Ecology as a Black Elephant: The Challenges of Climate Policy
List of speakers

On December 3, the Valdai Club held a discussion, titled “The Global Political Climate: Will the Green Agenda Become a Priority of the Post-Covid World?” together with the presentation of a new report, “Climate Policy in a Global Risk Society”.

The COVID-19 pandemic served as a kind of global natural experiment, Oleg Barabanov, the moderator of the discussion and co-author of the report, noted in his opening remarks. When the lockdowns stopped the economy, the air in large cities was quickly cleared and the ecological situation improved. Thus, it became obvious that humanity can quickly influence the state of the environment and prevent climate change. This makes the climate agenda extremely relevant.

Elena Maslova, Associate professor at MGIMO and senior research fellow at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, outlined the European Union's green initiatives and opposition from some European countries. She said some consider these measures too radical, while activists who believe that they are not radical enough. She noted that the solutions promoted by the EU are often, on the one hand, extremely politicised and aimed at strengthening the positions of the European Union, while on the other hand, they do not sufficiently take into account the global nature of environmental issues, and effectively transfer environmentally harmful production to countries outside the bloc.

Roman Reinhardt, Associate Professor of the Department of Diplomacy at MGIMO, who wrote a section of the report on climate diplomacy, noted the novelty of this area, the high level of its politicisation and the important role played by non-state actors. He believes that this implies the need to conduct a dialogue with eco-activists, to emphasise the scientific and educational components and to avoid the narrative of national interests at the rhetorical level. Maria Apanovich, associate professor of the Department of Demographic and Migration Policy at MGIMO, in turn, highlighted the problem of climatic and environmental migration. Pointing to the deterioration of the situation in this area in connection with the pandemic, which pushed the problems associated with it into the background, the expert expressed hope that the report would help draw attention to these problems.

Pavel Cheremisin, editor-in-chief of the Valdai Club website, spoke about the importance of international agreements in environmental policy. According to him, despite the importance of environmental problems, states give priority to their own national interests. As a result, international environmental agreements are often either not binding or poorly observed. Turning to the activities of environmental non-governmental organisations, he described their main strategies, citing the example Greenpeace, Greta Thunberg and the WWF.

Professor Anatol Lieven of Georgetown University in Qatar examined environmental issues in a broader political context - in particular, in the aspect of the struggle between market ideology and supporters of state intervention in the economy. He hoped the pandemic and economic crisis would result in a political and social consensus. Eleonora Tafuro Ambrosetti, Research Fellow at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), outlined the European view of the problem, emphasising that for Brussels, environmental issues are of particular importance both from a security and economic point of view and are always considered not in isolation, but in conjunction with other questions. “The European Union is pursuing a climate policy that goes beyond simply limiting greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

Summing up the discussion, Elena Maslova pointed to the growing importance of non-political challenges and non-political risks for modern society, such as the environment. In her opinion, ecology can - by analogy with the "black swan" - be called a "black elephant". It is a factor that exists and has a huge impact on what is happening, but which everyone tries not to notice. The environmental challenge, on the one hand, is relevant for all countries and therefore democratises international relations, and on the other hand, it increases the contradictions between developing and developed countries.