Letter From the Editors

For much of the northern hemisphere, May is the month when farmers sow crops and when plants emerge from the ground. Fittingly, in this issue we see many undertakings: some in fresh and fallow fields, others coming after repeated failed harvests. We can only guess from the attitudes of the planters what fruits these efforts will bear. One recently emergent trend with significant implications is Russia’s renewed interest in green concerns.

Putin’s annual Message to the Federal Assembly highlighted environmental issues as never before, including promises to cover ongoing damage from industrial pollution and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below those of Europe by 2051. Konstantin Simonov reviews Putin’s ambivalent history with global climate change efforts and speculates on possible motives for this new direction. “He wants to find at least some common ground with the West, particularly with the US,” Simonov writes. “Now that Joe Biden is in the White House, the climate is a great place to start.” Chinese President Xi Jinping’s environmental efforts offer Putin a model of how to proceed.

Putin has long held off on ambitious environmental measures due to economic considerations, and Simonov views this as an ongoing trouble spot. With hydrocarbon fuels so cheap for Russia, it is hard to find any comparative advantage in the use of green technologies, much of which would have to be imported. On the bright side, Simonov writes, “Russian authorities are eagerly looking for any Keynesian ideas that will lead to an economic breakthrough, and a ‘green economy’ fits the bill perfectly. Officials would have to create artificial demand for new technologies, thus spurring the creation of new jobs, increases in industrial production and household incomes, and so on.”

On the supply side, Leonid Fedun of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs also sees the advantage of implementing some green policies. While he predicts little reduction in Russia’s hydrocarbon fuel output in the coming decades (and a likely increase in overall market share), he believes that the country can use its vast forests to rapidly achieve carbon neutrality through a system of offsets. “If a company produces oil, or steel or concrete,” Fedun explains, “it can either build its own carbon farms or buy emission certificates from existing carbon farms. This document certifies that a carbon farm has removed, say, 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” According to Fedun, once these certificates gain international recognition, Russian companies will be able not only to avoid European carbon border adjustment taxes, but eventually to sell these offsets to other countries.

But while some movement may soon become visible when it comes to a possible rapprochement between Putin and Biden, or Zelensky’s push for revision of the Minsk agreements (both of which are also discussed in this issue), we will not be able to judge the outcome of Russia’s new environmental policy in just one year. We can only assess the seriousness of Russian government and industry on environmental matters by the steps they begin. If these indications of a new green policy bear fruit, we may be seeing the green shoots of a replanted taiga for decades to come.