance program of PG&E.  PG&E is in bankruptcy, and is a huge hot mess.  Blamed for several of the large wild fires in N CA in the past few years.

But having said that, one day I was reading the SF Chronicle on line, and there were 2 successive stories about PG&E - the first was that they weren't doing enough to keep limbs trimmed away from their power lines, and the second was a story about one of the local cities threatening PG&E for too aggressive practices in their tree trimming - they were damaging the appearance of neighborhoods.  Damned if you do....

Damned if you do, damned if you don't goes for here in Shreveport too, Steve.  SWEPCO has had Asplunh crews working my neighborhood for two months after what for us was a major outage caused by poor prior tree trimming maintenance.  They aren't messing around this time and cutting with a vengeance.  I've read the same articles about PG&E and how to manage their obligations going forward is unclear.  I guess California's requirement for new homes to have solar panels may have some impact but not for a long, long time.

I actually think that the only solution for CA and PG&E is for the state to take it over and operate it (and this is from a guy who doesn't much like government running anything other than the essentials).  But PG&E is in a no-win situation.  The State of CA continually imposes new, expensive requirements on the utility, then dogs them over their rates and rate increase requests, hounds them for not maintaining their infrastructure (which is fair) but squeezes them on their rate structure when it comes to things like infrastructure maintenance.  PG&E has been a poorly managed utility, but I think most of their problems are with their regulators and customers.

Same thing for petroleum refiners in CA.  The State requires blends that no other state requires, it costs more to make "CA gasoline" and the refiners can't manage routine maintenance outages with refineries in adjoining states (because they don't use the CA gasoline), so gas is always way more expensive in CA, and they sometimes even have shortages.  I was out there working two weeks ago, and saw no regular unleaded for less than $4.05/gallon.  So, who does the state and the consumers blame? - the oil companies, of course.  I heard on the radio today that gas is now over $5/gallon in some places in LA.


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