Rae Kwong Chung: Russia should prove its global leadership

Rae Kwong Chung, Member of the Intergovernmental Expert Panel on Climate Change, Global Energy Prize International Award Committee Chairman, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2007), recently took part as an expert in the Gaidar Forum in Moscow housed by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, where he met with Invest Foresight, the event’s strategic media partner, to discuss issues of Green Growth and Russia’s part in the global development processes.

As Mr Rae Kwong Chung noted, “Russia is a huge country, the largest in the world. It is much greener than any other country, and has huge forests. So in terms of forest coverage everybody envies Russia. Yet Russia can do a lot more not just for contributing to solving the global environment or climate change problems, but for the promotion of new industries in Russia. There are two schools of thinking regarding green economy, or climate change, or sustainable development issues. One school of thinking is concerned about costs and its supporters say, why should we bother to waste our money. The other school of thinking looks at green economy and social development as new opportunities for developing new markets, new services and new industries. Hence there are clearly two ways of thinking. So far, Russia has not yet realized that there could be new industries for Russia. Russia can be a competitive country if it decides to do so – because Russia has all kinds of very high-level scientific excellence, science research, and is ahead of many countries in many scientific fields. Russia is a leader and has huge numbers of top-level scientists. If these scientists joint together to push forward innovations for addressing green economy, social development and climate change, then Russia can create new services, new markets and new industries. So of course, Russia can do a lot for its own industries and at the same time contribute to combating climate crisis.”

In Russia, like elsewhere, brain drain is a serious problem nowadays. Why does brain drain happen? According to Mr Chung, “In some cases, people are going somewhere else as at home they do not find demand for their talents. If Russia introduces new policies – green economy policy, environmental policy or social policy – and strengthens investment into people, society and environment, it will create new opportunities for the young generations to find more jobs, thus diversifying their job opportunities. So, they will not go away and stay here. Some may claim there are limited financial resources to do that, but a highly developed country like Russia has enough capacities to use policies, regulations and standards to strengthen and support a new development direction to create new job opportunities.”

“If you only think about conventional or traditional sectors of industry such as oil and gas, then there will be no opportunities for creating new jobs there as it is already all developed. You have to look for where you can create new job opportunities. Say, Green Growth – if Russia promotes policies in waste recycling and landfills prohibition and supports incineration and use of renewable energy sources, then new investments into incineration will happen, new jobs and new opportunities will appear,” he believes. “Without such kind of a stronger revelation and standards new jobs and new opportunities will not happen. Many governments are afraid of introducing new regulations. They think, this is a kind of a burden and limitation for economic activity. Yet in fact, if you press for new regulations, that creates new investments and new opportunities.”

Promoting advanced technologies and new policies is not a straightforward issue though. “That requires not only a political will of the authorities and regulators. People have to support it,” Mr Rae Kwong Chung stressed. “Waste incineration and using waste to produce energy is a new trend. In Korea, 4% of its total energy consumption is produced out of waste. We have over 400 incinerators and Koreans pay more than $200 for a ton of garbage to be incinerated. In Korea, the garbage recycling ratio is 60% which is one of the highest in the world. We therefore recycle 60% of our entire garbage and use it again. The remaining 40% goes for incineration. Some does go to landfills, but landfills will be closed sooner or later and entire garbage will be turned into a source of energy. This is an example of creating a new industry. Without introducing a new regulation, there is no chance for creating a new industry, but there is a condition: the people should be willing to pay a price for it. Korean people pay for recycling the garbage. This also applies to clean energy, etc. People should not just blame politicians but be willing to pay for clean energy – and then politicians will do it. The reason why politicians are not introducing new policies is they are afraid that people may revolt, saying they do not want to pay higher price. It recently happened in Chile and in France – with Yellow Jackets. So if there is no support from the people, politicians can’t do it hence you can not just blame politicians. There should be a social consensus, social engineering, social innovation.”

In view of Mr Chung, “Russia’s neighbors, Nordic countries – Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark – are the classic and most successful examples of social development. Those countries pay more than $200 per ton of recycled garbage, but most of their residential heating comes from garbage. They do not burn gas or oil, but burn their garbage for residential heating. They already do it, so Russia can also do it just like its neighbors.”

Agriculture seems to be a rather promising sector of Russian economy these days which could contribute much to the overall national development. As Mr Chung noted, “There are different levels of quality of agricultural products. Organic products, for example. Many agricultural products from Russia are free from pesticides and very organic compared to those from Europe, Japan or Korea. Koreans, for instance, use a lot of pesticides – at the highest level in the world. Russia can produce organic products and can thus focus on how it can differentiate the higher quality of its agricultural products which have a higher value. This is kind of an investment strategy and thinking of not merely quantity, but of quality.”

As a member of the global community, “Russia has been active in relation to Kyoto Protocol, Paris Climate Agreement – and made a very critical decision of providing support for these initiatives and the global consensus. Its position was very positive and much appreciated. But Russia can be much more proactive, being not just a follower, but a leader in this kind of global trends of decarbonization – and that will send a very strong message to other countries around the world like China, India, Brazil, etc. It will be a strong signal and a question why the US is holding behind and denying everything. So if Russia accepts a more proactive role, it will prove its global leadership – and at the same time, new domestic industries can be created. China is a global leader in electric buses exports, supplying them to the US, Germany, Korea and the UK. This is an example of creating a new industry. So there is no reason why Russia should not do the same since it has sufficient scientific knowledge and expertise – but does not utilize them to the maximum extent. In this context, the climate change issue can open new opportunities for so many scientists to contribute to creating new industries in Russia,” Mr Rae Kwong Chung concluded.

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