INTERVIEW: Russia can play a pivotal role in global climate action process: Russian acclaimed entrepreneur Andrey Melnichenko at COP27

Doaa A.Moneim , Tuesday 22 Nov 2022

“The well-organised COP27 came amid great challenges the African continent is facing, which exacerbated by the consequences of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine that placed a big pressure on the continent’s countries”, said the acclaimed Russian billionaire entrepreneur Andrey Melnichenko in an interview with Ahram Online held in Sharm El-Sheikh during the UN Conference of Partners on Climate Change in its 27the (COP27) Egypt hosted 6-20 November.

Andrey Melnichenko

 

Melnichenko attended the COP27 as the Chairman of the RSPP’s Climate Change and Carbon Regulation Committee and the Co-Chairman of the RSPP Coordinating Council for Sustainable Development.

RSPP is the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, an association of private business similar to the Egyptian Businessmen’s Association, the US Chamber of Commerce or the Confederation of British Industry. It was established in June 1990 as a non-governmental organisation meant to promote the interests of Russia’s business community.

RSPP’s Climate Change and Carbon Regulation Committee unites more than 70 largest Russian private industrial companies, associations, expert organizations, etc. This makes the Committee a key platform for large Russian businesses to discuss issues on the national and international climate agenda.

“The cascading crises that the continent has been witnessing, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, has impacted Africa clearly in terms of the increasing cost of living. The armed hostilities in the Eastern Europe resulted in the high costs of both food and energy – these costs are among the key challenges to all the countries of the continent, including Egypt for sure. Also, the fertilisers prices are rising, that will affect the crop yield and food availability the next year everywhere including Egypt. The continent will certainly suffer greater repercussions of the war”, Melnichenko said in his answer on Ahram Online question regarding the main threats Africa has been facing, particularly amid the Ukrainian war.

Russia always strived to be up to its responsibilities under the Paris agreement signed in 2015, said Andrey. It was clear that actions should to be taken to implement the agreement.

“As soon as we signed it, we had to follow the rules. We had to measure the carbon emissions and carbon absorption. We had to develop a strategy together with a timetable. The cycle was clear. To measure, to put target, to define a strategy and finally to build infrastructure that will support climate project’s implementation. That was our major focus since the signing of Paris agreement”, Andrey elaborated.

 

Russia has been doing a lot in terms of reducing these emissions. Since 1990 it has halved greenhouse gas net-emissions – primarily through structural changes in the economy, industrial and power sector modernization and measures in ecosystems.

 

Speaking of combating climate change and the related efforts, Melnichenko said that despite all huge resources and finances that were dedicated to the climate action, the decarbonisation goals do not yet look achievable.

 

From Melnichenko standpoint, the main reason behind that is the questionable focus chosen for the efforts of the world community.

“Our planet emits roughly 850 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases in carbon equivalent. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions associated with human activities amount to 50 gigatons. These are the so-called anthropogenic emissions, the current regulation model is built to limit specifically this portion of emissions out of 850 gigatonnes. In other words, for the last 30 years we have been focusing on how to change the concentration in the atmosphere, dedicating all the resources on these 6% - while ignoring the other 94%. If we talk about the second part of the cycle, chiefly the absorption, then practically we are not paying any attention here at all. Why? This seems to be absurd. Why is this happening? What are the reasons for this? There are probably three reasons”, Andrey explained.

For these three reasons, Andrey told Ahram Online that the first reason revolves around the bureaucratic-accounting nature, as the key issue is that how the remaining 94% of emissions could be measured in a right way. It’s not an easy task to get the accurate results especially that temperature and other conditions are changing year by year.

In this regard, Andrey expounded that tech-based solutions are being developed, but, nevertheless, there are still difficulties in measuring.

“We are in dire need to shift the focus into the difficult-to-measure 94% of the greenhouse gas emissions that is affecting the planet severely, not only the easy-to-measure 6% to allow the efforts are being done make a difference. We only focus on what is easy to measure, and ignore what is difficult to measure”, Andrey asserted.

The second reason, according to Andrey, relates to the economic aspect.

