4 August 2009 – Russia can’t be ignored

Russia produces 5% of annual global greenhouse gasses and is responsible for 8% of the historic contribution (see Russia – climate and energy statistics). Its per capita annual emissions are about 14 tons, compared to 12 in Germany, 11 in the UK and 5.5 in China (but 24 in the USA). Russia’s emissions have gone down a third since 1990, but this is due to the closure of so much heavy industry since the collapse of the Soviet Union, not to deliberate policies.

The Russian government’s lack of interest in climate policies is not hard to understand. Russia has the world’s largest gas reserves, the second largest coal reserves and the eighth largest oil reserves. It is the world’s largest exporter of gas, and the second largest oil exporter. Therefore, fossil fuels are a major source of wealth and also a powerful political tool to win concessions from other countries.

However, still there are potential advantages for Russia in using its energy more efficiently. The energy intensity of the Russian economy has decreased by about 3.5% a year since 1990, but other parts of the former Soviet Union have reduced their energy intensity by 6 to 7% a year. Russia still uses over twice as much energy per unit of GDP as the US does. Soon after his inauguration, President Medvedev said he would introduce plans to halve the energy intensity of the Russian economy by 2020.

Persuading the Russians to develop renewable energy will be more difficult. Today, there is more installed wind capacity in Luxembourg than in the Russian Federation. Yet Russia has good wind resources and plenty of space. The North Caucasus, the Black and Caspian Sea areas and the Russian Far East also have good solar potential, which could be off-grid.

So the Russians must be supported in attempts to use energy more efficiently and to develop clean energy sources. In the run-up to Copenhagen, there is much focus on China and India, which is understandable and welcome. But Russia must not be forgotten.


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