Will Russia ever leave fossil fuels behind?

In Russia, oil and natural gas provide both wealth and deep national pride. With global demand for fossil fuels set to decline, how will Russia adapt?T

The small West Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiysk, home to just over 100,000 people, is Russia’s unofficial capital of oil. The town is surrounded by some of the most extensive oilfields in the world, which shape not only the region’s geology but its economy and identity.

The relatively short history of oil in Khanty-Mansiysk has transformed this part of Russia. The Samotlor oil field, Russia’s largest, was discovered in the 1960s to the east of the city and fast became the source of the area’s considerable wealth. Khanty-Mansiysk sits within the Tyumen region, which often ranks second in Russia for wellbeing and socioeconomic development, after only Moscow.

In this part of Russia, oil is an important source of not only money, but pride. Since the 1960s, oil workers and engineers have been praised and featured as heroes in novels and movies. The local Museum of Geology, Oil and Gas is a major architectural landmark of the city. In the city’s airport, one can see photographs of oil workers and engineers from various decades through the 20th Century, including of Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltzin, meeting workers on an oil field.ADVERTISEMENT

Amid such a celebration of this fossil fuel, one could imagine that the realities of climate change haven’t yet percolated to the heartland of Russia’s oil.

But in the last few years, that has begun to change. This year, one of the city’s major oil forums, “Oil Capital”, which took place in March, paid particular attention to climate, with panels and discussions dedicated to decarbonisation. Local officials, companies and scientists tried to understand what the future of Khanty-Mansiysk, and of Russia, might be in a new low-carbon world.


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