Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Window on Eurasia: New Moscow Climate Doctrine Focuses on Reacting to Rather than Preventing Change, Environmentalists Say

Paul Goble

Baku, May 13 – Russian and European environmentalists are concerned that a new Russian climate change doctrine developed without comment and now awaiting promulgation by President Dmitry Medvedev focuses more on how Moscow should react to the impact of climate change rather than on taking steps to prevent it.
Greenpeace Russia welcomed the preparation of the doctrine, and Kristin Jorgensen of Norway’s Bellona Group, greeted Russia’s new focus on climate change. “Until recently,” she said, Moscow “officially denied that the entire problem exists.” Now, Russia is again a participant “in the world debate” (
But like her Russian counterparts, the Norwegian environmentalist said that the new doctrine “was hardly geared toward preventing climate change” but as rather “a call to take cover” from the consequences more and more people can see coming and that an increasing number of countries around the world want to take steps to prevent.
The new Russian doctrine which was approved at the ministerial level last month argues that “it is possible to reduce the dangers of natural phenomena, cut down on the experiences of liquidating emergency situations, and increase the durability of various economic sectors such as agriculture, transport and energy” which are likely to be affected by climate change.
Because of its size and location – with much of its territory in the far north where permafrost is melting and at low levels that could be flooded by rising ocean levels – Russia is by nearly universal consent the country likely to be the most hard hit by climate change over the next century.
Some of the impact of climate change is already in evidence, the Bellona Group points out. A century ago, Russia suffered 150 to 200 “dangerous natural phenomena” such as flooding every year. Now the number of such events has risen to 300 to 400 annually, and even greater numbers are predicted for the future.
Eighteen months ago, the Russian emergency situations ministry issued dire warnings about the Russian north, noting that global warming could turn them into bogs, with many areas becoming flooded or inaccessible. This rise in the water table could also affect natural oil reservoirs, possibly leading to massive contamination of water and land.
One Russian official behind the new doctrine is Yury Truntyev, Russia’s minister for natural resources. He notes that if the world’s oceans continue to rise, by the middle or end of this century, large portions of St. Petersburg and the Yamal peninsula could be flooded, with portions of Arkhangelsk and Murmansk at risk as well.
Greenpeace Russia says that the doctrine, while a start, is “too little” by itself to achieve the goals of dealing with the problem. And the organization complained that the elaboration of the doctrine “if not under conditions of secrecy then in a complete lack of information for the public” is extremely unfortunate.
Once Medvedev promulgates it, the organization said, there would be “public discussion” about what to do next, including a consideration of creating a new state organization to oversee Russian efforts in this area, something that Truntyev also favors, and setting standards for cutting back emissions.
Nina Lesikina, a Bellona activist in Murmansk, said that she and her members were very disappointed in the document’s content. “While the rest of the world is developing and implementing greenhouse gas emissions reduction programs … Russia is selfishly busying itself only with adapting to climate change.”
“Stabilizing the climate requires the reduction of global emissions of carbon dioxide by 50 to 80 percent by 2050,” she added, saying that achieving that goal would only be possible if all countries including the Russian Federation made “a concerted effort” rather than sought as Moscow appears to be doing to do only what is immediately profitable for themselves.

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