This paper presents two discourses about the Russian coal industry. They illustrate the main approaches to the collision course between Russian coal mining and the global low-carbon trend. Despite declining demand and unprofitability, the conservative ‘keep coal’ vision, advocated by the Russian coal sector and political leadership, does not foresee an end to coal mining and exports.

In contrast, the ‘low-carbon trend’ proposes to adjust to external low-carbon triggers to remain competitive in a global low-carbon economy. Besides these two economically and politically motivated discourses, a ‘local environmental’ discourse is an example of a Russian environmentally-driven discourse. This environmental discourse is about the coal industry’s impact on environmental pollution and health rather than climate change. None of the discourses advocate for a coal phase-out.

Future of Russian coal

With the possibility to redirect coal exports to the East, Russia’s coal course is likely to continue for the next decades. The coal sector is increasingly dependent on two factors. First, the future coal demand in Asia, China in particular. Second, the global market price of coal which continues to fluctuate. Consequently, already impoverished coal communities may be further economically disadvantaged increasing the likelihood of social unrest and political instability. The political leadership aims to avoid such instabilities by introducing additional subsidies to the sector. A domestic debate on a coal phase-out and measures to economically diversify affected regions could, however, avoid adverse long-term social and economic consequences.

About the project

This policy brief is part of the project “The Russian Coal Sector. Challenges and Transition Opportunities”. Convened by Climate Strategies, the project builds and enables knowledge exchange on the current and future status of coal in Russia. Focusing on progress towards a low-carbon economy in Russia, the project provides insights into the macroeconomic and social stability of coal regions, and delineates pathways forward given the global, ongoing low-carbon energy transition.