Authors: Ralf Ostner (Global Review) / Frithjof Finkbeiner (Member Club of Rome , Desertec, Plant-for-the-Planet)
Many thought that due to the Covid crisis ecology and the ecological movement was dead and the idea of an EU-Russian ecological cooperation. Greta is back and still alive despite Covid. However Fridays for Future and the ecological movement is much more than Greta. The Youth had a symbolic poster demonstration in front of the German parliament and Merkel declared that she wanted to raise the EU climate benchmarks and use the billions of EU and European rescue and stimulus packages for a European Green Deal. This also offers Russia the potential to get EU support and money despite the sanction regime if it is willing to modernize its economy and to get in a green cooperation with Germany and the EU. And one should keep in mind that climate crisis and geopolitical struggles still exist and continue independent of the existing Covid crisis. The climate does not care about Covid.. They will catalyze the Covid effects and even on their own be more harmful and disastrous to world society than Covid.
Moreover, more and more people understand that climate and biodiversity are two sides of the same coin. The climate crisis puts many species under massive stress. Species extinction, population growth, urbanization, destruction of nature and climate crisis promote zoonosis.
The corona crisis has shaken up many people around the world with some changes in behavior as digital meetings became mainstream instead of physical meetings, we must not delude ourselves: After the corona crisis, we will all very quickly return to the global plundering system in order to secure our prosperity, also in Germany and Europe.
Russian strategists including Putin have a very ambivalent relation to climate crisis. On the one side Putin signed the Paris Climate Accord—different to Trump and Bolsonaro -, thinks about the consequences of the frost melt of the Russian East and the airing of methane, on the other side Putin as most Russian strategists have the vision of a Russian resource empire for the world economy. Ecological ideas are also very much underdeveloped in Russian think tanks, strategy forums and elites and the economic ton ideology of the former Soviet Union and the Western capitalist countries before the Club of Rome are still mainstream in Russia. Russia shall flood the world with gas, oil, wheat, timber and other mineral resources to get cash. Energy diplomacy is still a central part of the material base of the Russian economy and some strategists hope that in the case of global warming Russia could also become an agroempire due to expanding agricultural land and production as the other parts of the world will suffer from hunger.
The question is if this sort of traditional resource empire thinking can be replaced by a more modern ecological resource empire thinking which guarantees Russia an important place in the world and a material base. How can the traditional resource empire which is based on oil and gas exports overcome the contradiction with ecology, the Paris Climate Accord and the idea of decarbonisation?
The main interesting areas for an ecological cooperation should be:
Stop the deforestation of the Siberian woods—keep the green lung of the planet and Eurasia alive!
The Russian government has allowed China to chop off its woods as China itself stopped deforestation of its own forests. The Siberian woods are equally important for the world climate as the Amazonian rain forest – they are equally important the green lung for the planet and Eurasia. Therefore the EU could initiate a rescue program for the conservation of the Siberian forests and sign with Russia an agreement for the regulated, sustainable and ecological export of the Russian timber industry which allows Russia to get an income and to save its forests.
Forest Preservation and Reforestation
The most dangerous thing about global warming are the tipping points. If the tipping points of the climate crisis are exceeded, i.e. if the earth heats up by more than 2°C, the climate crisis becomes independent. It can no longer be stopped and becomes a catastrophe.
And this is where the trees come into play: they absorb CO2 and thus slow down global warming. We will not reach the tipping points so quickly and we can do everything we can to prevent it.
An additional 1,000 billion trees annually bind 10 billion tons of CO2, or a quarter of our current CO2 emissions. So if we plant these additional trees and protect our existing trees, we gain time. Without these trees, in 26 years we will have used up the CO2 budget of 1,100 billion tonnes that we have left to maintain the 2°C limit.
We need the extra time so that we can convert the world to methanol economy, i.e. climate-neutral fuels, and desert power. And we’ve wasted way too much time doing nothing already. Trees give us back some of this time by binding CO2 from the atmosphere and thus keeping the earth below the critical 2°C limit.
If we harvest the trees in time before they rot and thus before CO2 is released, the “C”, the carbon, remains stored in the wood. At the same place we can plant new trees and thus new storehouses. Go for Climate visits wooden houses as they are built in Vienna and Oslo with more than 80 m height. The carbon remains bound in them for decades. In addition – and this is even more important for the climate – every wooden house avoids reinforced concrete, which is responsible for 11% of global CO2 emissions.
Wood fibre can also replace plastic soon. Today there are already plastic toys made of wood fibre, hopefully soon PET bottles as well.
In addition to forestry and the use of wood, “proper” agriculture is also of great importance. Here, too, the “C”, the carbon, can be stored in the soil.
Wood and wood elements from building construction that are no longer used, as well as wood waste from forestry, should no longer be burned to CO2, but used to produce biochar. The “C” remains stored in the biochar and can thus be stored in the agricultural soil. This also enriches the soil with nutrients and the new trees and fruits grow faster, which will also contribute to sustainable agriculture – such as the fertile Terra Preta in the Amazon basin.
Agriculture will therefore become an ally in the fight against climate change if it is designed in such a way that soils become carbon stores.
Like forestry, agriculture also offers the potential to create many millions of jobs.
Solutions such as afforestation and “real” agriculture are part of initiatives such as the Bonn Challenge and AFR100 in the context of landscape restoration. These two initiatives alone set the goal of rebuilding 350 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.
