Russian Activists File Country’s First-Ever Climate Lawsuit

Panoramic View Of Factory Against Sky
Russia is the fourth-most greenhouse-gas emitting country. Olga Gordeeva / EyeEm
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When it comes to the climate crisis, Russia is a study in contradictions. It is the fourth most climate-polluting country in the world, but it is also warming twice as fast as the international average, The Guardian pointed out. Melting permafrost has already been linked to a devastating oil spill in the Russian Arctic, high temperatures are fueling wildfires in Siberia and polar bears are wandering into human settlements in search of food as sea ice melts. 

Now, a group of activists has taken the risk of filing the country’s first-ever climate lawsuit against their government.

“The Russian government’s approach to climate change is irresponsible and contrary to its international law obligations,” legal team spokesperson Grigory Vaypan said, as The Guardian reported. 

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in Russia’s Supreme Court, Reuters reported. The plaintiffs are demanding that Russia reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

To date, Russia has made two climate promises. A presidential decree promised to cut emissions by 30 percent of their 1990 levels by 2030 and a government decree to reduce them by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. The activists behind the lawsuit are instead calling for a 31 percent decrease by 2030 and a 95 percent decrease by 2050. 

“Only by following these targets can Russia meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement,” the plaintiffs said. 

Russia has also been criticized in the past for using 1990 levels as its benchmark year for emissions reductions, The Moscow Times noted. That’s because the date coincides with the fall of the Soviet Union and a consequent pause in most of the country’s heavy industry, so it was not emitting very much to begin with. 

The lawsuit is being brought by a coalition of both young and veteran activists. One of the groups behind the lawsuit is the Moscow Helsinki Group, which was started by Soviet dissidents and is the oldest human rights group in the country, Reuters noted. Also joining the suit is Ekozashita (Eco-defence) and 18 individuals. They included young people from the Fridays for Future movement and members of Indigenous communities, according to The Guardian. 

The activists acknowledged that they were taking “considerable risks” by challenging a government that has become even more authoritarian since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. 

“This is a case against the government,” activist Arshak Makichyan, who now lives in Germany, said, as The Guardian reported. “Russia after 24 February [the date of the Ukraine invasion] became a dictatorship, and I can no longer live my life there. I don’t understand how Russia will negotiate any climate deals … they have been lying to people about the climate crisis.”

Russia has emerged as an example of the connection between oil-and-gas dependence and authoritarian regimes. In a recent article for The Guardian, writer and activist Bill McKibben pointed out that people who head governments in fossil-fuel-rich states tend to accrue lots of power because of the rarity and desirability of the resource. 

“The most striking example of this phenomenon, it hardly need be said, is Vladimir Putin, a man whose power rests almost entirely on the production of stuff that you can burn,” McKibben wrote. “[…]Sixty per cent of the export earnings that equipped his army came from oil and gas, and all the political clout that has cowed western Europe for decades came from his fingers on the gas spigot. He and his hideous war are the product of fossil fuel, and his fossil fuel interests have done much to corrupt the rest of the world.”

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