Russia's carbon emission pathways and cumulative emission budgets

UoM administered thesis: Phd


Despite climate change being an increasingly important focus of scientific and policy discourse and against a backdrop of rising greenhouse gas emissions, the Russian government has, thus far, failed to commit to an ambitious emission reduction target based on the latest science. For Russia to develop informed, internally consistent and scientifically literate policies, it is important to assess the scale of the challenge and explore implications of different levels of mitigation. To this end, the thesis derives Russia's cumulative emission budgets and generates associated low-carbon pathways in the context of both a re-developing economy and international climate change objectives (in particular, keeping the global mean temperature increase below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels). This thesis draws on several disciplines, bringing together bottom-up energy system modelling from engineering and physical sciences, as well as stakeholder and expert interviews from social sciences. The principal methodological approach used here is backcasting, with a number of stakeholder interviews providing a 'reality check' for the scenarios.Given the global delay in acting on climate change, the contextual 2°C scenarios generated are ambitious and extremely challenging. With significant changes on both demand and supply sides, an annual post-peak emission reduction rate of at least 10% is required to meet the cumulative budget constraint; this despite the dramatic fall in Russia's emissions in the 1990s. Such radical reduction rates are well in excess of anything achieved or, indeed, deemed possible within existing mitigation policies and integrated assessment models - either in Russia or in any other part of the world. The necessary emission reductions would involve significant material changes to the energy system. Even with early reductions, to attain a low-carbon energy system in 2050 in accordance with the 2°C cumulative emission constraint, all of the available 'mature' technological options would need to be employed. In particular, short-term mitigation can be facilitated by Russia's large energy efficiency potential and a significant biomass potential. In the long term, mitigation could draw on the country's considerable renewable energy resources. If the peak in Russia's emissions is delayed until 2020-2025, staying within a national 2°C budget constraint will require a rapid and widespread deployment of currently speculative negative-emission technologies. Whilst the suggested mitigation pathways with emissions peaking early are demanding, they are potentially less challenging and destabilising than failing to mitigate and subsequently adapting to climate change impacts of a 6-16°C temperature rise across Russia. The precautionary principle, together with the multiple uncertainties associated with negative emissions, would suggest that starting the decarbonisation process early is critical. Along with other big emitters, Russia has a pivotal role in influencing the future direction of international climate change mitigation and adaptation. Not only is Russia a major emitter of greenhouse gases and a global supplier of fossil fuels, but also it remains a major force in geopolitics, and its diverse territory is both vulnerable and resilient to the impacts of climate change. This unique confluence of circumstances leaves Russia with a challenging dilemma. The country can choose to acquiesce to short-term political and economic considerations, adopt weak mitigation measures and face potentially devastating impacts. Or it can apply its considerable attributes and powers to instigate an epoch of national and global action to secure a low-carbon and climate-resilient future. Whilst the former will see Russia subsumed into the international malaise on climate change, the latter may both quench the nation's "thirst for greatness" and fill the void of climate leadership.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2014