Interviewed by the senior Moskovskij Komsomolets journalist Mikhail Rostovsky, Dmitry Suslov, the Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics explains why Russia has nothing to fear and everything to gain from going green. Ecology is not a Western con game and if Russia doesn't embrace it, the way China did, it will only become further impoverished. Russia can turn the ecological movement against the West by siding with the developing states in pushing back against proposed carbon taxes that are intended to subsidize the EU budget. It can entice European businessmen to invest in Russia in return for carbon credits. Climate change, argues Suslov will have additional consequences such as creating the threat of a US-Russia confrontation in the Arctic and triggering mass global migrations.
Rostovsky's interview with Suslov follows below:
Dmitry Suslov (Source: Kommersant.ru)
Recently, the meaning of “color revolutions” received a new look. We have already learned what is [the Ukrainian] “orange revolution”. But now the “green revolution” threatens to engulf Russia and the entire world. However it is far less clear what a “green revolution” is. It would seem that any struggle for the preservation of nature is splendid by definition. But experts claim that the desire to prevent the destruction of our environment is just the tip of the iceberg of “green” wars. But here is the submerged part: under the guise of personal concern for ecology and environmental protection, there frequently lurks a battle for big money and a fierce competitive struggle between the leading world powers.
How can Russia avoid losing the world environmental wars? This Monday a group of experts from the Higher School of Economics (HSE) published a special report in this regard: “Turn to nature: a new Russian ecological policy in the context of the “green transformation of the world economy and politics”. One of the report’s authors, Dmitry Suslov, the Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the HSE, explained to MK how this unusual turn for our country should look like.
- Dmitry, if one would compare the average standard of living in Russia with the average standard of living in the countries that are in the vanguard of the world’s “environmental crusade” then our country [Russia] is a fairly poor country. Can we really afford the luxury of a massive diversion of economic resources to the climate agenda?
- If don’t seriously start working on environmental protection and don't turn ecology into] one of the main priorities of our domestic and foreign policy, then we will become even poorer and disadvantaged.
Poorer, because we will lose in global competition; we will lose niches (as, for example occurred with cybernetics during the late USSR times); the economy will stagnate. The Russian economy's current structure that relies on traditional energy, rules out dynamic economic growth in the foreseeable future in principle. Strategically speaking, revenues from energy exports will decline.
Disadvantaged because the wave of environmental problems will lead to a deterioration in the population’s health and will require a massive increase in health care spending, which in turn will be made at the expense of some other sector, for example - education.
The quality of life depends not only on money, but also on health, comfortable surroundings, clean water and air. Moreover, climate change brings new risks for Russia for example, desertification of some regions and flooding in others, infrastructure deterioration in regions where the permafrost melts and consequential technological disasters. Thus, the investments in the environment will be minuscule compared to how much will have to be spent in the future.
These days the implementation of the ecological agenda is not a diversion of resources, but a profitable investment.
Clean energy, an innovative resource economy, which we encourage in Siberia and the Far East, are very promising sectors, that considering Russia’s competitive advantages can provide a solid foundation for [economic] development in the coming decades. Meanwhile, a skillful foreign policy can create the preconditions for foreign investments in cleaner industry and CO2 reduction, including from EU member-states.
- The Russian Federation's Strategy of Economic Security, adopted in 2017, stipulates that the development of 'green' technologies is one of the main threats to our country. How soon will this threat turn from a potential to a real one?
- 'Green' technologies shouldn’t be perceived as threat but as an opportunity. The development of these technologies is part of scientific and technological progress, there is no way of arresting it. Such technologies are being vigorously promoted not only by developed countries, but also by developing ones. And over the past few years, due to scientific and technological progress, 'green' technologies have become substantially cheaper.
If we proceed from the understanding that aside from the export of oil, gas and coal, there should be nothing else in the Russian economy, then the green' technologies undoubtedly pose a threat to it. And they are turning into a real threat right now. In the short term perspective, the European Union pledges to introduce a border carbon tax, which will damage not only the export of energy resources, but also other Russian export items, for example - metallurgy.
In the medium term perspective, the demand for hydrocarbons in the EU will decrease and begin to drop. Strategically speaking, it will drop all over the world. It does not mean that one should abandon traditional energy altogether. It will remain a key pillar of our economy for a long time, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, it is necessary to research and implement green' technologies by ourselves.
