MGIMO Centre for Sustainable Development and ESG Transformation Digest #13

MGIMO Centre for Sustainable Development and ESG Transformation Digest #13

29 May 2023

This special issue is focused on priorities in the aria of sustainable development, environmental protection and climate risks, specified in the new Concept of Russian Foreign Policy.

MCUR (MGIMO Centre for Sustainable Development and ESG Transformation) Digest is a regular information source accumulating the main Russian and world news related to sustainable development and ESG transformation, responsible finance and climate agenda. The originals of the news are available via active links in the text.

Overview of the Concept of Foreign Policy: Sustainable Development Priorities

The new Concept of Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation was approved by the President on March 31, 2023. This is the sixth such document: the first was adopted in 1993, the previous in 2016. It establishes Russia’s approaches in cooperation with other countries and international organizations, including diplomatic, economic, military and cultural relations. It also contains an overview of the latest trends and prospects for the future of the world, defines Russia’s national interests in the field of foreign policy, and classifies areas of foreign policy by priority and region.

In previous concepts sustainable development agenda, environment and climate issues were mentioned in the documents of 2000, 2008, 2013 and 2016, and more attention was paid in each subsequent document. Let’s take a closer look at the content of the 2023 Concept.

In Section 2, titled «Today’s world: major trends and prospects for development», it is pointed out that due to the serious pressure exerted on the UN and other multilateral institutions, it is becoming more and more difficult to seek collective responses to global threats and challenges, like environmental degradation, natural and man-made disasters.

In Section 3, titled «National interests of the Russian Federation in the foreign policy domain, strategic goals and key tasks set by the foreign policy of the Russian Federation», the list of Russia’s national interests includes «to ensure environmental protection, conservation of natural resources and environmental management, and to adapt to climate change», as well as «to promote sustainable development of Russian economy on a new technological basis».

One of the priority areas of the Concept is «Environmental protection and global health» (part of Section 4). Among others, the section focuses on ensuring scientific soundness of environmental efforts, counteracting politicization of international environmental and climate activities, preventing implementation of climate activities with a goal of unfair competition, maintaining the right of every state to independently choose the best suitable mechanisms and methods of environmental and climate protection.

Konstantin Kosachev, Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council, member of the International Affairs Council, notes, «another point that is important to note is the environmental and climate agenda. An absolutely clear emphasis has been placed on preventing and countering its politicization and attempts to use it for the purposes of unfair competition, interference in the internal affairs of other countries and restricting their sovereignty with regard to their natural resources. Russia will respect the right of each state to independently choose the best mechanisms and methods of environmental protection and adaptation to climate change. It is obvious that this approach is based on a fundamentally different logic compared to that promoted by Western countries, where the „green transition“ is considered as a chance to take historical revenge on the new centers of economic development. The energy crisis, which, in fact, the Western countries provoked themselves by massive sanctions against Russia and the unfounded rupture of mutually beneficial economic and energy ties with our country, has temporarily suspended the obviously unilateral and self-serving implementation of the climate agenda in its Western interpretation. However, it is already obvious that they are not going to abandon it at all.»

In turn, Ilya Fabrichnikov, member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, a communications consultant, said the following, «Interestingly, the green agenda in Western understanding is no longer relevant for Russia. This does not mean that Russia refuses to preserve the nature and maintain the ecological balance. What is implied is the rejection of the widespread implementation of the ESG agenda, which is detrimental to national economic interests.»

«The unconditional acceptance of Western climate standards by Russia was extremely important for the West», Igor Alabuzhin, a member of the Central Council of the Green Party, an expert on climate policy, believes. «I recall the words of Ursula von der Leyen about the European Green Deal — „We will set our standards all over the world. And this will be an important factor in our own competitiveness.“ The fact that Russia has chosen a different path in environmental protection today confirms that we have won a very important battle and that Russia will not bear the brunt of the global decarbonization.»

Exclusive Commentary for the MCUR Digest

«The previous version of the Concept was approved in 2016. Since then, the international situation has changed significantly, and so has the text of the Concept. The word „sustainable“ is used several times more often in the new version than in the previous one, and in most cases, in a goal-setting context. However, the term is mostly used not in a meaning of United Nations summits, but as a synonym for stability.

Thus, this Concept represents the transitional period we are in. Nevertheless, sustainable development itself is also mentioned. The commitment to the 2030 Agenda adopted by the UN states in 2015 has been confirmed. The main approaches to international climate action have been defined, the approaches which have been implemented so far. Moreover, it has been made clear that special attention will be paid to „facilitating the elaboration of uniform, understandable and global rules of environmental climate regulation taking into account the Paris Climate Agreement of 12 December, 2015.“

In this regard, the strategic priorities have been preserved and even somewhat specified. This means that the extremely important work for our present and future continues.»

«The Concept of Foreign Policy has undergone significant changes. Russia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, greater attention to climate issues and new scientific data on the consequences of global warming could not but to be reflected in the foreign policy doctrine.
Ecology and climate have become vital issues in international relations and the global economy, and Russia quite naturally plays a crucial role in the development of global governance rules.

The document provides a concise overview of Russia’s foreign policy in the area of climate. Taking care of the planet should be carried out inclusively, involving a wide range of countries, basing on accurate scientific data and without redundant politicization.»

«The newly adopted Concept of Foreign Policy considers issues of environmental protection, conservation and rational use of natural resources and adaptation to climate change as Russia national interests in the sphere of foreign policy. This is a serious and justified step, because environmental issues are currently high on the world agenda. It is in these areas that significant consolidated, albeit slow, actions of countries are observed. Of course, problematic issues cause a lot of insinuations and speculations, which are often used to promote economic or political interests of certain countries. That is why „promoting the scientifically sound, non-politicized international efforts...“ has been mentioned — and one cannot but agree with this. Surprisingly, however, little attention has been paid to the issue of climate stabilization, although this task is certainly one of the most relevant in the international arena. The need to adapt to climate change has been pointed out several times, but in terms of the actual fight against this change, only „promoting international efforts“ has been indicated, which is a weak wording. Subparagraph 4 of paragraph 41 proposing „facilitating the elaboration of uniform, understandable and global rules for environmental climate regulation taking into account the Paris Agreement ...“ is surprising, given that the rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement were developed and approved at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in 2021. The Paris Agreement is now under active implementation. And I would much rather see clear indications that Russia will make the necessary efforts to achieve the global goals of the Paris Agreement instead of the vague wording of subparagraph 4. Let me remind you that adaptation to climate change without eliminating its cause is pointless in the long term, since adaptation actions are limited, and damage from climate change will only increase.»

Authors: Andrey Avramenko, Sofia Denisova
Translator: Stanislav Shurygin
Designer: Maria Bakhireva

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The MCUR Digest is being issued as part of the implementation of the strategic academic leadership program «Priority 2030».

Department of International Complex Problems of Nature Management and Ecology
MGIMO Centre for Sustainable Development and ESG Transformation