Putin Pushed to Pivot on Climate

October 6, 2021



After years of publicly dismissing climate change, President Vladimir Putin is finally prodding officials to take the threat it poses to Russia’s economy more seriously. 

The shift in thinking means the Kremlin is likely to come to the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow in November with proposals to synchronize its efforts to measure carbon emissions with those in Europe, according to four people familiar with the plans.

While the moves hardly amount to the kind of ambitious new emissions-reduction target for Russia that western capitals were hoping for, it’s a significant step for Putin as the leader of one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon producers, who until recently belittled climate issues.

Officials say the new approach is being driven by a belated realization the European Union, Russia’s largest trading partner, is serious about implementing carbon border regulations that will likely compel Russian companies to pay for excess emissions in key industries. The Kremlin also sees climate issues as among the few areas of possible cooperation with the U.S. and Europe after years of worsening relations. 

Russia’s delegation at the summit will focus on topics including standards for calculating CO2 emissions and the absorption capacity of its enormous forests, as well as a proposal to rate nuclear power as “green” energy for carbon accounting purposes, two of the people said.

As the fourth largest greenhouse-gas polluter, Russia dumps about 5% of all carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Nearly 90% of all energy Russia consumes comes from carbon-heavy sources, above the global average of about 80%, and an accelerated deployment of renewables could save the country as much as $11 billion a year by 2030.

Two years ago, Putin was ridiculing clean energy, including the impact of wind turbines on worms.


Vladimir Putin, leader of the top global oil and gas exporter, wants the world to stop and think about the impact renewable energy is having on wildlife. Particularly worms.

“Everyone knows that indeed wind power generation is good, but does anyone remember about birds in this case? How many birds die?” Putin said in a keynote speech at a Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit. The wind turbines “shake so much that worms get out from the soil!” he said in the industrial city of Yekaterinburg, located in Sverdlovsk, Russia’s most polluted region.

“Will it be comfortable for people to live on the planet with a row of wind turbines and covered with several layers of sun batteries?” he said. Sverdlovsk is home to the world’s biggest titanium producer, and is also one of the largest source of copper and steel products.

Putin and the Russian government have in the past turned to environmental arguments to drive their own agenda. Back in 2006, the Natural Resources Ministry threatened to stop a Sakhalin LNG project in the nation’s Far East seeking to protect whales and salmon as Gazprom PJSC negotiated its entry to the venture. Once the company gained control, an agreement was reached.

More recently Putin said America is using “the most environmentally harmful” way to produce oil. “Black goo” was flowing instead of clean water from taps as some U.S. states use fracking, he said.

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