- Your report reads, “Russia is not trying to play a leading role in global environmental protection processes and it doesn’t formulate and promote a an agenda beneficial to it.” What should this agenda be?
- Firstly, this agenda should be broader than that promoted by the West, and should not be solely confined to climate change problems. This, of course, is an important problem, but not the only one, and for the overwhelming majority of the world's countries it is by no means a priority issue. Problems such as air, water and soil pollution, fresh water deficit, forest fires, and the problem of garbage [disposal] are no less relevant.
Secondly, the new agenda must be fair. For decades the Western countries polluted the environment and did not limit themselves in terms of CO2 emissions; these countries managed to achieve a high level of prosperity. But then they transferred their 'dirty' industries to developing countries. Now the West claims that only the producing states should pay for the production of dirty products even though the majority of the consumers of such 'dirty' goods reside in the West. The principle, stipulating that both producers and consumers [of 'dirty' goods] should pay for carbon emissions should be promoted.
Thirdly, the new agenda should be effective in fighting climate change. Today’s EU 'Green policy' is largely an instrument of economic competition rather than concern over climate change. Its goal is to increase the competitiveness of European producers, who are required to implement the increasingly stricter environmental standards, via additional taxation of foreign producers, who are not yet ready to introduce identical standards.
Meanwhile, the EU has already achieved great successes in reducing CO2 emissions (the EU accounts for only 9% of global greenhouse gas emissions). However, each further step towards carbon neutrality will require increasingly larger investments, that they intend to compensate for at the expense of others. It is vastly cheaper to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the developing countries, which have lower environmental standards. Each dollar invested in such countries “in the ecology” will have a manifold greater effect. After all, the climate does not care where precisely emissions will be reduced.
- As one of the desirable measures your report lists a “creation of conditions for the transition to more modest consumption models for the rich and super-rich strata of the population.” Wouldn’t you agree that this proposal is not even science fiction, but unrealistic fairy tales?
- This is a fairy tale in the way that universal suffrage or an 8-hour working day seemed to be. Today inequality (not only in Russia, but in the entire world has reached critical rate. We can witness what socio-political tremors this problem is already causing in Western countries. This is crucially important in the context of the new global economic crisis. It is necessary, at least as a first step, to make overconsumption highly expensive. Wherein, the tax should be imposed not on wealth, but specifically on consumption and the associated environmental damage. It is also obvious that the entire world cannot consume at the same rate as the developed countries of the West did in the last century. Sensible sufficiency and a new balance should be introduced.
- Many in our country believe that the “Greta Thunberg” project is a plot of some dark forces that exploit a motivated and idealistic girl for attaining their insidious goals. Is this point of view confirmed by the facts?
- The “Greta Thunberg” effect reflects the fact that the Western European countries' population and the democratic electorate of the US in fact consider climate change as one of the biggest threats to security.
She ended up on the crest of the wave. However, there are no doubts that this girl is being exploited for political purposes. Firstly, [she is used] to promote an agenda that is beneficial to the West, with an emphasis on climate [change] and movement to carbon neutrality. The other environmental issues in this agenda are eliminated from the equation
Secondly, [she was used] against Donald Trump during his tenure as the President of the United States, in order to portray him as an egoist-wrecker who does not care about anyone, including the next generations of Americans. Greta Thunberg “interfered” in US domestic politics incomparably more than all the notorious Russian hackers' and “false information spreaders” put together.
Greta Thunberg (Source:Ria.ru)
- It seems logical that the global climate change will affect various countries differently: some will suffer less, and some will suffer more. Are there any credible assessments to which category of countries Russia belongs?
- Considering the sheer size of the Russian territory, climate change will affect our country differently. On the one hand, the agricultural potential of certain regions will increase, the heating season will become shorter, and the potential of the Northern Sea Route will increase.
On the other hand, droughts will become more frequent in other regions, the vulnerability of forests before fires will increase, as well as the risk of cardiovascular diseases in population. The melting of permafrost brings enormous risks: the strengthening and reconstruction of the entire infrastructure will require enormous costs; the risks of natural and technological disasters will increase too; the indigenous and small peoples of the North will be forced to change their way of life dramatically. The ice melting in Arctic is fraught with very serious geopolitical and military-political risks. All in all, I believe that the negative consequences will be more important [than the positive ones].
