Tell it to the Marines

Tell it to the Marines

May 8, 2014


Decree #504-p[1] of the Russian Government promised in April 2014 “to approve the action plan to ensure reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to a level not exceeding 75 percent of the volume of said emissions in 1990.”

Before anyone starts cheering, that 2020 pledge represents an increase of 8% over the last emissions reported by Russia (2011) if land use change is excluded, and an increase of 52% if land use change is included.

russian ghg emissions
Source: UNFCCC[2]



Lest We Forget

Russia met its original pledge in the first commitment period (FCP) of the Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012) without breaking a sweat.  That pledge was to maintain its annual GHG emissions at 1990 levels throughout the FCP. It did so through the mechanism of having its economy collapse around its ears following the break-up of the USSR.

Depending on your political standpoint you might say that Russia has done its part for the effort to mitigate climate change, albeit and arguably unintentionally, and needs headroom in its emissions cap to grow its economy going forward, in the same way the China and India have the right to grow theirs.  Or you may argue that Russia as one of the four largest emitters on the planet needs to pledge a cut in GHG emissions from current levels.

Nevertheless the surplus of allowances, i.e. permits to emit GHGs, that Russia held in the FCP swamped the market and brought the price of those allowances down to levels where it was cheaper for countries and industry to buy surplus permits rather than invest in clean technology. Blame for that cannot be laid solely at Russia’s door. If the USA had accepted a pledge to cut its GHG emissions to 7% below 1990 levels in the FCP, it would have mopped up much of this surplus, but it did not.

However what rankles is that, already swimming in surplus allowances, Russia (and Ukraine) compounded the problem by issuing a vast number of additional project allowances in the final year of the FCP before the opportunity to do so was removed. It would take a lot to convince me that the standards against which those Russian (and Ukrainian) project allowances were measured had any environmental integrity at all.

new project allowances

Source: UNEP Risoe[3]

What Next?

The Kyoto concept of an international cap-and-trade scheme is a bust, not because the concept is flawed, but because countries, and companies, do not have the will to set emissions caps, i.e. limits,  low enough to provide a price incentive to cut emissions. This is because economic entities are constantly looking over their shoulders to ensure that they are not pledging cuts to a climate change mitigation effort that would put them at a competitive disadvantage in international trade.

Anyone for adaptation?