Dragged into the fray

    Willingly or not, Russia's science academy has become part of the political economy of climate.

    We've been here before. Last December, Russian ministers and advisers were sending contradictory signals about whether they would ratify the Kyoto Protocol for climate change, in the end leaving the issue unresolved. Last week saw an apparently similar phenomenon, except that in the process the Russian Academy of Sciences apparently allowed itself to be hijacked by opponents of the protocol.

    According to the news agency Reuters, a document handed to Russian President Vladimir Putin by the academy strongly opposed ratification, asserting that the protocol “lacks a scientific basis” and would put a brake on Russia's economic development. This matters, because Russia's ratification would bring the Kyoto Protocol into force.

    The report, commissioned by Putin in January, was adopted by an academy commission on 14 May, despite disagreement among leading Russian climate scientists about its tone and recommendations.

    Climate researchers are upset that the report's main author, Yuri Izrael, director of the academy's Institute of Global Climate and Ecology in Moscow and an influential scientific adviser to the Kremlin, is also a vice-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As such, he was a signatory to the IPCC's 2001 assessment of climate change — the very document that flatly contradicts some of the Russian anti-Kyoto statements.

    There are suggestions that the chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, might take some action against Izrael. This should be resisted, partly because the IPCC has better things to do, and partly because the Russian report may well be part of a political charade. It appeared in the same week as a summit between Russia and the European Union (EU) in which Putin sought approval and improved conditions for entry into the World Trade Organization. The EU is a strong supporter of Kyoto. Lo, Putin got the backing he wanted and, lo again, he immediately expressed his willingness for Russia to move towards ratification of Kyoto.

    How and why the academy allowed itself to become a pawn may never be clear to outsiders. What is clear is that science in Russia, as elsewhere, has been hijacked by the politics and economics of energy investment and emission reductions. Anyone seeking to interpret messages about such science should apply the same filter of scepticism as they do to politics. Even so, the bottom line is that prospects for the Kyoto Protocol are brighter than they have been for a while.

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    Dragged into the fray. Nature 429, 327 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/429327b

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