Fri. Dec 2nd, 2022

A Russian billionaire under sanctions from the United States and Europe over his alleged ties to the Kremlin said Wednesday he was not surprised by protests against his country at this year’s UN climate talks, but insisted Russia wants to remain engaged on global warming because it it affects the nation deeply.

Andrey Melnichenko, who heads the climate policy panel of the Russian business lobby group RSPP, told The Associated Press that “regardless of the very terrible moment we are all experiencing now, we will participate, we will observe” at the meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Pro-Ukraine activists disrupted the start of an event organized by the Russian delegation for climate talks on Tuesday before being escorted out by security personnel.

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“I was not surprised,” said Melnychenko, who spoke on a panel with Russian delegates. “What is so surprising? That there are people who are deeply concerned about what is happening in Ukraine and want to express their opinion?”

“I completely 100% understand that,” he said.

His comments, while not directly critical of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, indicate a more nuanced view of the bloody conflict than the Kremlin’s official line, which describes the war as a “special military operation.”

Since the end of February, war has ravaged Ukraine, with bombs and shelling decimating towns and cities and killing thousands of people.

The war resulted in a series of sanctions imposed on Russian officials and prominent businessmen with ties to the Kremlin.

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Melnichenko — who now lives in Dubai — criticized Western sanctions against Russia, which he said were imposed without regard to possible consequences, such as the effect that restrictions on fertilizer exports would have on global food prices and Russia’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions . Russia is the world’s largest fertilizer exporter.

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“Sanctions have been placed like a blanket over the Russian economy,” said Melnichenko, who once headed fertilizer producer Eurochem and SUEK, one of the world’s largest coal companies. “It affects everyone. Take for example the supply of food and fertilizer.”

He claimed that the sanctions had affected the food supply of “hundreds of millions” of people around the world.

“Of course, this decision affects Russia’s ability to move faster on the path of decarbonizing its economy,” added Melnychenko.

The Russian participants in the climate talks in Egypt kept a low profile in public, without the presence of top government officials. Although the Russian delegation is half the size of last year’s, it is still larger than the American one, according to Carbon Brief’s analysis.

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According to Melnychenko, Russia is? particularly focused on efforts to reduce emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, along with rules for international carbon markets and carbon offsets _ an issue where the Russian government sees great potential due to the country’s vast forests.

Melnychenko said Russia will continue to export fossil fuels to meet demand, and markets should be left to decide which forms of energy are the most competitive. Russia is the largest exporter of oil and natural gas even though it has faced sanctions from EU trading partners. Other countries, such as India and China, continue to import Russian oil.

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“I believe Russian fossil fuel production (is) very competitive globally in terms of total costs, including externalities,” he said. “Therefore, Russia will be able to maintain a fairly large share of the fossil fuel market for a reasonably long time, for a very long time and ? also benefit from it.”

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Melnichenko, who is worth about $23.5 billion according to Forbes, said the world community should pay more attention to the large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions that are not caused by human activity, such as breathing, decomposition and even volcanoes. Scientists say the global warming measured in recent decades is largely caused by the massive burning of fossil fuels from industrialization.

Asked what role climate change concerns play in Russian civil society, he said environmental issues such as air pollution have become more prominent in major cities over the past six to seven years.

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Peaceful protests on this issue are possible, he insisted. “And the government is really responding.”

“It’s one of the areas where you can have freedom of expression,” he said. “And that’s understandable because it’s pretty safe in terms of the political environment.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press