Russia may be one of the coldest nations on Earth, but it has no interest in seeing global warming continue unchecked, the Russian ambassador to the United States said in an interview.
Ambassador Sergei Kislyak said Russia is willing to work with other countries to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. He disagreed sharply with recent news reports suggesting Russian leaders may welcome climate change because it would make Arctic gas and oil deposits and northern regions more accessible.
“Climate change brings not only the warming of Siberia, it brings many problems that we’ll have to cope with,” Kislyak said. “They will outweigh the benefits, the perceived benefits. We have developed a lot of technologies to make even the most remote places in Siberia accessible. It’s not the biggest problem.”
Heading into climate talks in Copenhagen this December, Russia wants to ensure that all heavy emitters are involved in an international treaty, he said. Russia is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the United States.
“We want all the countries that contribute to climate change to be on board in cutting emissions,” Kislyak said. “That is kind of our guiding principle. Certainly the negotiations are going to be difficult. But I would say that, more or less, our positions are closer and closer with the United States.”
Kislyak, a veteran diplomat and a nuclear physicist by training, acknowledged that climate change wasn’t high among his areas of expertise. He framed the issue largely in economic terms.
“We want the issue of climate change to be addressed in a way that will promote the stability of the climate, rather than the way it is devolving now,” he said. “But I think everybody would claim that. The issue is, at what price and who is going to do what?”
We spoke after his talk on Russian-U.S. relations in Seattle last Friday, hosted by the Foundation for Russian American Economic Cooperation. Last September Kislyak began his ambassadorship in the aftermath of the violent conflict in South Ossetia, a time he described as the lowest point in U.S.-Russia relations since the Cold War. In his address, he said he drew a good deal of optimism from President Barack Obama’s meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow last month. Yet he gave unapologetic defenses for Russia’s position in Georgia, its stance on Iran’s nuclear pursuits, and its opposition to a U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe.
“We were told [the missile shield] is not against us, it’s against Iran, so Russia shouldn’t be worried. People are saying Russia was consulted when the decision was made. All of this is not completely true,” he said.
He also took a confrontational tone in discussing the Kyoto climate treaty. “We are, by the way, members of the Kyoto Protocol,” he said. “You are not. And we can afford this, easily.”
What he didn’t say is that the reason Russia can afford to meet Kyoto benchmarks is because they are based on emissions levels from 1990, two years before Russia’s economy nosedived in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse. Russia can continue growing its economy (and climate pollution with it) and stay comfortably within Kyoto standards for several years.
Kislyak had more to say about energy efficiency, which is a focal point of a recent report from the Center for American Progress that calls for a “reset” of U.S.-Russia relations via climate and energy cooperation.
“It is a priority for Russia because our economy is much less efficient than many others–several times less efficient,” he said. “It’s not because we are not technologically advanced, it’s because we have been living with the luxury of having so much fossil fuel that we simply didn’t care too much about it.
“Times have changed and we understand that fossil fuels need to be left for future generations. We need to be energy sufficient, but I would underline that it’s part of the Russian economic program no matter what. Whether there will be [an international climate] conference or not, we are going to modernize our economy for our own people.”