It was not my intention to look deeper into the COP21 conference, but I couldn’t resist. The thing that got this started was an info graphic I saw in a news paper. It depicted the pledges of the largest emitters and amongst them the pledge of Russia. To me, that pledge stood out like a sore thumb. My initial reaction at that time was:
25-30% emission reduction, that is incredibly nice of Mr. Putin, but I thought there was something fishy with this message. Russia is not exactly the country that bought into the global warming scare. They have been very skeptical and probably will have more advantages than disadvantages from a warming climate. They also clearly said that they wouldn’t sacrifice their economy in order to cut emissions. So reading that they are actually willing to cut their emissions by 25 to 30% by 2030 sounds unbelievable to me.
As with so many things concerning climate policies reporting, the devil is in the detail. The detail here is “compared to what”. That “what” being the emissions in 1990:
Aha! Now it makes a lot more sense. I know where that comes from, I have seen such construction before. When I looked at the emission reductions of the developing countries, emission data showed that Russia and Ukraine were responsible for 95% of the (relatively small) decrease in emissions of the developing countries. So the increasing share of alternative power sources couldn’t be the cause of that decrease, because that share was/is almost non-existing in both countries.
The reason why the Russia’s emissions of Russia dropped from 1989 was the collapse of the Soviet Union and many energy inefficient factories and heavy industry that closed their doors. Taking the emissions of 1990 as a base would have rather interesting results.
I had still some recent data of emissions on my hard drive, so I went for a very quick back-on-the-envelop look. This is how the emissions trend is for Russia, just look at the quickly dropping numbers starting from 1989 and its slow recovery at the end of last century:
A rough look learns us that a 25% reduction from 1990 would mean that they are already almost at their target, so that reduction by 2030 turns out to be quite meaningless. By the way, 25-30% of 1990 levels was exactly what they also agreed to do by 2020.
It didn’t stop there. There still was that intriguing statement that “Russia’s massive forests absorb around 500m tonnes of CO2 each year”. Was this included in the pledge? When looking for more information I found the Russian INDC submission (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution). This explains that they want the contribution of the Russian forests taken fully into account in their pledge. This indeed seemed to be estimated to 500 Mt CO2 per year (since 2000). So let me add to the graph above what the Russians think their emissions actually are and how that relates to their target:
Also look at the direction of the current emissions:
That trend is upwards and only interrupted by the 2008 financial crisis. They were serious when saying they don’t want to sacrifice their economy.
Just continuing looking at it on a rough scale, they dropped about 500 Mt in the 14 years from 1990 until 2013, being already more or less on their target right now. But because of their creative accounting, they still have a spare 500 Mt (from absorption of CO2 by their forests), which means that they can continue as they do now without even missing their target.
25-30% emission reduction sounds really nice, but the contrary seems to be true. In stead of willing to decrease their emissions by 25%, they actually have even room for a INcrease of 25% to get their “target” by 2030. Even if they continue to increase their emissions at the same rate as it is increasing since 1999, they would probably still reach their target. Clever guys, these Russians.
I was surprised that this was only skin-deep. Just scratching at the surface will show it. If the pledge of Russia looks so very promising from the outside, but worthless when you look deeper, what about the submissions of the other countries? Just look at what India pledged: a decrease of 33-35% reduction in emission, ahem, “intensity”…
This act of creative accounting by the Russians could well be the tip of the iceberg.
Found in the meanwhile some more of those creative accounting techniques (Dutch). Beside the Russian plan, there are also:
- South Korea and Mexico promised to decrease their emissions against their “expected emissions” for the next 15 years (South Korea plans to emit 35% “less extra”)
- China and India likewise “decrease” their emissions by using their fossil fuels more efficiently to produce the same (that is the reduction in “emission intensity” seen above)
- The USA promise to limit their emissions “by 26%” compared to 2005. Meaning already 10 year in progress and that 26% is in fact 15%
- Europe promises to decrease emissions “by 40%” against base year 1990. Meaning already halfway and that impressive 40% is in fact 20%.
I didn’t check these numbers, just put them here as I found it.
Those countries seem to do their very best to impress/fool each other and the public with their numbers.