In recent years, the climate issue in Russia has been treated by the government in a paradoxical way. The dependence on fossil fuels to boost the economy has contrasted with the increased importance that authorities have begun to give to the environmental agenda in order to diversify the country’s economy and strengthen Russia’s protagonism on the international stage. As a backdrop, the increase in cooperation with BRICS and the Global South in the context of the war in Ukraine presents new dilemmas for Russian strategy.
Such challenges were exposed at the recent G20 summit, which concluded on September 10 with a joint resolution to phase out the use of fossil fuels. The leaders also agreed to seek to increase the world’s renewable energy capacity threefold by 2030.
However, the climate issue divides the group. Countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and India are highly dependent on fossil energy and have resisted the proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2035, according to Reuters. The final declaration was therefore seen as modest in terms of pointing out concrete measures.
On the Russian side, Foreign Minister Serguei Lavrov accused the West of not fulfilling the promise made by the richest countries to allocate 100 billion dollars a year to the poorest countries to combat the negative effects of climate change.
“The declaration [da cúpula do G20] it also asserts the need to fulfill long-standing promises to transfer technology to the countries of the Global South, and not just import raw materials from them, and then receive corresponding added value and profits. It was also highlighted that the West long ago signed the allocation of 100 billion dollars annually to prepare economies to combat the negative consequences of climate change. None of this was done”, highlighted Lavrov in a press conference after the G20.
The Russian Foreign Minister emphasized the need for the West to fulfill its long-term obligations and promises, including technology transfer. “The clear message is that developing countries will no longer accept being faced with the false choice of fighting poverty or investing in the fight against climate change. This is a false alternative,” he added.
Another controversial point in the G20 was the war in Ukraine. The final resolution on the issue was discreet and limited itself to condemning the conflict without directly denouncing Russia. According to the document, “all States must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition”. Russian diplomacy classified the final declaration as a “success” of the summit.
The subjects are directly linked. Firstly, the war in Ukraine has a direct environmental impact in the sense of causing the destruction of ecosystems, chemical pollution and the destruction of infrastructure. At the same time, there are indirect consequences linked to the reshaping of global energy markets and countries’ environmental policies.
On the West’s side, it is possible to identify a cut in programs to reduce fossil energy emissions due to the large expenditure on armaments. At the same time, there is a demand for renewal of the energy matrix in the European Union, given the dependence that these countries have on Russian energy.
In Russia, with the start of the Ukrainian conflict, the environmental agenda took a backseat, as the country’s economy depends on oil and gas to resist Western sanctions and finance the war. This creates a cyclical effect, as the country reorients its exports to countries such as India and China. These, in turn, resist the transition to less polluting energy, as they receive large discounts from Russia when purchasing oil and gas.
On the other hand, Russia has been strengthening relations within the BRICS and with the Global South as a way of resisting the isolation imposed by the West. Thus, the environmental agenda appears as a potential way for the country to garner support in the international arena.
In an interview with Brazil in fact, journalist and observer of the UN negotiations on climate change, Angelina Davydova, points out that there is an ambiguity in the attention with which Russian authorities treat the climate agenda. According to her, there is a “paradox” because, on the one hand, Russia remains one of the world’s key suppliers of natural gas, oil and coal, as well as a series of other metals and raw materials. “And in the country, the prospects for a reduction in production or the refusal of new investments in fossil fuels are not discussed in any way, this is not discussed. It is assumed that Russia will continue to do all this. And of course this is bad for the global climate,” she notes.
However, the analyst highlights that there is a manifestation of concern in Russia regarding the climate due to cooperation with countries from the BRICS Global South. “But these still seem like very general statements to me, without anything concrete, they seem like statements intended to gain some political support from countries in the Global South,” she argues.
In this context, the expansion of Brics, with the accession of six new members, creates new challenges to combat climate change. With the exception of Brazil, which has 54% of its energy matrix based on fossil fuels, South Africa is 97% dependent on fossil sources, Russia is 94%, India is 92% and China is 87%. .
For Davydova, it will be difficult to expect a real commitment from developing countries to reduce fossil fuels. She points out that the fact that important fossil fuel producers join the BRICS, in particular the Persian Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran – is a negative aspect. “This probably won’t strengthen the BRICS climate agenda,” she says.
At the same time, Davydova notes that the vulnerability of some new states that have entered the group can boost adaptation to environmental problems in these countries. “Countries that suffer greatly from climate change have emerged, they are the most vulnerable countries, and adaptation to climate change, financial issues, will play a more important role in the Brics countries”, she states.
“Perhaps in the Brics there will be a more determined adaptation in relation to international climate financing, but promoting the issues of reducing fossil fuels, reducing and refusing to produce them will probably be more difficult”, he adds.
Editing: Thales Schmidt