Putin’s Clever Climate Bluff

  • Date: 03/04/15
  • Paul Homewood, Not A Lot Of People Know That

Hot on the heels of his meaningless “climate agreement” with China, and being made a fool of by India, it is now the turn of Putin to wrap Obama around his little finger.

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According to the India Times, Putin has suggested he might find a way to cut emissions by 30% from 1990 levels (although on his own terms):

PARIS: Russia, moving ahead of a deadline for submitting pledges to tackle climate change, said Tuesday it could cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 30 % compared to 1990 levels, subject to conditions.

In a roster of commitments on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website, Russia announced that “limiting anthropogenic [man-made] greenhouse gases in Russia to 70-75% of 1990 levels by the year 2030 might be a long-term indicator.”

But, it said, this was “subject to the maximum possible account” of including forests — deemed absorbers of carbon gases — in the reduction.

And, it cautioned, Russia’s “final decision” on the commitment will depend on the outcome of the negotiating process and on the commitments by “major emitters” of greenhouse gases.
March 31 was a rough deadline for the 195 countries in the UNFCCC process to submit so-called “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs).

These are the heart of an intended pact to tackle greenhouse gases that would be sealed in Paris in December and take effect from 2020.

Russia is the fifth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, after China, the United States, the European Union (EU) and India, according to the US thinktank the World Resources Institute (WRI).
The reference to forests is a highly contentious part of the climate negotiation process. Trees are so-called “carbon sinks,” meaning that they absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere under the natural process of photosynthesis. 

As a result, the argument is that forests should be taken into account, and set against national commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

The issue was a toxic one when it came to putting together the rulebook of the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol in 2001, with Russia taking a prominent role in demanding concessions. Green groups argue that forests are a false way to meet an emissions target, and that “sinks” are usually invoked to avoid the cost of switching to cleaner energy resources or reducing real carbon pollution.

You probably won’t be too surprised to learn that this deal is not quite as good as it appears! Following the collapse of communism in 1990, a lot of old and inefficient heavy industry shut down in Russia and the rest of the communist bloc, with the result that emissions of CO2 fell sharply in the years after.

According to the official CDIAC data, Russian emissions fell from 643MtC in 1990 to 495MtC in 2013. In other words, Russian emissions are currently already down to 77% of 1990 levels. Therefore, under Putin’s proposal, the best he is offering is to reduce by a further 2% to 7% of 1990 emissions. When the forest fudge factor is accounted for, it is quite likely that Russian emissions won’t fall at all.

The chart below shows how sharply CO2 emissions fell after 1990 in Russia, and how they have gradually been increasing since 1998. This is in stark contrast to falling emissions in the US and Europe during recent years.

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http://cdiac.ornl.gov/GCP/

In reality, Putin’s offer is not a deal at all, just smoke and mirrors.

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