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European efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions could be undermined by Russian plans to dramatically increase energy production from coal, Western experts said in Brussels yesterday (9 March). Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently said that for his country to continue exporting gas while satisfying growing domestic demand, it must turn to other fuels such as coal or nuclear energy. Consequently, a new Russian energy strategy foresees coal consumption rising from 130 million tons per year now to 300 million in 2020.

Moreover, if Russia reduces subsidies for natural gas on its internal market, coal would emerge as a competitive fuel option, boosting production to meet increased demand.

Russia does not appear to be worried by the CO2 reduction goals. Russian emissions have already fallen dramatically as a result of the collapse of much of the country’s heavy industry in the 1990s. In 2007, emissions were already 34% below 1990 levels. Therefore Russia could increase its CO2 emissions by 9% between now and 2020 and still meet the target.

Recently, Putin ordered Russian companies to dramatically decrease gas flaring. However, the move was seen as designed to cash in on the billions of roubles of gas wasted in flaring, instead of addressing the climate change challenge.

To be able to honour its gas export contracts, Russia has to turn to coal, said Kevin Rosner, senior fellow at the US Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.

Rosner presented his research, entitled ‘Russian coal: Europe’s new energy challenge’ and sponsored by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, at a public event hosted by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Several experts and officials took part in the debate, held under Chatham House rules.

Russia has established an image for itself as an oil and gas giant, yet the country has gigantic coal reserves, second only to the USA, the research paper says. Rosner argues that the overarching aim of the analysis is to ensure that when those coal reserves are used, they have the smallest possible impact on the world’s climate.

Other speakers pointed out that coal is produced in 26 Russia regions and its development is seen as a “factor of stability”.

“Nobody dares to shut down a coal mine,” as one speaker put it.

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