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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Russia and U.S.: Partners In Climate Inaction?


Russia just might have its perfect climate change inaction partner in U.S. President Donald Trump, Neela Banerjee of Inside Climate News inferred in a recent analysisAnd that could spell disaster for the planet and its inhabitants.

Climate policy in the Trump era

It is highly likely that President Trump will be characterized as active on climate change. The Trump administration wants to free the U.S. “from dependence on foreign oil,” according to its America First Energy Plan. The plan also mentions that the energy industry has “been held back by burdensome regulations,” and commits the Trump administration to eliminating “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.”

In other words: Big oil will rule, and climate change action by the federal government will cease.

Trump stated on a number of occasions that he wants to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. And at the end of January, Myron Ebell, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency transition team, said Trump has “made it clear he will withdraw from the Paris Agreement.” Business Insider's Rafi Letzter characterizes Ebell as a man who “spends his time rejecting and trying to discredit scientists who work to understand the global climate.”

The man whom Trump nominated to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has sued the agency and other federal agencies more than once over environmental regulations. He is also a climate change denier.

Russia lags behind on climate commitments

Russia is the world’s fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the World Resources Institute, while the U.S. is the second largest.

And while Russia signed on to the Paris climate agreement, its climate change commitments were rated inadequate by Climate Action Tracker. Russia’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) has a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 25 to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. That sounds great at first. But it's not so impressive after factoring in the considerable emissions decrease that was observed in the early 1990s after the country's economic downturn.

Under this commitment, Russia can increase its emissions until 2030 and not miss its INDC goal, as its 2014 emissions were already 30 percent lower than in 1990, excluding land-use change and forestry. Climate Action Tracker’s analysts say Russia would not have to “implement a single new policy to achieve its current target.”

In order for Russia’s INDC to be rated as “sufficient” by Climate Action Tracker, it would need to be on track to meets its national long-term emissions target of 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. For that to happen, Russia would have to adopt a far more ambitious 2030 target.

That is highly unlikely, for Russia is a country whose economy is dependent on oil and gas.

Russia is a petro-state, with oil and gas making up most of the country’s exports. Russia’s sales of crude oil, petroleum products and natural gas accounted for 68 percent of its total export revenues in 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Oil and natural gas activities comprise a large part of Russia’s federal budget. In 2013, 50 percent of its federal budget revenue came from mineral extraction taxes and export custom duties on oil and natural gas.

As a Bloomberg analysis puts it, “Without oil and gas, Russia’s economy would be a shambles.” In the 1990s and again in the past three years, sharp declines in energy prices caused Russia’s economy to have “deep recessions.” A permanent shift away from fossil fuels could kill its economy. If solar power could be stored easily for transportation and night use, it would displace fossil fuels, Bloomberg reported. The price of oil, gas and coal would “crash and never recover, leaving Russia’s economy a wreck.”

Will the U.S. and Russia partner on dirty energy?

Many are speculating that Trump will lift sanction imposed on Russia after the invasion of Crimea. Igor Yusufov, CEO of Russia’s state oil company Rosneft from 2001 to 2004 and Vladmir Putin’s energy minister during his first presidential term, told Climate Change News that closer ties between the U.S. and Russia “would open the doors for massive investment into the Russian oil and gas exploration and production.” He seemed confident that the U.S. would lift sanctions.

Yusufov went on to say that while Russia views the Paris agreement “as a cornerstone of the future environmentally conscious world,” his country also knows “that at this stage the Russian economy would not survive without hydrocarbons our companies explore and produce.”

There is a good reason why Trump is likely to lift sanctions on Russia. He has deep ties with that country, going back to the 1980s, as the USA Today reported, among many other outlets. And that could very well open the door for a climate change inaction partnership by the world’s No. 2 and No. 5 greenhouse gas emitters. Meanwhile, climate change impacts are causing floods, droughts and other extreme weather events around the world.  

Image credit: Flickr/Mark Dixon

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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