4 May 2021

Climate-saving forests: Russia seeks credibility


Moscow welcomes companies into the management of its gigantic forest area. Operators will be responsible for safeguarding trees while gaining emission credits. But Russia is still lagging behind on environmental policies

by Matteo Cavallito


It’s too early to describe it as an environmental revolution, even if the plan announced by Russia, with every possible caution, seems truly ambitious. Moscow, which is the world’s leading energy exporter, is working to create a digital platform to collect data on the CO2 absorption capacity of its forests. The goal? “To monetize an area nearly twice the size of India,” according to Bloomberg, “by turning it into a marketplace for companies to offset their carbon footprint.” With potentially major effects.

A 640 billion tree treasure

Poorly managed and affected by a record number of fires in the last two years (just like the rest of Europe), Russian forests are home to 640 billion trees. The idea is to outsource the management of certain quotas to companies, allowing them to rent portions of land and invest in their protection. “Russia has 20% of global forests, so the international community must be fair in that respect,” Alexey Chekunkov, minister for the development of the Russian Far East and Arctic said according to Bloomberg. “We have the potential to turn them into a massive carbon capture hub.” The oil&gas giant Gazprom would be among the companies expressing interest in the plan, according to Bloomberg.

Analyst are skeptical on carbon market

According to Moscow’s plans, the platform would be used to measure the performance of forests, thus certifying the validity of corporate management. Once the data have been confirmed, companies would then obtain emission credits to spend on the market. The potential, on the other hand, is enormous. “Russia’s managed forests are estimated to have absorbed nearly 620 million tons of CO₂ equivalent in 2018, according to the nation’s latest data, enough to offset around 38% of national emissions,” Bloomberg writes.

Carbon market, however, is generating skepticism among many observers. In 2019, a study by the US-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy questioned the ability to accurately quantify the actual size of carbon sequestration. Such a market, the study says, would also be expensive to manage and would come at the expense of “more sustainable options” such as agroecology.

Doubts about Russia’s real intentions

Also worrysome for the observers is the nation’s poor environmental record. “It took Russia four years to ratify the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement” Bloomberg writes. Moreover, the country “is planning a slight increase in emissions by 2030“. Russian economy, moreover, is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. The speculation, as Bloomberg suggested, is that the forest project could be used to offset losses from the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, the measure planned for 2023 by which the EU would tax Russia’s carbon-intensive goods. Generating $8 billion in additional annual costs for Russian producers.