‘Even our government has dissolved because of the abnormally warm weather’

Experts of Gaidar Forum discussed global warming and criticised the USA and Russia for insufficient effort to solve the problem

After the acute agitation of the day before, Gaidar Forum on 16 January began with business breakfast about the climate agenda, which seems to be remote from the Russian domestic political buzz. But as it became known soon, it is directly linked with the near future and our country as an oil power and the whole world. Ex-members of the government, top managers of big companies and a representative of the World Bank and the premier of an insular country that had been in power for 20 years were among the speakers. At a meeting that Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent closely followed, famous economist Jeffrey Sachs criticised sluggishness of the USA when solving global warming problems and called his homeland the most stupid country as well as Russia that wrongly followed in American corrupted businesses and Trump’s footsteps, the most stupid president in the world.

Discussion on global warming opens with Moscow’s temperature records

Russia adopted the Paris climate accord in September 2019, the USA demonstratively withdrew from it in November. The last year, in fact, was mainly remembered for discussions, which were very heated at times, about global warming, which couldn’t help but influence themes of business forums. Davos will soon be talking precisely about this. And Gaidar Forum didn’t stand on the sidelines.

Speakers of the business breakfast tried to find answers to uneasy questions that nature began to ask in the face of manmade impact on it: “How to keep the balance and not harm the growth of the economy? What potential does the modern world have in reply to the climatic challenge?” Moreover, as luck would have it, Moscow had abnormally high temperatures on 15-16 January: for instance, on 16 January, almost the winter temperature record was broken when it was 2,9 degrees above zero, but it was 3 degrees in the Russian capital on 17 January (the record is 3,2 degrees).

“We see warming…” moderator of the discussion, President of the Kurchatov Institute Research and Development Centre Mikhail Kovalchuk noted when commenting on the weather.

But, to start with, he tried to cool down hot heads without naming world-known speakers like Greta Thunberg directly, but he meant them. He demonstrated the model of the problem: “the activity of the civilisation is increasing, industrial activity too, which leads to a rise in emissions, greenhouse effect and warming”. The scientist claimed that the climate on Earth was determined by many factors. This is why it is doubtful to claim that warming is a direct result of our production.”

Ex-vice minister of Russia: “Even our government has dissolved because of the abnormally warm weather”

Denis Khramov, the first vice minister of natural resources (in the resigned government), decreased the high tone of the discussion and cited a joke from Telegram:

“Even our government has dissolved because of the abnormally warm weather [“and Lenin has woken up”], Kovalchuk added.

Khramov warned that it is necessary to include as many as 50 sectors that actively pollute the environment to more ecologically friendly technologies to execute the Russian president’s May decrees in Ecology national project. Almost 100 enterprises will have to start this transition from 2020. Also, coal power plants mostly polluting nature will close in 12 big cities with a quota for emissions into the atmosphere. If the experience turns out successful, it will spread to the whole country too. But regional governors will be evaluated now in terms of execution of these quotes. Another functionary from the former Medvedev government, acting Vice Minister of Economic Development of Russia Mikhail Rasstrigin claimed that 30% of greenhouse gases more would go into the atmosphere by 2035. On the other hand, he noted that as an oil power Russia would face a challenge with the gradual and forced transition of the world to renewable energy sources: this will lead to a reduction in demand for hydrocarbons.

How Korean Nobel laureate asked Russia for cheap energy from Siberia

The discussion at business breakfast was truly bright, interest and informative not thanks to functionaries who enumerated a set of measures (nobody knows if they will work or not) but thanks to experts, primarily foreign, they were rarely modest in expressions, they either praised Russia for its effort or loudly and harshly criticised it (like the United States) for their insufficiency. So Nobel Peace Award laureate Rae Kwon Chung advised our country to introduce innovative technologies to store and catch hydrocarbon emissions, which have just recently been considered very costly. The Korean offers to see warming not only as a problem but also technological opportunities. According to him, he is very tired of persuading somebody of something.

So according to Rae Kwon Chung, he has been participating in talks on climate change since 2005 and he has been fed up with all this. There is constant confrontation between countries, countries reached a deadlock. Russia could become a pioneer, not only stop climate change and save the Earth. He assumed that Russia also has huge potential for renewable energy, it, pure energy could be exported from Siberia even to [South] Korea, it could be supplied it to them for 8-9 cents, and they would be happy. The Nobel laureate says it is expensive in Korea and made a hint with some hope in his voice.

