Russia and the U.S. can work together to combat climate change, Putin says

Russian President Vladimir Putin told U.S. climate change envoy John Kerry that the two former Cold War rivals have a chance to cooperate in combating greenhouse gas emissions amid efforts to improve ties following a summit last month.

Putin underlined in a phone call Wednesday with Kerry, who’s in Moscow meeting officials, that climate change “is one of the areas in which Russia and the U.S. have common interests and a similar approach,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Russia is reluctant to make new commitments on climate amid fears about the potential impact on its economy, which relies heavily on oil and gas exports, even as the State Department said the aim of Kerry’s visit was to seek ways of “enhancing global climate ambition.”

Putin’s climate adviser, Ruslan Edelgeriyev, told Kerry at talks Tuesday that Russia linked increased “climate ambitiousness to access to international carbon markets, the prevention of climate protectionism and the absence of sanctions for climate projects,” a Kremlin statement said.

Moscow is particularly concerned about European Union plans to introduce a new carbon tax at its border that the central bank estimates could cost Russia as much as $9.7 billion per year. Edelgeriyev told Kerry such “unilateral restrictions” would limit Russia’s ability to develop a low-carbon economy.

Kerry, who served as secretary of state under President Barack Obama, met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday. Noting that the U.S. is the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter and Russia the fourth-biggest, President Joe Biden’s special envoy said the U.S. has proposals on ways to work together ahead of the United Nations climate change conference that starts Oct. 31 in Glasgow.

“Obviously, we have some differences in the relationship between our countries but we were very pleased” that Putin took part in a virtual summit in April hosted by Biden, Kerry said. “Clearly we’re looking for rational and predictable components of that relationshiip.”

A shift in attitudes within Russia’s leadership is taking place on climate issues, said Igor Bashmakov, a 2007 Nobel laureate as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But moving to a low-carbon economy means “the issue of access to new technologies is very significant” for Russia, he said.

It’s a “good signal that the climate agenda may become common ground” for U.S. and Russian leaders, said Polina Karkina, climate campaigner at Greenpeace Russia. “But both countries need to raise ambitions.”

Russia has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 70% from 1990 levels by 2030, assuming that its vast forests absorb the maximum amount of carbon dioxide possible. That target is so low that Russia met it years ago and has so far expressed no desire to set a more ambitious goal.

Russia and the U.S. last week started talks on cybersecurity that were agreed upon by the two presidents at their June 16 summit in Geneva.

They are due to begin a new round of arms-control negotiations this month, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday, the state-run Tass news service reported. Ryabkov said a day earlier that Russia and the U.S. can find agreement on specific issues “on a rational basis.”

—With assistance from Áine Quinn.

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