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Russia the third worst polluter in the world

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatiana Sinitsyna) - Climate and the environment will again dominate the agenda when G8 leaders meet on Lake Toyako in Japan on July 7-9.

The subject has been a constant theme of G8 summits in recent years, and was discussed at Gleneagles (United Kingdom), St. Petersburg (Russia) and Heiligendamm (Germany). But despite this attention global warming and freak weather patterns continue to raise concerns around the globe. So to breathe more life into the Kyoto Protocol Japan, which as the host is allowed to set the agenda of the summit, wants the G8 to launch new initiatives to counter global warming. Its first suggestion is that all leading polluters (including developing countries) should contribute to a program to cut emissions, and improve energy efficiency.

Every second the Earth's atmosphere absorbs billions of tons of greenhouse gases. Russia is responsible for 6.7% of these emissions, equivalent to 10 tons of carbon dioxide per inhabitant. That makes Russia the third worst polluter in the world (following the United States and China) and a miserable 74th in the rankings of environmentally friendly countries.

The Russian economy guzzles energy, and experts rank it the 10th least energy efficient country in the world, calling its economics "outrageous." They have calculated that the country consumes 0.5 kilogram of oil equivalent per dollar of GDP, while most industrialized countries make do with 0.2 kilogram. A ton of aluminum, copper or nickel produced in Russia takes twice as much energy to produce as in other countries. Europe burns its gas with an efficiency of 60%, while Russia's figure is barely 35%. According to the Energy Design Institute, the Russian power industry burns an extra 40 to 50 billion cubic meters of gas annually to generate its electricity. Its power machine building lags behind, and advanced energy-saving technologies are not a priority.

A lot of surprising facts emerge when you look at the contributors to Russian industrial emissions. Half of its CO2 comes from industry and large oil- and coal-burning power plants. Motor transport, housing and domestic utilities are other heavy polluters.

Russia also has a special source of CO2 emissions: its extensive pipeline network. With the amount of oil and gas it exports, it is easy to imagine the far-flung network of pipes pumping hydrocarbons over thousands of kilometers. The pollution resulting from compressor leakage and other accidental releases amounts to 3% to 5% of all its human-caused emissions.

Another particularly Russian source of green house gases is below-ground carbon dioxide, which accounts for 15% of all emissions. Experts say the loss of carbon dioxide gas from soil is mostly due to poor farming practices. Lightning induced fires and excessive logging in Russia's vast forests contribute another 5% to 15% of emissions every year.

Yet on a world scale Russia is only third in emissions rankings. An economic crisis and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s put it behind the global industrial leaders. Many of its factories ground to a halt, and the military industrial complex, which accounted for a disproportionate share of Russia's industry, lost much of its raison d'etre. All that naturally led to a reduction in releases. It was then that, without knowing it, Russia fulfilled the yet unborn Kyoto Protocol, the first international treaty to reduce industrial emissions into the atmosphere.

The Russian economy is now, of course, regaining its feet and gathering speed. But emissions have not grown proportionally, increasing by only 0.5% a year. The fact is that economic growth is mainly generated by hydrocarbon exports, use of earlier-built capacities, and trade and services. What is known as the "real sector of the economy" is still catching up.

In Kyoto terms, Russia still has a long way to go to meet the quota allocated to it in the Protocol (currently it stands at 70%). Compared with 1990 benchmark data, Russia's atmospheric emissions have increased by 1.5% to 2%. In 2020, they are expected to reach 15%.

Despite its advantageous position in the Kyoto "alignment", Russia is not abandoning its attempts to reduce pollution by re-engineering its economic system. It has adopted a series of environmental programs, is introducing new industrial technologies and energy-saving equipment, and tightening up environmental laws. Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Yury Trutnev has recently said that following the current re-wording of laws, businessmen will have incentives to adopt advanced technologies. Sanctions are also envisaged against "lazy ones" unwilling to abide by new standards.

It is not uncommon to hear nowadays that controlling carbon dioxide emissions in order to stop climate change is going out of fashion. Perhaps it is. But there is a more weighty argument affecting everyone: energy costs, not the oft-repeated climate factor, is now taking center stage. Gas and oil prices can be challenged only by innovation: the more perfect the methods of burning hydrocarbons, the lower their costs, and the less greenhouse gases will get into the atmosphere. This is the logic the G8 follows, as it sets up a new perspective for global action at its Japanese summit.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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