- Your report states, “Until now, Russia has been engaged in the “Wild West economy”, according to which the depletion of natural resources in one territory led to a transition to the next one.” Don’t you think that the words “Until now” seem to be out of place, and no one is seriously considering abandoning this practice?
- We wrote “up to the present”, and not “until recently”, thereby clarifying that this policy persists to this day. However, this is neither here nor there. The mining of natural resources within the extensive model can no longer provide dynamic economic growth. The fact is clearly confirmed evidenced by the last 8-9 years have. In the context of the global energy transition, the preservation of the extensive model will cause a prompt decrease in Russia’s share of the world economy and a sharp drop in budget revenues. Obviously, we in no case are proposing to abandon the mining and export of natural resources. However, first it is necessary to improve the efficiency of the Russian energy sector and secondly to develop other sectors, including the innovative resource economy.
- The European Union wants starting from 2023 to compel other countries to pay into its budged a so-called “carbon tax” levied on the other countries. What should Russia do in order to leave the Europeans holding the bag?
- First of all, this plan will not only affect Russia. The biggest exporters to the EU market (primarily China and the US), are in jeopardy. Therefore, EU policy can provoke a new global trade war, whose ricochets can damage the EU as well. This problem should be discussed publicly, and not only within Russia, but along with China and the United States. It should be emphasized that this step is ineffective in terms of reducing CO2 emissions on a global scale and is an instrument of economic competition. Only global effect matters in terms of climate change.
However, we are convinced that Russia shouldn’t just criticize the EU, but instead it needs to put forward a cooperation program, which will have a much greater effect in terms of global reduction of CO2 emissions and will bring economic benefits to Russia.
We should offer to the EU a mechanism that will offset EU investments in the development of green technologies and low-carbon projects in Russia as a contribution to carbon neutrality. Such a proposal could free their businesses from colossal expenses made in order to further reduce CO2 emissions internally [in Europe], will maintain their global competitiveness and lead to an incomparably greater reduction of greenhouse gas emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere on a global scale (and at a much cheaper cost). It is much cheaper to reduce CO2 emissions in Russia.
[Russia should also propose] to the EU cooperation in the production of hydrogen energy and its supply to the EU, including via the existing gas pipeline system. Given the scale of Russia’s nuclear and hydropower industry, as well as the rapid development of hydrogen technologies, the potential for such a proposal is enormous.
We called these two proposals in the report a “Russo-European green” or “Russo-European clean” deal.
At the same time, these proposals should be part of a general new global ecological agenda. It would be beneficial for Russia to put forward and promote this initiative on a global scale along with other developing countries (primarily BRICS and SCO member-states). This is what we called “Global (or worldwide) clean course”. Therefore, the dialogue with the EU should be combined with (or even follow) the cooperation with the aforementioned developing countries in order to propagate a new environmental agenda.
Of course, we understand that the current state of Russia - EU relations cannot provide for an intensive dialogue. Even if Moscow were to propose to the EU the agenda that we developed, Brussels will probably refuse, especially in the beginning. Nevertheless``, this proposal should be announced publicly and openly to the entire world. At the very least, it would put the EU on the defensive, seize the initiative from it and politically complicate the introduction of carbon customs duties.
Russia's authority as a global defender of nature on a grand scale would be significantly strengthened among the non-Western developing countries. There would be also supporters of this imitative within the EU.
For starters a dialogue on the proposed initiative can be conducted with individual EU member-states, and later, when the EU policy towards Russia takes a more constructive direction, the issue could be discussed with the EU through its institutions…
- Your report states, “In less than a decade, China has turned from being the main “culprit” of the world’s ecological problems to one of the main motors of the global “green” transformation.” Considering the infamous Beijing smog which is still there, isn’t such a statement an exaggeration? And if not, how did the Chinese manage to achieve it?
- China’s successes in the reduction of the greenhouse gasses emissions are not so much in final results, but rather in dynamics. By the way, Beijing officially declares that it will decrease greenhouse gasses emissions at least until 2030. They have realized the problem and began to rapidly develop the “green” technologies, including renewable energy, forestry and reforestation.
The dynamics, amount of investments, the volume of research work significantly exceeds that of the West. The Beijing smog (and related health problems) brought an understanding that the accumulated ecological damage is turning into one of the main obstacles to further development.
