Obama to seek climate deal in Moscow
After success with China, US targets Russia in strategy to reach separate agreements with world’s biggest polluters
Obama arrives in Moscow on Monday at the start of a trip to Russia, Italy and Ghana that will focus heavily on energy and climate change. From Moscow, Obama travels on to Italy for a meeting of the G8 and a gathering of the major polluting countries.
Administration officials are still working out the broad outlines of an agreement that would see the US offer its expertise and technical support to Russian efforts to make its industries more energy efficient. In return Moscow would sign on to international efforts to scale back the emissions that cause global warming at a crucial UN summit in Copenhagen in December.
The overture to Russia — the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after America and China — furthers the strategy adopted by the Obama administration to enter into separate deals for action on climate change with each of the world’s biggest polluters.
The administration sees such deals as crucial groundwork ahead of the Copenhagen meeting. They dismiss suggestions that the US is trying to undermine the UN process.
The separate negotiations policy began taking shape in May, as the US climate change envoy, Todd Stern, pursued a deal with China, the world’s biggest polluter.
Next on the list is Russa. After that, it could well be Japan or Brazil. “You can definitely say we are looking for other partners,” an administration official said.
In the case of China, as well as Russia, US officials have steered clear of trying to press for binding targets for emissions reductions.
Major environmental organisations support the Obama administration approach. David Doniger, the director of climate policy at the Natural Resources Defence Council, argues that Obama and other high-level members of his team have far greater flexibility to try to reach a deal in such bilateral talks than officials working through routine diplomatic channels.
“If you are trying to put together a baseball team you have to sign contracts with 30 players. You don’t work them out in one big meeting,” he said. “It’s very difficult in the multilateral setting. It is just not the place where it is very easy to get countries to make new moves.”
It is uncertain whether Obama will make a formal announcement of a new energy pact between the US and Russia. Instead, the president is expected to set out his ideas for a partnership with Russia on climate change and energy in a speech at the end of the summit. “They won’t have the full road map for what they are going to do but want to launch a stepped up partnership,” said Jake Schmidt, the international climate change director of the NRDC.
Another scenario envisaged is the establishment of a separate US-Russian working group on global warming to be overseen by Todd Stern, the State Department envoy on climate change.
The US and Russia have long-standing co-operation on energy, but the Obama administration would like to ratchet up that involvement.
There have also been recent signs of movement from Russia, which is beginning to engage with climate change far more seriously than before, said Andrew Kuchins of the Russia programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. In April, Moscow unveiled a new doctrine on climate change. “I think there is a much more realistic appraisal about the potential pros and cons of climate change. It is hard for them to ignore what is happening in the Arctic [which is warming rapidly],” said Kuchins.
In recent weeks, the White House, State Department and National Security Council have also been studying a report from the Centre for American Progress, an influential think tank, that called for looking at climate change as an economic issue, and for demonstrating clear benefits to Russia of action. “What is most crucial is engaging them on energy efficiency. We think that it is important to frame climate change as an economic issue and one where Russia stands to benefit by first undergoing significant energy efficiency [improvements].”
Russian industry is very inefficient, using three times more energy per unit of gross domestic product as the European Union and twice as much as the US, Light notes in the paper. He argues there would be great interest in Russia in collaborating with US experts on technologies to improve its use of energy.
The economic potential is huge. A World Bank report last year found that Russia, with reasonable investment, would be able to cut its energy consumption by about 50%or the equivalent of 60 biliion barrels a day of oil over the next three years.