The COP26 conference in Glasgow opened today (1 November), a day after US President Joe Biden criticised China and Russia for not bringing proposals to the table at the G20 meeting in Rome.
We will take a closer look at the China and Russia case here. Under Joe Biden, tensions with China and Russia are increasing and the absence of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping from Glasgow could be interpreted also in this context.
For many years, Russia did not take climate change seriously. At some point, Moscow even saw climate change as positive, as rising temperatures opened new maritime routes in the Arctic Ocean.
Little over a decade ago, China was strongly arguing against reducing the emissions caused by its booming, coal-fuelled economic growth. Instead, it said developed nations should be leading the way.
Things have changed. Now both China and Russia acknowledge the climate challenge and are devising strategies to tackle it, albeit in ways that suit their national interest.
China, in particular, has suffered from air pollution unseen in the Western world. Now it’s by far the world leader in solar power (254,355 megawatts, followed by the US with 75,572 megawatts).
China’s wind power installations were more than triple those of any other country in 2020. China is also expected to produce car batteries at a capacity that is double of those produced by the rest of the world combined.
But China is not on the same page regarding coal phase-out. Neither is Russia.
While the EU would like a 2050 deadline for zero emissions to be confirmed, both Russia and China mention 2060 instead.
In 2020, Xi Jinping said his country would aim for its emissions to peak before 2030, then taper off and reach carbon neutrality before 2060. His statement has been confirmed as China’s official position ahead of COP26. But China has not said exactly how these goals will be achieved.
At last month’s annual Valdai forum, Putin said it was “impossible” to deny climate change. In his annual state-of-nation speech in April, Putin declared that Russia’s total net greenhouse gas emissions should be less than the EU’s over the next 30 years, describing this as a “tough but realistic” goal.
And addressing an energy conference in Moscow in early October, Putin committed Russia to achieving zero carbon emissions by 2060. Again, no details are available. Putin claims Russian forests will do most of the work, which is arguable at best.
Russia’s interest is to continue selling its oil and gas, in particular to Europe, its best client, as long as possible. But in contrast with the EU, which has a zero-emission target for 2050, Russia has no long-term target for climate change.
Russia, however, needs to align with the EU if it wants to avoid complications. The EU’s planned carbon border tariff on polluting goods is a serious threat to the Russian economy, and could inflict more harm to Russia than sanctions imposed against Moscow after the annexation of Crimea.
In general, to achieve a major agreement at the UN level, a good international climate is needed. In that sense, besides the tense relations with Washington, the poor state of EU-Russia relations has not helped the preparations of COP26 either.
We’re not really holding our breath for a major breakthrough in Glasgow, but we’re keeping a close eye…
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