“If we look at the territories of different states in terms of total emissions and absorptions – not only at the 6% that we are looking at today, then we would see a lot. We’ll see that the list of outsiders and leading countries is significantly different from today's picture. In other words, those countries that are called leaders today and who believe that little effort is necessary will turn out to be outsiders. And some countries, on the contrary, will take different ranking positions. Of course, this will greatly impact the competitiveness of countries whose economies will be affected by these changes. Geo-economics is the engine of geopolitics – and, of course, big changes in this area cannot occur without conflicts. It is very, very difficult and almost impossible to make such changes, because the beneficiaries of the existing order of things are not interested in them. This is an extremely difficult task”, Andrey explained.

Back to the ideology, Andrey explained to Ahram Online the third reason in this regard. He said that unfortunately the now-prevailing ideology says the humanity is guilty in climate change and it is essential to minimize human activity: “The fact that it was decided to choose only 6% of all emissions and to focus on them in climate actions is a direct consequence of the application of this ideology, despite the existence of a number of other options to reduce planetary emissions.”

According to Andrey, “The catastrophe that the planet is facing is not really solved by large gatherings, discussions and conversations. There is anger and irritation, especially among the younger generation worldwide. There is the same anger and irritation on the part of the countries that are most affected by the ongoing changes – small island states, the most vulnerable and developing countries. There is also anger on the part of countries that did not have time to achieve what the leading industrial powers had, namely, to create the same living conditions for their population that are created in the developed world.”

He says that it’s especially true for African countries where 78% of the companies experienced power cuts already in 2019. According to International Energy Agency people in countries like Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia are consuming less electricity annually than an average household fridge in the USA.

It would be more efficient to channel the existing anger and irritation towards changing the established order of things. The further restrictions do not help matters. The answer is the universal electricity access that currently cannot be achieved allegedly because of the need to curb the emissions. But this problem can be solved if we deal not just with the carbon emissions but with the absorption as well – we just need to change the approach that prevent us from dealing with 94% of the carbon cycle, not just anthropogenic 6%, Andrey underpinned.

In his view, Andrey perceives the COP27 is like all previous editions that focus on the concerns of humanity about the problems of climate change, yet, the threat is still there because our strategy was non-efficient so far.

Out of such a scene he showcased, Andrey noted that Russia and Russian business have an imperative and significant role to play in regard with the climate action, based on that Russia and its ecosystems is a huge and a unique participant in the global carbon cycle.

“The Russian Federation is 30 years old. Accordingly, like a person coming of age, we went through the corresponding periods of development. For the first 10 years of Russian history, to be honest, we were not up to the climate. While various agreements were inked, no one really read them, because we were overwhelmed with much more pressing issues of economically survival. In the 2000s, we had a love for everything Western, we really wanted to sit at the prestigious negotiating tables. We’ve exchanged our participation in the first stage of the Kyoto Protocol, which did not particularly take into account our interests, for the right to be present at the WTO platform. After that, in 2015, in order to reconcile with the rest of the world after our adventures of previous years, we went on to sign the Paris Agreement”, Andrey explained.

“That is, we lived by inertia, fitting into a game that we did not create and which did not exactly meet our interests. But we participated in it, because, in principle, we did not see any great harm in it. It was possible to adapt to it, it did not require large expenses, and it would seem – what's wrong with that? That's pretty much how we lived. This is how the country lived, and, by and large, how Russian business lived”, Andrey further added.

Nevertheless, over the years, Russia has done so many efforts that focus on addressing the impacts of climate change as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation.

According to Andrey, Russia has developed an adequate accounting system for emissions and absorptions, set an net-emissions’ reduction system, designed policy that takes into account the results of climate projects, developed a coherent low-carbon development strategy.

“In principle, we developed more or less inertially until the well-known events happened, until the conflicts reached the point where the “special military operation” began – and, as a result, all sound proposals from Russia and its business, including those on the climate agenda, no longer find their listener”, he concluded.

Finally, Andrey expressed hope that sooner or later the common trade interests will become the basis for partnership on climate issues between Russia and other countries like China and India, African and Latin American states. “Right now, the Russian business has to think about the actions to be taken in a few years when there’s peace and world regains its balance again”, he says.

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