COP23: Interview with Putin’s climate adviser

By Chris Witt, UNFCCC COP23 Bonn 2017

Me: Professor, great to meet you. I really enjoyed your presentation earlier. However, I had a chat with a Turkish delegate recently and he and others have voiced the view that Russia is not doing enough to combat
climate change. Do you agree with this?

Prof S.: Well, so actually, I have a very different view – namely that Russia has been doing more than pretty much anyone else by cutting down carbon emissions by 50%, as compared to 1990. No other country can claim that! You shouldn’t just simply point the finger at Russia therefore.

Me: That’s really interesting. You know, this is partially why I really wanted to have this interview with you because I was assuming that you might have a different view. There are so many different views out here, it
can get really complicated. However, the benchmark you are stating here I find a bit peculiar as it dates back right to USSR era. But it is great to hear that Russia has in fact silently done more than even very innovative
countries like Denmark and the Netherlands. That’s fantastic! However, emission reduction at this point seems to be less of a relative matter, but rather we all need to work together and reduce emissions as much
as we can individually. How do you see Russia’s potential of reducing emissions even further?

Prof S: In fact, the West is very much responsible for the current situation: Germany, everyone, is importing great amounts of oil and other fossil fuels from us. You know, we have great amounts of air pollution in Murmansk now because everyone is importing coal. Not exporting is not an option for us, because we also need make sure our books are balanced.

Me: Certainly, the West is indeed very lucky to have access to such vast amounts of Russian resources. However, I am a bit concerned that we end up with this classical situation of where producers and consumers are scapegoating each other and in the end nobody wants to accept any responsibility for the status quo. I’d be really interested in your personal opinion though: Do you personally think that there are some additional measures that Russia could take?

Prof S: Oh yes, certainly, we could do even more but you know it’s always a matter of finding arguments that are indeed convincing. In the end, we are not really interested in any non-economic arguments because we are doing very well, and we are set to do really well for the time being, so that’s what we are most interested in.


Me: As you mentioned economic arguments: When we speak of economic sanctions, I wonder,- even though of course this is absolutely not how one would ideally want to treat one another – could it be true that economic sanctions might have the interesting side effect of stimulating climate protection efforts in Russia?

Prof S: Er – yes, well I suppose as long as those sanctions are focusing on fossil fuels, potentially one could say that.

Me: On a different note, I just attended a seminar where it was mentioned that while climate change will have a stimulating effect on Russian agriculture in the 2020s, by 2030s there is likely to be a steady decline in productivity – mostly because southern regions are becoming less arable but northern regions will be less economical to access, mainly due to a lack of existing infrastructure and population there. But I assume the current government is potentially not going to be around then anymore, so do you feel a certain sense of problems being postponed to the future?


Prof S: Well, to be honest with you, it’s simply that the effects of climate change cannot be managed really at this time. For now, we are doing very well and we will be doing really well for the forseeable future. Maybe things will change, but it will probably still be cheaper just to deal with the effects. In the end, you need to find arguments that the government finds convincing. Trust me, I have been doing this job for 20 years now.

Me: I trust you on that. Let’s work together on finding more convincing arguments! Would you mind if we took a quick photo together?

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