Situation just before Cancun climate talks: Russia still underestimates climate change

Experts see no major substantial movement in Russia's stance ahead of the latest UN climate conference in Cancun, despite the occasional acknowledgment by President Dmitry Medvedev that the earth is warming, writes Agence France Press.

During the last major climate conference in Copenhagen, Medvedev published Russia's ambitious Climate Doctrine and even appointed a climate adviser a month later.

Russia's own weather agency Rosgidromet said in a weighty 2008 report that daily average temperatures in Russia would rise by four to six degrees Celsius by 2050, and that the change of the past 50 years was most likely man-made.

But two years later, after summer forest fires that ravaged more than a million hectares (2.5 million acres) in Russia and a heatwave believed to have killed thousands, state media are still debating whether climate change is a myth.

In August, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin even wondered aloud if the natural dying out of mammoths around 10,000 BC means that current climate change was also a phenomenon independent of human influence.

"Most scientists in the world now share the view that climate change is human-caused, but in Russia science is very politicized," said Vladimir Chuprov, a climate expert for Greenpeace Russia.

Although Medvedev has indicated his concern at climate change, scepticism in academic circles remains due to Putin's position, since Russian science depends on government funding, Chuprov told AFP.

In 2003, Putin amazed scientists when he speculated that a global warming by "two or three degrees" could be a good thing for Russia as its people would no longer need fur coats.

A press conference hosted by the RIA Novosti state news agency ahead of Cancun provided some indication of official attitudes. Called "Climate Change: myth or reality?" it gave a platform to a leading climate sceptic academic.

"Several hundred million years ago the temperature was 10-13 degrees higher than now," said Yury Israel, director of the Institute of Global Climate and Environment at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

"What is happening now is not some kind of unusual special case," he said, adding that life flourished on Earth at the time of dinosaurs.

"Some acknowledgement has occurred, but very slowly," Alexei Kokorin of WWF said. "There is a realization that global warming is after all a bad thing."
Meanwhile, according to a report of the British Met Office, published recently on the eve of Cancun climate talks, evidence for man-made climate change has grown even stronger over the last year.

The Met Office report includes a new study which shows that sea surface temperatures were higher than initially thought because of a change in the way the temperatures were measured after 2000. The new analysis significantly increases the warming scientists think was seen globally over the past decade. The work is significant because the rate of global warming from 2000-2009 is lower than the 0.16C per decade trend seen since the late 1970s, a fact climate scientists have been keen to explain. Including the new sea surface temperatures, which push up global temperatures by 0.03C, the warming rate for the past 10 years is estimated at 0.08-0.16C. The go further to claim that 2010 could be the hottest year on record.

Russian Socio-Ecological Union believes that the issue of global climate change becomes more serious from year to year, and Russia can not remain on the sidelines without participating in solving this issue. At the recent RSEU Third Climate Conference, Russian NGOs adopted a resolution stating that the Russia's official Climate doctrine alone is not sufficient, without any concrete plans, it remains only a declaration. Russia needs plans for implementing the Climate Doctrine, with targets for each year on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, for developing renewable energy and for increasing energy efficiency of the Russian economy.

According to the Russian public organizations, implementation plan for the Climate Doctrine must include developing a "roadmap" to reduce GHG emissions by 80% from the 1990 level by 2050. Strategic position of transition to low carbon economy by 2050 should be accepted, with the share of renewable energy at least 50%, phasing out nuclear industry and large hydroelectric dams in vulnerable regions.