Russia changes its tune on climate change. What’s behind the shift?

17.12.2021

Российские власти всё больше обращают внимание на возобновляемые источники энергии. В то время как российская делегация на недавнем экологическом саммите заявила, что Россия станет углеродно нейтральной к 2060 году, всё больше её жителей закупают солнечные панели для своих дач, где проводят своё лето миллионы граждан. Что стоит за этой политикой, — читайте в материале Christian Science Monitor

Solar panels have begun to sprout among Russia’s many dachas, the often remote and humble cottages where millions spend their summers. Thanks to new laws, significant state support for renewable energy, and a higher level of public climate consciousness, the alternative-energy industry is finally poised to take off among notoriously hydrocarbon-addicted Russians.

This may not sound remarkable to those in the West, where small-scale renewable energy has been a going concern for decades.

But Russia is a place where industrial-scale fossil fuel energy is traditionally so plentiful and cheap that city dwellers in centrally heated apartments still sometimes throw their windows open in midwinter just to cool off. The country only got around to ratifying the Paris climate accords two years ago, and President Vladimir Putin once remarked that a bit of warming would be good for the wheat crop.

The embrace of solar power among dacha owners is just part of a broader shift in thinking about climate change and alternative energy across Russian society. Even some of the Kremlin’s toughest critics now agree that Russian authorities have finally accepted the need for serious action to meet the climate challenge. Though Mr. Putin was criticized for not attending the Glasgow COP26 climate summit in person, the Russian delegation did make some solid, unprecedented pledges, including a legally enacted strategy to make Russia carbon neutral by 2060, and joining the international agreement to end deforestation by 2030.

But while the Kremlin is getting active on climate change, environmentalists say authorities are not doing enough to prepare Russia for the world that is coming. Though the government is taking positive steps, they say, it is not addressing the changes that Russia’s power grid and carbon-dependent economy will require in order to keep up with more proactively green parts of the world like Europe.

A green Russia?

After decades of foot-dragging, Russian governments on all levels have visibly begun to support green efforts and make resources available, especially for renewable energy projects.

A 1 trillion ruble (about $15 billion) federal program is already providing funding and other support for renewable energy startups. The eight-year pilot project, extended this year until 2035, has seen construction of 63 solar energy farms, 15 wind power plants, and 3 small hydro stations, says Alexei Zhikharev, director of the Russia Renewable Energy Development Association (RREDA). He says the pace will pick up now. “Electricity from renewable energy generation is already cheaper than that from traditional generation facilities, and the costs are rapidly falling,” he says.

Moscow now has Europe’s largest fleet of electric buses, almost 1,000 of them, which the city’s deputy mayor Maxim Liksutov says will reduce the city’s carbon emissions by 86 thousand tons next year. “We expect all the routes will be operated by ecofriendly buses by 2030,” he says. Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg is building electric river boats to replace its diesel-powered fleet.

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