Develop soft tourism in Russia
Most Europeans if they visit Russia, mostly got to urban centers like St. Petersberg and Moscow. EU-Russian ecological cooperation could develop soft tourism in the Russian East and by railway to enjoy the beauty of the Russian landscape, including the Siberian forests. Another idea would be to built new datchas for tourists or to rent them part-time to European tourists, There are about 40 million Russians and their families who have a datcha and they could part-time rent them to European tourists to have a Russian nature experience or you built new tourist datchas and romantic log houses for ecological sustainable soft tourism. It would also be a great chance to meet Russians and to deepen the intercultural understanding of European and Russian people.
Russia is very dependent on oil and gas exports. Some strategists hope that if they boycott renewable energies and support Trump or anti-ecological parties or organisations, they could stop this trend. This is unrealistic. The renewable energies have already a cost advantage and if Trump, Russia, Saudi Arabia want to stop this trend then they have to sell their oil and gas at such a low price, that there will not be any state or private revenues left. Russia just experiences this in the oil price war between Trump- USA, OPEC and Russia. On the other side there is not the absolute decision between carbon- and non-carbon economies. Oil and gas will be reduced, but for a foreseeable future still be part of the energy mix. As Prof. Rahr, EU adviser to Gazprom proposed, Russian carbons could be used for the production of hydrogen technology. However it would be a bad idea if Russia for the production of hydrogen would burn gas and raise the CO2 emissions. Hydrogen technology only makes sense if its energy base are renewable energies.
With the clean and unlimited solar power from the desert we can produce hydrogen from water and combine it with CO2 from the air to methanol. Methanol stores solar electricity with an energy density that is 50 times higher than that of a battery. And it has another decisive advantage: it does not need any routes and can be transported just as easily today as its fossil predecessors, e.g. in tankers. Methanol is the basis for clean kerosene, petrol and diesel, or “e-fuel” for short. We can immediately add the clean kerosene to the fossil aviation fuel in order to gradually replace it completely. E-Fuels can operate existing combustion engines in a climate-neutral way – methanol economy. The oil companies have other plans: over 7% of the world’s oil and gas reserves are in Africa and the oil companies plan to increase their investments in oil and gas production there tenfold by 2030 in order to increase production accordingly.
The dependence on insecure regimes that supply us with fossil fuels today will be reduced, because any country with a desert can become an energy-exporting country in the future. Clean energy production in the deserts of the earth is therefore probably the largest peace-building measure.
Therefore it would be better if the EU invests in Clean gas technology, tries to find out if in Russia there could be built enough solar and wind parks for the hydrogen technology.
Support EU-Russian start ups and technology leaders
The EU should support Russian start ups and technology leaders in sectors which are important for the green foot print. Modern traffic systems, energy saving houses, infrastructure, city planning and architecture.,development of railways and green mobility, etc.
Many strategist do not only think of Russia as a carbon resource empire, but also of an agro empire. They do not care about ecology, have a very narrow understanding of its meaning and limit ecological cooperation to agricultural cooperation. They have the shortsighted, optimistic point of view that the global warming will boost agricultural land and production in Russia, while the rest of the world needs more food from Russia. Thereby Russia as an agricultural resource empire could also raise its role in the coming new multipolar world order and be the wheat and food chamber of the world. However, this might be the case for a decade, but if global warming reaches a certain (tipping) point, Russia will also suffer enormous droughts and the vision of the agro empire is finished in the midterm. President Putin also referred to the dramatic consequences of global warming for perma frozen areas for Russia and the rest of the world in his State of the Union address. He seems to have a clearer idea than some of his think tanks and strategists.
However, Russia can be a big agricultural supplier and the EU should support ecological, sustainable agricultural cooperation.
Among these projects one would be also be very important:Russia also is not yet prepared for the next agricultural revolution from the Silicon Valley:Before trying to compensate for the global protein supply of humanity by insect food, there is now an innovation: artificial meat. Invitro meat. No science fiction: Meat that is already bred from meat cells today and in the future in mass production in silos, by means of 3d printers or what still exists .No genetic engineering, but in the broadest sense reproduction technology. It does not breed a whole chicken, but only the chicken wing, does not fatten a whole goose but only breeds the goose liver, etc. No science fiction, but is already done and the prices fall rapidly. No more factory farming, no more destruction of the rainforests and deforestation, no more waste that pollutes the groundwater, no more cruelty to animals and no more animal transports, no chick shredding, no more vegetarianism and veganism as the only way out, no more ecological disaster and the organic farmers, the bio farmers are no longer the good guys. While vegetarians and vegans criticize this because the change is happening technologically and from the outside and not from the inside by a change in consciousness and thinking, David Precht sees here rather the problem that the companies have the patents on the manufacturing processes and monopolize the production chain as Montesano monopolizes seed.
Besides other agricultural cooperation, the EU and Russia should find out if the disruptive agricultural technology for the production of artificial meat is feasible and in the interest of both sides.
Waste and sewage management The Russian waste management including the recycling idea is still very underdeveloped in Russia. This could be the next field for a cooperation.
Save the Arctic
The geopolitical struggle about the Arctic has just started. Climate change leads to the new situation that shipping routes become ice-free, oil, gas and mineral resources, fishing and maritime resources could be exploited on a greater scale. The USA, the EU, Russia and China want more influence in the development of the Arctic, China has even an official development plan for the Artic, while the USA wants to give Greenland money for its resources and military bases, sends the first military ships in the Barents Sea, informs Russia bout this as signal that it demands its sphere of influence in the Arctic and does not want to come in a conflict with Russia. However, the EU should also develop its development plan for the Arctic and to evaluate the potentials for a EU-Russian cooperation in the Arctic. The EU should support all Russian initiatives which focus that the Arctic doesn´t become a polluted, overfished and ecological disastrous region.
The EU and Russia planned a climate change conference in Moscow before the Covid crisis which has been postponed and might be organized virtually in the future. Time to make up the mind for new ideas as this article which could start an interesting discussion for both sides.