French climate envoy sees ‘change of perception’ in Russia

Nicolas Hulot

Nicolas Hulot, France’s special envoy for the protection of the planet, says he was “greatly surprised” by the changing attitudes in Russia towards climate change, saying any potential blockage at this year’s UN climate conference in Paris is unlikely to come from Moscow.

For years, Russia has forged a reputation for playing hardball on climate change, drawing scorn from environmentalists who accused Moscow of using UN negotiations as “a self-service shop” where diplomats “come at the eleventh hour with ridiculous demands”.

With the Ukraine crisis fuelling military tensions with the West, worries are mounting that Moscow will again use climate change as a negotiating chip for pushing its interests in other areas.

The United States Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern openly doubts Russia’s reliability on climate issues, telling EURACTIV recently that negotiators usually don’t know Russia’s position until they walk into the room.

So when Nicolas Hulot told a Brussels audience he saw a “change of perception” in Russia towards climate change, a few eyebrows were raised.

“To be honest, we went there not knowing how we would be received,” Hulot said of a recent trip he made to Moscow with a French diplomatic delegation. “We were wondering if we were not going to revive Russia’s ability to block a process,” he said recalling previous declarations by Russian President Vladimir Putin suggesting that global warming was not such a bad thing for chilly Siberia.

Hulot, a former TV journalist who was appointed special envoy for the planet by French President François Hollande, was speaking today (13 May) at an event organised by the Robert Schumann Foundation.

Asked by EURACTIV whether he saw Russia as a potential obstacle in Paris, he provided an unexpected answer. “I met Mr Alexander Bedritsky, the special envoy of Vladimir Putin on climate change. To my surprise we spent almost four hours with him,” Hulot said, describing the discussion as “very firm”.

But “in the end, we were not at all in this state of mind,” Hulot said of the encounter, observing that “there was no irony” at the meeting. Eight days after the visit, Russia filed its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to the United Nations, months ahead of the September deadline, a development Hulot hailed as “very significant”.

“There is now a change of perception” in Russia about climate change, Hulot claimed, citing the wildfires outside Moscow, which left 54 people dead in the summer of 2010. The drought and crop failures that resulted from the fires and heatwave cost roughly $15 billion in damages, according to estimates. He also mentioned the “sudden appearance of giant craters” and the “strong methane emissions” in Siberia, which scientists believe could be caused by thawing permafrost.

“I was also able to meet with scientists and various politicians. They have a very different understanding of [climate change] than a few years ago,” Hulot believes.

“So barriers [in Paris] will not necessarily come from them,” he claimed, saying Russia has “offered their goodwill in the BRIC group” of major developing nations.

In December, United Nations representatives will meet in Paris to try and find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

The EU’s contribution to the UN agreement is based on deal reached by EU leaders in October 2014.

It sets out a binding emissions reduction goal of at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990. The objective is described in the agreement as “a binding, economy-wide reduction target, covering all sectors and all sources of emissions, including agriculture, forestry and other land uses”.

European Commission

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