As world leaders prepare to leave the COP26 UN climate change conference in Glasgow, negotiators and delegates will now take over to agree on climate pledges. Vyacheslav Fetisov, a two-time Olympic gold medallist in ice hockey and committed environmentalist, is one of the Russian delegates. He spoke to Tom Blackwell, the chairman and co-founder of emerging markets PR agency EM, about the prospects of lasting change coming out of the conference, and what role he thought Russia could play in the global fight against climate change.
TB: There’s a huge debate in the world as to whether COP26 will be able to go from words to action. What’s your opinion? Are you optimistic?
VF: I hope that Glasgow will become a very important name for the next hundred years. It’s the place where we will make a roadmap and rules and regulations for the future of life on our planet. I hope that everybody’s expectations are not disappointed.
I have been a team player all my life – as a player, then a coach, then minister of sport, then a senator for eight years, and then a congressman – it’s very important for me to see what we can do for the people, and without a game plan, it’s impossible. For me, this is the time in my life when I need to challenge myself with something very important: climate, ecology, biodiversity, this is the future for me, it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.
TB: Next week you’re going to be in Glasgow, where you’ll be representing the Russian delegation. What are the particular messages that you’ll be taking to COP next week, and what are you hoping to get out of it?
VF: We are supporting UNFCCC and UNEP to organise three roundtables. There’s a lot of expectation for me, we have high-level speakers at three events: energy transmission, sustainable financing, and the Arctic, which is one of the most dangerous and sensitive parts of our planet. We need a good plan and good teamwork, because this will relate to every aspect of our lives in the near future. No one company, no one country, no one leader will be able to do this alone. My strong message is going to be teamwork, and that’s a very important message in the recovery from the ecological catastrophe.
The future of our kids and grandchildren will belong to those who make the decisions, and I think all these political disagreements, all these local conflicts must be secondary. To make a good plan we need to work together as a team to tackle this huge challenge. I’ve been on the international stage since I was 15 years old. I remember all these unnecessary conflicts during the Cold War, and as an athlete and an Olympian, I feel we all need to come together for this big challenge. This is going to be my message to the three roundtables. Of course, we’re going to send the outcome to the Secretary General, to the President of my country. I hope it will be a good result. We need to try to find the proper words to get everybody on the same page.
TB: There was a lot of speculation about whether President Putin would be coming to COP26, and I think it’s clear now that he won’t be. Do you think that sends a certain signal to the international community? How do you think they should be reading into that?
VF: Prior to COP26 it was the G20 and COP15, and there our President spoke to the different nations by video conference. He supported everything that was proposed, especially in relation to biodiversity. For the Russian Federation, this is one of the biggest challenges: to not lose anything on our planet right now.
It is certain that we are going to support everything that is proposed on an international level. At the G20, too, we supported everything. The only message I see is that Russia is ready to support whatever is being discussed, and we will send a strong delegation to Glasgow, which is at a good level to negotiate the deal on the table.
TB: You’ve talked a little bit about the need for international collaboration and the need to put away conflicts and focus on the climate. This conference is happening at a time when the world is perhaps more divided than it’s ever been, geopolitical tensions in all areas seem to be on the rise, and dialogue in many areas seems to have just broken down. Do you think climate can be that unifying force to help get people back to the table?
VF: If you look at what’s going on, at the 50 percent of biodiversity that we’ve lost already… If you see the problems around the world – hurricanes, fires, flooding – you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see what’s going on in different parts of the world. I travel a lot, and I speak to many people and I see their concerns about what’s going on. We need to think about how we can solve this problem. It’s time to change the political aspect. We need to put away all these unnecessary disagreements at a very dangerous time. It’s time for an Olympic Games for saving the planet. The Olympic Games were created 100 years ago for one reason: to stop conflicts and disagreements. It’s during the Olympic Games that we negotiate the future. Now is the time to do so. I hope that when I get back from Glasgow, I can look my kids and grandchildren in the eyes and say “Ok, we’ve done everything in our power to give you a chance to build a future.”
TB: If climate can be this uniting force and get everyone back to the table, what do you think Russia can or should bring to the table in particular? Are there any areas where you think Russia can take the lead or become a trend setter?
VF: Russia has the biggest territory in the world. One third of fresh water is here in our territory. Of course we need to keep everything in a good condition for everybody. We need lots of money to clean up the rivers and to keep them in a good shape. 20% of the world’s drinkable water is now in Lake Baikal. Sanctions and political disagreements take away the money. We need to keep our ecology, our water, our forest and lands where we can create eco-friendly food not just for Russia, but for other countries too. The Arctic zone is very sensitive; permafrost is one of the biggest concerns right now for everybody. The permafrost is melting very fast, it will affect everybody and it will change the climate. We need to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. If not, it’s going to be a big problem for everybody around the world. Energy transition is one important example. Russia has always been really influential in scientific research and proposed what is best for everybody. It’s been proved many times: we were the first in space, we have done lots of good things for the people and for the planet. The government is now investing in new technologies, and I’m very optimistic about what society and business can do (business needs to use new eco-friendly technologies, and to understand that if they don’t use these technologies, they will lose business). But I’m especially optimistic people in our country, especially the young generation. There’s so much concern, so much interest in the future. They will do anything to force the government and business to do the right things.
TB: You’re heading to Scotland soon, and you have a big programme next week. What do you want to take away, and what will make this summit a success for you?
VF: It’s already a success, because there are so many people and so much attention. But this is not enough. We need real roadmaps with rules and regulations. Only this will give me satisfaction, because there’s no time left to discuss. We now need to act. We also need to talk to our international friends about how we’re going to build the future, how we’re going to co-operate, how we’re going to do projects together, and how we’re going to bring society together.
You can listen to the full interview with Vyacheslav Fetisov in bne’s latest Window on the East podcast.
You can watch the full interview online here.