Russia Joins U.S. In Filing International Pledge To Reduce Carbon Emissions

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. CREDIT: AP IMAGES
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. CREDIT: AP IMAGES

Turns out the United States was not the only large country to officially submit a carbon reduction pledge to the United Nations on Tuesday.

According to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Russia also submitted a plan saying it could cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 percent of its 1990 levels by 2030. Russia was the fourth-biggest emitter in the world in 2012, putting out 1,802 megatons of carbon dioxide, according to the Global Carbon Project.

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With its pledge, the Kremlin joined the U.S., Switzerland, Norway, and the entire 28-member European Union in putting forth commitments to the post-2020 United Nations’ climate agreement — the final talks about which will be held in Paris at the end of 2015.

Russia’s contribution to the international climate agreement was, admittedly, a little strange. Russia’s carbon dioxide emissions today already average 35 percent lower than 1990 levels, according to the Associated Press. Plus, as the blog Carbon Brief pointed out, Russia didn’t actually give a concrete promise to reduce emissions by 30 percent — it merely said it could. The actual commitment it makes, Russia said, would be contingent upon what other countries decide to do at the end of Paris talks.

What’s more, Russia’s calculation that it can reduce its carbon emissions by 30 percent comes partially from how much carbon is absorbed by its forests. And Russia is literally covered in forests — nearly half of the country is forest. As CarbonBrief explains, “This means that, by continuing to manage its forests, Russia knows it will automatically reduce its carbon emissions by 500 million tonnes each year before even thinking about energy efficiency and renewables.”

That inclusion alone has drawn a good deal of criticism. Finland-based climate negotiator Matti Kahra tweeted that counting Russia’s carbon-absorbing forests as actual reductions could mean that the country wouldn’t have to do anything to meet its goal. World Wildlife Fund Russia spokesperson Alexey Kokorin also criticized the forest proposal in comments to Responding to Climate Change, calling the plan “too conservative.”

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“Russia should reconsider its climate plans as submitted to the U.N. when the current national economic crisis is past; they should agree to more ambitious mitigation targets for 2025 and 2030,” he said.

Still, the mere fact that Russia submitted a plan was unexpected. The United States has historically been unsure about whether Russia would cooperate in the talks at all — Todd Stern, the State Department’s top international climate negotiator, said as much in November.

“I am hoping we can continue to work in a reasonably constructive way on climate, and we will have to see,” Stern said.