According to Russian leaders, the country has already contributed to global climate mitigation efforts in a considerable way thanks to post-Soviet emissions decline. Given the lack of environmental concern for climate change impacts and public support for costly mitigation policies, even radical political changes are unlikely to lead to strong decarbonizing policies. 

By Dragana Davidovic


  • The world’s fourth largest energy consumer after China, the US and India
  • Oil and natural gas accounted for 68 per cent of Russia’s total export revenues in 2013
  • Renewable energy sources had an estimated economic potential of 25 per cent of the country’s total primary energy supply in 2012, but they still remain in their infancy
  • The prospects for a significant policy change towards de-carbonization is low


Based on the new (2015) book The Domestic Politics of Global Climate: Key Actors in International Climate Cooperation edited by Guri Bang, Arild Underdal and Steinar Andresen and the chapter Russia's climate policy by Anna Korppoo. 

Global Carbon Atlas




Key Facts

Russia is the fifth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide after China, the US, the EU and India with 1821 million metric tons emitted in 2013, accounting for 5 per cent of the world total. Russia had the world’s eighth-largest economy in 2013, holding a population of 142 million people.  In 2013, emissions remained about 23 per cent below 1990 levels. Carbon intensity remains high, and CO2-emissions per capita are 13 tons. The two main emitting sectors – industry and energy – and the main emission growth sector – transport – are largely unregulated by emission reduction policies. 60 per cent of Russian territory is affected by permafrost, making the country’s infrastructure vulnerable to melting resulting from climate change. Concern for climate change impacts both in governmental policy supply and public demand is lacking.    

Russia is a major producer and exporter of oil and natural gas, holding about 23 per cent of world gas reserves, 19 per cent of coal reserves and 5 per cent of oil reserves. Russia is the leading oil and natural gas supplier to Europe, while also being highly dependent on revenues from its energy exports. Natural gas (51 percent) accounts for the largest share of domestic energy consumption, followed by petroleum (22 percent), coal (18 percent), and nuclear (6 percent). Although Russia’s renewable energy sources are huge, only 1 per cent of total energy supply comes from new renewables and waste, and a further 1.9 per cent from large Soviet-built hydropower. One motivation to limit the use of fossil fuels in domestic energy consumption is to secure supplies for exports.   

Policy Supply and Demand

In 2009, the Climate Doctrine was adopted. This document and its subordinate Plan of Action did not offer any specific new goals or policies and measures for mitigation or adaptation, but did contain policies for energy conservation and local development of clean technologies. Limitations of flaring associated petroleum gas (APG), and policies on energy efficiency and renewable energy are similar goals with potential to deliver indirect emission reductions. In 2008, a target of cutting Russia’s energy intensity by 40 per cent between 2007 and 2020 was set. Due to implementation problems with energy efficiency legislation, it is increasingly unlikely that this target will be met. Russia also aims to generate 2.5 per cent of its electricity production from renewables by 2020. Despite a new law introducing solar, wind and small-scale hydropower generation to the capacity market in 2013, this target is far from being met.     

Willingness to pay for climate change mitigation is nearly non-existent, meaning there is little societal demand for costly mitigation policies. Even if the political system was more open to democratic demands, there would not be much public pressure to stop climate change. Public pressure on governmental supply is more on improving quality of life, and acting on local problems such as air and water pollution out of health concerns. Some demand for mitigation policies comes from small and middle-sized businesses and administrative units. In general, the larger and more influential industries rarely push for low-carbon policies.

Drivers and Barriers

Russia’s image as a foreign policy actor and the benefits from participating in international climate negotiations have been the main factors driving decision-making on climate policy. Many policies have been adopted to attract or impress foreign partners, but are left without implementation for a long time. While economic interests of domestic actors have led to some mitigation-related efforts, profits from fossil fuel industries often outweigh potential benefits. Policy goals unrelated to climate change that provide emissions reductions as side effects (see above) might be an important driver if administrative barriers are solved. Long, at times stalled, preparatory processes and serious implementation problems within the Russian political system often cause adopted policies to become watered-down and behind schedule.  

Two of the main barriers for decarbonizing Russia’s economy are the country’s abundance of domestic fossil fuel resources and the lack of political will. Abundance of natural gas, oil and coal reduces pressure on energy security, and the urgency in developing renewable energy sources. The lack of political will and skepticism about or genuine concern for anthropogenic climate change has resulted in low ambition of national-level mitigation targets and actions.

The Future

A demand for costly mitigation policies is unlikely to emerge. Even if it would, any wider decarbonizing efforts would come into conflict with the goals of the economically vital fossil fuel sector. In the short-term, Russia’s GHG emissions trend is likely to remain more or less flat, since the domestic target of keeping emissions to 75 per cent of 1990 levels until 2020 basically allows business-as-usual. In the long term, emission trends within the energy and industry sectors as well as the transport sector can expect to continue until focused policies to target these sectors are put in place. The latter will be crucial to fulfill the new target of limiting GHG emissions to between 70 and 75 per cent of 1990 levels by 2030.