Hopes dissipated like smoke after a reply to the Korean proposal given by Vyacheslav Solomin, the operational director of En+Group (manufacturer of electrical energy, an asset manager in power engineering, non-ferrous metallurgy and ore mining, closely connected with Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal). In his opinion, Siberia really loses 150 GW (probably a year) in hydro energy, and this “unnecessary” energy could theoretically be sold to South Korea, but the sale of energy to a long distance is at the moment economically unfeasible without authorities’ subsidies.

“Small insular country”

One of the most touching and striking speeches belonged to the head of the small country Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has been in his chair for almost as long as Putin, since 2001, and he has been trying to solve environmental problems for these 20 years. The small country’s shoreline (the population is a bit more than 100,000) suffers from erosion, there is deforestation, the soil becomes infertile. And there is little or no money.

And Ralph Gonsalves says that the problem is that they are small insular country. Those countries that are guilty of big emissions into the atmosphere treat such countries as their in a special way. But he considers that we should work within the same international norms with compensations for those loses in business and economy they carry.

So there is a company from Iceland that investigates how geothermal energy can be applied, but such a plant costs $100 million, while the insular country’s budget is $40 million. Saint Vincent does its best, all of its 32 small islands try to use solar energy, but this technology is still in embryonic form. By 2022, they want 80% of electricity to come from renewables. But the costs on them are colossal: the environment accounts for 10% of the country’s debt. $8 million are needed to create just one dam to save just one village.

What Jeffrey Sachs told off Scania’s sale of fleet of gas lorries to Russia for

After the islander’s emotional speech, Wojciech Rowiński, the head of Scania in Russia, proudly claimed that 600 gas-powered lorries were purchased by Russian companies, and these lorries allegedly polluted nature less, which sounded accidentally mocking (given that there is a million Scania lorries using usual fuel registered in Russia). And Rowiński faced the consequences for this when the world’s famous economist Jeffrey Sachs attacked afterwards. However, Mr Sachs mostly talked about his country (USA) and other oil powers, including Russia. It should be reminded that the director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University is famous here as one of the developers of the shock therapy policy, in 1991-1994 he was the director of President Boris Yeltsin’s group of economic advisers. In other words, for Gaidar Forum it is an important figure.

Jeffrey Sachs advised not to boast about how much they saved when switching to the gas engine but be proud when they switched to electricity. Gas fuel also destroys the environment. For instance, in Europe Scania electrifies cars, while here they boasted they sold Russia a small fleet of gas-powered lorries, the American economist poisonously commented on the carmarker’s top manager’s statement.

Sachs on Russia: you’re an oil country but you keep taking the same way the USA does

But the reality is that, the economist is sure, such countries as Saint Vincent will simply disappear from the world map. And if nothing is done a billion of the population will die in 30 years. It is impossible live when the temperature is 50 degrees Celsius, Sachs was infuriated: people on central plateaus die, fall, lose consciousness, while politicians play geopolitical games and watch the world going to hell.

Mr Sachs said that his country was the most stupid in this respect, chaired by the most stupid president in the world. Russia was also vulnerable when it comes to climate change. According to him, we have drought, floods, fires, but we are an oil country but keep taking the same way [the USA does].

In answer to Sachs’ proposal to electrify cars, Mikhail Kovalchuk noted that if all cars were electrified, the planet would have to triple energy generation, for this purpose, three times more power plants would have to be built, which, in turn, would burn coal because there wouldn’t be enough either oil or gas. And everything would become more expensive.

World Bank: Russia wastes as much energy as France alone consumes a year

Renaud Seligmann, World Bank's country director and constant representative for the Russian Federation, became another foreign expert to criticise insufficient effort of Russian authorities into solving environmental problems. Seligmann with a green tie on, which fit the occasion, tried to cool down at the end of not simply heated but also candescent discussion and peacefully cited Boris Pasternak first: “In all things, I desire to go to the very heart”. And the heart is that, he claimed, that according to the World Bank's research, natural capital accounted for 20% of the wealth in the Russian economy — it is a huge share compared to 3% of natural capital in OECD countries (first of all, the West). At the same time, human capital in the Russian economy was just 35%, which is twice less than in European countries (70% respectively).

Renaud Seligmann suggested that we would require huge investments in human capital, while natural capital might go down in price. He advised thinking about the lowest class of the population, they suffered the most. And most of the population was poor, especially in Siberia. It was calculated in 2013 that every year the absence of energy effectiveness in Russia leads to as many unnecessary energy losses as France alone consumes a year. So according to the World Bank's representative, there was no energy efficiency in Russia.

To change the situation, Renaud Seligmann advised using innovative and available technologies more (not tied with the hydrocarbon-based economy), finally closely deal with energy efficiency and stimulate Russian businesses’ transition to a green economy through a system of taxes and subsidies, which precisely the World Bank considers very effective and quite successful in Russia.

By Sergey Afanasyev