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Russia and Ukraine quarrel over who counts Crimea's carbon emissions

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Countries often try to reduce their carbon emissions, not increase them. This year, however, Ukraine and Russia are locked in a battle over who should claim greenhouse gases in Crimea and other Ukrainian territory forcefully occupied by the Kremlin.

It is Russia’s latest attempt to establish dominance over a nation its leaders have bombed, and a measure of the far-reaching consequences of the war as nations prepare to gather in Egypt next month for a new round of UN climate talks. . Meanwhile, Ukrainian policymakers have had to make an effort to defend their land as their own, including in UN emissions accounts.

The dispute will culminate next month at talks in Egypt, where Ukraine and Russia are expected to present official emissions figures that include Crimea and other parts of Ukraine that Russia claims. Both countries see numbers as key to defending their legal rights over the region.

“This isn’t about the climate debate – it’s about our region. Former deputy energy minister of Ukraine, Alex Riabchyn, who has been part of Ukrainian delegations attending UN climate conferences since 2015, said Russia is trying to use all areas to legitimize illegal annexation. His family is protected from Russian missile attacks on his city.

Riabchyn said the signing of documents by UN members in which Russia included Crimean emissions as part of its territory was a step towards normalizing the use of force to change borders.

“Any document without footnotes that doesn’t say that Crimea is Ukrainian is a hybrid diplomacy strategy by Russia to legitimize it,” he said.

Ukrainian policymakers say their goal is not to appear as good as they can in the climate rankings. Instead, they want UN debates to reflect Russia’s legal claims to territory that the vast majority of the world continues to recognize as Ukrainian territory, despite owning the territory.

Smoke rising from the chimneys of the Russian-controlled Crimean Titan chemicals factory? Ukraine pollution, says Kyiv. Carbon dioxide from Crimea’s gas-fired power stations? Also Ukrainian. Just like diesel fuel burned by Russian tanks and soldiers scattered all over the militarized peninsula. Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea in 2014, but neither Ukraine nor the United Nations has ever recognized it, and Kyiv says Crimea’s emissions are still its own.

“Crimea is Ukraine,” said Ruslan Strilets, Ukrainian Minister of Environmental Protection, in an interview. “The absolute majority of the countries of the world support the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

The dispute over Crimea’s emissions began in 2016, when Russia first included data from the peninsula in a report on the climate footprint that countries regularly submit to UN bodies. Ukrainian negotiators said that in the UN internal working documents that noted the Russia report, Ukraine had successfully requested the inclusion of a footnote that referred to three UN resolutions supporting the Crimea claim. However, they failed in their efforts to ensure that the Russian reports were completely dismissed when they included the Crimean figures.

Kyiv continued to include Crimea’s emissions estimates in its annual reports, resulting in a double count. Both countries do not separate their greenhouse gas emissions by region in their reports, making it difficult to compare accounting.

A UN effort to compile national reports to come up with a comprehensive global emissions figure has been delayed since 2017 due to the conflict. Officials say the UN report will help keep track of global emissions data, but there are other ways to track the numbers and the disagreement does not hinder broader efforts to reduce emissions.

Strilets said that while bureaucratic disagreements over data and reports may seem dry, they have real-world security implications. He said some international climate policymakers have asked Ukraine in the past to drop their objections to including Crimean data in Russian figures and separate climate issues from broader political disagreement. The minister argued that these policymakers are right in the world of climate diplomacy, that the number of real-world global emissions is more important.

Strilets said this encouraged Putin ahead of this year’s invasion.

“These calls made in peacetime actually encouraged him to start the war,” he said.

Strilets refused to call any criminals by name.

But policymakers said UN officials themselves could be difficult.

“We spend a lot of time convincing the UN secretariat to abide by UN resolutions,” said Riabchyn, former deputy energy minister.

“They asked us to be constructive and compromise on climate issues, and they said there are many controversial political issues around the world,” he said. “We managed to persuade them somehow.”

Strilets said he hoped that after this year’s invasion, Ukraine’s objections to Russian figures would be less contested.

