by Nelya Rakhimova, Open School of Sustainable Development, Board member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum

Human activities are changing the climate unprecedentedly. On 9 August, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report warning that many changes are irreversible. Russia is the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter but so far it is not ready to start the necessary energy transformation.

The latest dramatic IPCC report

This August, the IPCC released its first comprehensive report on global climate change since 2013 — ‘Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis’ — and it turned out to be dramatic. The climate is undergoing accelerated changes that have not happened in hundreds of thousands of years. Some of them are already irreversible, and the impact of humans on this development is undisputed.

The IPCC report has five temperature scenarios, all predicting that the 1.5 ° C mark will be passed by 2040. At the current rate, the threshold will be exceeded in 10 years. Without an immediate and dramatic reduction in emissions, average temperatures could rise by more than 2 ° C by the end of the century.  The worst news is that even the most optimistic forecasts do not fit into the goals of the Paris Agreement (a legally binding international treaty on climate change) — the planet is warming up faster.

The consequences of this process are already visible: these are floods in the Northern Hemisphere, drought in southern Europe and China, forest fires in Siberia, Greece, the western United States and Canada. The past decade has already become the hottest in 125 thousand years, and it will be worse in the future.  Moreover, as the impact of climate change increases, millions of vulnerable people face greater challenges in terms of extreme events, health effects, food security, livelihood security, water security, and cultural identity. All of this can happen very soon right in front of our eyes.

‘This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet’ said UN Secretary General António Guterres. The International Energy Agency has also noted that in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, energy companies must stop the exploration of and investment in new oil and gas projects this year.

Climate Change in Russia

Russia is one of the most vulnerable countries in terms of climate change; a large part of its territory is located in the Arctic, where warming is happening twice as fast as in the rest of the world. But these days we also see other impacts of climate change in Russia — flooding and forest fires. The damage caused by floods this year to the regions of the Far East alone is estimated at 7.9 billion rubles.  The direct damage from forest fires just in Yakutia at the moment amounts to more than 1 billion rubles. Since the beginning of the fire danger season, 1,227 wildfires have been registered on the territory of this region. If climate change is not stopped, the consequences for the Russian economy will be dire, as they will hit key industries. Along with collateral economic losses, workers’ health will deteriorate and productivity will decline.

Meanwhile, Russia has made little progress in climate action implementation. The government’s Energy Strategy 2035 that was adopted in 2020 aims to support and develop fossil fuel industries, while largely ignoring renewable energy: the Russian Ministry of Energy has explicitly identified the promotion of renewable energy to be a direct threat to planned fossil fuel expansion.

Russia is not only slow in climate change actions, but also threatening to hamstring international climate efforts. For example, during the recent discussions on the UN Ministerial Declaration on Sustainable Development 2021 Russia repeatedly tried to introduce amendments that would have weakened the importance of focusing on climate change. The Russian delegation does not consider itself bound by the provisions enshrined in the paragraph on climate change and in the future it will not consider their wording as agreed.

Moreover, this year Levada Center conducted in-depth interviews with Russian experts and leaders to find out how the Russian Federation deals with the climate crisis and green economy matters. These were 40 specialists from the oil, gas and coal regions, heads of departments and divisions, heads of departments of industry and regional universities, climatologists, biologists, ecologists, economists, journalists, bloggers from different parts of the country. The main conclusion of the research: There is a widespread view that climate crises are invented by the West or at least actively used by it for geopolitical purposes, namely, to put pressure on Russia and oust it from energy markets. Some of the respondents are confident that global warming will benefit Russia due to rising temperatures. In the course of the interview, many other interviewees claimed that in Russia there will be no transition to a green economy and climate action until “the political system changes in our country”.

Role of Civil Society

The role of civil society in all of these processes is undeniable: from participation at the expert level and the development of and advocacy for appropriate climate policies and legislation to local climate actions and marches on the topic of climate justice and just transition to renewable energy sources. In this sense, civil society organisations play a highly important role, particularly where public awareness and support for climate reform is low.

Therefore, we believe that the work on climate within CSF needs to be more prominent and present — in our projects and programmes, in our advocacy work, our communication as well as the coordination of our events. Recently the CSF Task Force “Climate Justice” was established and its goal is to mainstream and strengthen the work on the climate crisis within the Forum’s agenda as well as the activities of its member organisations, in line with the Forum strategy and in response to the Declaration of the Peoples’ Summit on Climate, Rights and Human Survival, signed by the Board.