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Russia makes major shift in climate policy

Putin emphasizes the need for action on global warming.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has called for a Russian climate-action plan that includes measures to improve energy efficiency.

Russia's government has quietly made a drastic change to its policy on climate change, accepting that anthropogenic global warming poses severe risks and requires immediate action to limit carbon emissions.

Policy analysts believe that the new climate 'doctrine', adopted in late April, marks a historic turning point. Principally a position statement, the doctrine also outlines a checklist of key climate actions, and could provide a useful starting point for negotiations at December's international climate talks in Copenhagen.

"Russia's diplomatic approach to Copenhagen was until now just one big silence," says Kristin Jørgensen, who heads the Russian policy group of Bellona, an environmental watchdog based in Oslo that has a network of activists in Russia. "This is a totally surprising move. There were no hearings, no stakeholder discussion, no public debate — just nothing."

Russia's 1990 carbon-dioxide emissions were sufficient that the country's 2004 ratification of the Kyoto Protocol pushed the treaty past a key milestone that made it legally binding. But there was little at stake for Russia, because by then the collapse of the Soviet economy meant that its commitment to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions relative to 1990 levels had already been fulfilled. And despite Russia's role in Kyoto, the government, backed by influential scientists and economic advisers, has previously displayed indifference or outright scepticism about the scientific basis and projected effects of climate change.

Official recognition that anthropogenic climate change is happening and requires action by the government is an almost revolutionary shift in policy, says Anna Korppoo, an expert on Russian climate and energy policies with the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki. "For Russia, this new climate doctrine could be comparable in political significance with that of the Stern review on the economics of climate change in Britain," she says.

Breaking the silence

Yuri Trutnev, Russia's minister for natural resources, emphasized the urgency of domestic and international action on climate change in a presentation to the Russian cabinet on 23 April.

This is a totally surprising move. There were no hearings, no stakeholder discussion, no public debate — just nothing. Kristin Jørgensen , Bellona

In the text of his presentation, seen by Nature, he warns that climate change will lead to an increase in "almost every dangerous hydrometeorological phenomena". Although Trutnev refers to possible benefits, such as extended agricultural growing seasons, he points out that climate-change-related damage caused by increased and more severe flooding, droughts and storms is already costing Russia up to 60 billion roubles (US$1.91 billion) per year.

"The absence of an economic adaptation system to climate change leads to [a] decrease of [Russian] Gross Domestic Product by 2–5%," he says. "It is absolutely obvious that development of measures for adapting our country's economy to climate changes must involve every Ministry and Department."

The figures are based on the conclusions of the Assessment Report on Climate Change and its Consequences in Russian Federation , released in February by Russia's federal weather service, Roshydromet.

The report was compiled by leading Russian climate scientists and meteorologists, including Yuri Izrael, former vice-chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who has long voiced his doubts about links between human activity and climate change. By contrast, the report notes that there is now "convincing evidence supporting the anthropogenic nature of observed climate warming". It finds that since 1907, the average surface air temperature in Russia has risen by nearly 1.3 ºC — almost twice as much as the global mean. Climate change will have "significant negative consequences" on Russia's population, economy and ecosystems, the report concludes.

The Russian cabinet approved the new doctrine after Trutnev's presentation, according to Korppoo and Russian news sources. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also called for a domestic climate-action plan that includes measures to improve energy efficiency, although he stopped short of promising a national emissions-reduction target.

Although Jørgensen believes that the new doctrine will provide a way to "remind Russia of its environmental duties" in future climate negotiations, Korppoo warns that many other promising environmental initiatives have been stymied by Russian bureaucracy. "International attention at the highest level could help prevent Russia's new climate doctrine from suffering the same fate," she says.


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Assessment Report on Climate Change and its Consequences in Russian Federation

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Stern Review

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Schiermeier, Q. Russia makes major shift in climate policy. Nature (2009).

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