Additionally, China doesn’t hesitate to proclaim itself one of the leaders of the global environmental agenda.
The PRC set itself the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060; it made the task of building an ecological civilization part of the Constitution, and even joined the Paris Agreement, which, in fact, was passed because China began to play a more active role in the climate agenda.
Beijing smog (Source: Regnum.ru)
- Your report predicts that due to the rapid decrease of the Arctic Ocean ice shield, the Arctic may become one of the main arenas of the Russo-American confrontation. How quickly can this scenario materialize?
- This is already happening. In 2019, 2020, and 2021, the United States adopted three consecutive Arctic military strategies for the Department of Defense, Air Force, and the Army. All three documents state that, melting of the ice shield turns the Arctic from a buffer into a “corridor of confrontation and force projection.” Therefore the documents call for a preferential build-up of the US military infrastructure in this region. Indeed, the largest air base in the US for fifth-generation jets is being built in Alaska. All three strategies name Russia as the main adversary, and its actions are called a threat to the security of the United States.
In addition, Washington does not support the Russia’s plans to control the Northern Sea Route. The US proclaims that the provision of absolute freedom of navigation in Arctic ice-free waters via a constant demonstrative military presence is one of the country’s main interests in the region. As a result, Russia may soon encounter at its northern borders a situation similar to that in the South China Sea: that is a regular presence of American military vessels to ensure “freedom of navigation.” This situation will be fraught not only with increased confrontation, but also with the risk of military incidents. This issue may require for Russia to put even bigger investments in the development of the region’s military infrastructure.
In order to at least minimize these risks, it is necessary to cooperate with the US and other Arctic countries in order to protect the delicate Arctic ecosystem, minimize the negative consequences of constant permafrost melting, etc. The priority of climate issues for Biden administration and the appointment of John Kerry as the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Problems provides slightly broader opportunities for cooperation than previously.
- Are climate wars likely to happen in the future for example, clashes for natural resources that were depleted in some states, but still exist in others? Should Russia be seriously wary of such events?
- If climate change and destruction of nature continue at the previous rate, then such wars are simply inevitable. Already, many countries, especially in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, are facing the problem of a fresh water deficit. This issue will only exacerbate with the climate changes. This will be joined by the problem of hunger. Countries - producers of agricultural products, faced with the negative effects of climate change, will decrease their exports, which in turn will produce a global deficit. The prices will skyrocket. In addition, pollution of nature and climate change will inevitably lead to an appearance of new infections. COVID-19 is only the first swallow.
- Will climate change cause a sharp increase in migratory pressure on Russia? We have a lot of free lands after all ...
- Climate change and the destruction of the environment in general will lead to a new global “Great Migration Period”, since certain region will simple become uninhabitable. One should be ready for this. And this issue can also provoke more than one military conflict.
- As the old saying goes “if the thunder isn't roaring, the peasant won't cross himself.” Is the climatic thunder already roaring for Russia, or do we still have the option of engaging in conversations about ecology, rather than dealing with it?
- This thunder already roared yesterday. And now, to draw an analogy with the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, [volcanic] ash begins to fall out. Tomorrow, pumice will start to fall from the skies and pyroclastic flows will run. The accumulated global environmental damage will become critical. In Russia itself, the negative consequences of environmental destruction and climate change will outweigh the benefits of global warming.
Ecological issues are already one of the priorities of the international political agenda. A fierce struggle is ongoing to define it, and Russia is still not a participant. Countries are struggling to define who will formulate ecological agenda; Russia has not entered this battle yet. Nevertheless, leadership in defining the ecological and climate agenda becomes an increasingly important factor for [achieving] influence and strengthening political positions.
Finally, the global energy transition and the “green” economy are already pose existential threats for Russia, [which is inevitable] if you shut yourself off and dismiss them, but they can become the foundation of dynamic growth if they are seriously addressed.
Considering Russia’s natural wealth, the size of its territory, the scale of its forests, as well as the progress achieved in reducing CO2 emissions during the post-Soviet period (which can be attributed not only to collapse of the Soviet economy, but also to structural [economic] reform), it can fully become the leader of a new world ecological agenda. Russia's international heft in the environmental sphere is much greater than in the world economy.
 Mk.ru, April 12, 2021;