“Now that everyone sees the real threat to human life and the threat to the security of all of Europe, I think the authors of such statements that urge us not to focus on politics will think twice before making them,” Strilets said. aforementioned.

UN officials said they are trying to facilitate a reconciliation between the two sides, and that how to comply with the climate agreements is ultimately the responsibility of the countries that have signed them.

“It’s common for attempts to come to a compromise for any disagreements and disagreements in our process,” said Marianne Karlsen, the Norwegian climate official who has been head of the UN body tasked with collecting and calculating emissions since 2019. numbers.

“With the covid situation in 2020-21 and the escalation of the conflict in 2021, my approach has been to suggest postponing the issues, given the unrealistic outlook for a solution given the current circumstances. The parties have agreed on this approach.”

He said he expects the same thing to happen in Egypt next month.

“Delaying advances for consideration is never a positive thing in the UNFCCC process,” he said, referring to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “For the reporting, let me reiterate once again that the situation is of course unfortunate and I hope a solution will be found.”

In his written response to questions, UNFCCC spokesman Alexander Saier said that UN practice is to publish national climate reports “as received” and that there are no specific guidelines on what to put in the reports. He said that although it was “unfortunate” that the global emissions report was put on hold as a result of the dispute, “the issue of total global emissions is being considered by the Parties on a number of other agenda items”.

The war on Crimean emissions isn’t the only geopolitical conflict to enter the technical, numbers-challenging world of climate negotiations, but it’s a rare case where rivals compete for credit for something harmful. China claims Taiwan as its own, but does not include emissions from the highly industrialized island in its official climate figures. Since Beijing has also barred Taiwan from participating in international climate talks, the result is a Taiwan-sized hole in the carbon counts, which is about 1 percent of global emissions.

Britain and Argentina also struggled over who claimed emissions from the disputed Falkland Islands, which the countries fought in 1982. Most of these greenhouse gases come from burping sheep. But Argentina does not include emissions from the islands in its report and limits its objections to scathing language about the British occupation in what it sends to the United Nations.

“For many states, the UN offers a place to defend their territorial claims, even if they cannot control the actual areas in question,” said Richard Gowan, a United Nations expert at the International Crisis Group. “UN membership has always been seen as a kind of guarantee against annexations and the disappearance of states.”

Climate negotiators say the dispute between Ukraine and Russia has not spread to the main topic of UN talks, which cover topics ranging from how to reduce global emissions and deforestation to how the rich world can support the developing world’s climate efforts. Instead, the negotiators said the challenge was mostly confined to “designated pieces” with scripted statements and emissions numbers read by delegates when each country had a chance to explain their positions.

The UN General Assembly on Wednesday approved a new resolution condemning Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory by a vote of 143-5, with 35 abstentions. This vote will give Ukraine the support it needs if Russia extends its emissions claims – though many of the countries that abstain are African, Latin American and Asian countries most threatened by climate change.

Russia, on the other hand, contests Ukraine’s figures annually, saying that Crimea is part of Russia and independently recognizes Russian-backed areas in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian leaders expect Russian authorities to expand their emissions claims after Putin further annexed Ukrainian territory this month.

Neither the Kremlin nor Russia’s environmental monitoring service responded to a request for comment.

Under UN emissions rules, countries are not required to include military operations in their greenhouse gas reporting; this is a significant omission given that the armed forces are the major sources of emissions both in peacetime and during war. Nations agreed to create an option to report their military emissions at climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland last year, but that remains optional. These talks coincided with the build-up of Russian forces, the beginning of the invasion.

Ukraine’s emissions have fallen dramatically since the start of the war in February; this is a measure of the human and economic devastation wrought by nearly eight months of conflict.

Strilets’ ministry estimates that the war resulted in 31 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions – roughly the same as Sweden’s annual figures – and rebuilding war-ravaged infrastructure and buildings will result in an additional 79 million metric tons. Tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere are roughly the same as Greece’s annual emissions. Strilets said it caused about $35 billion in environmental damage — a figure that varies by the hour.

“Our team is working every day and counting new damages, but we don’t have enough time to calculate them,” said Strilets. We’re doing this as quickly as we can, but these numbers change every day.”

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