Comment: Russian Climate expert Vladimir Katsov comments on why Russia’s climate doctrine is collecting dust

Publish date: October 12, 2009

ST. PETERSBURG – Russia is one of the world’s most quickly warming regions as a result of global climate change. In 2008, former President Vladimir Putin assigned Russia’s Federal Hydrometerology and Environmental Monitoring Service to develop a project for the creation of a Climate Doctrine for Russia out of apparent recognition of the threat of global warming. By year’s end, the doctrine was completed. After coordinating with a number of ministries and departments, in April 2009, the Russian government approved the Climate Doctrine. But Putin did not sign it.

An important premise of the Doctrine is that it states that global warming, with a high degree of reliability, carries an anthropological factor, the basic cause of which is human activity.  Thus global warming for our cold country is far and wide bur carries not only benefits, but also serious problems.  For example, the argument often used in deciding discussions about the consequences of global warming in Russia is that it will reduce the length of time that indoor heating is used and thus the economy of combustibles will be reduced and the heating season shortened.  The counterargument for this is that there is a growing demand for more energy-wasting air-conditioned spaces such as housing, public and office space in the summer, rather than a demand for heating.  In southern regions of the country, especially, an increase in the intensity of heat waves is expected.  Long periods of abnormally high temperatures quite notably correlate with a rise in mortality rates, as occurred, for example, in the summer of 2003 in Western Europe, when many thousands were victims of a long heat spell.  

The first estimated report of the Federal Hydrometerology and Environmental Monitoring Service, published in 2008, on climate change and its consequences within Russia provides the Doctrine with a good scientific basis.  I should mention that the first volume of the Report is dedicated to the memory of one of my predecessors in the post of Director of the Main Geophysical Observatory, a distinguished climatologist and academic, Mikhail Ivanovich Budyko.  Noteably, towards the end of 1960, with surprising insight , it was he whopredicted human-induced global warming, which we have begun to observe in the last few decades.  

Those years were the golden age for domestic climatology.  Alas, in the last few decades our scientific output has lost its leading position in the world; its authority in its own country has even grown dim.  We lost the competition to developed countries in the sphere of computer technology (in fact they today define what will be successful in the market), but most importantly, we have lost an entire generation of scientists—people now successfully working abroad or in domestic business.  On this ground they have been replaced by amateurs, non-professionals, and representatives of other scientific or pseudo-scientific specialities, who confidently argue on climate change and its consequences, willing giving out any type of forecast.  And in the sphere of information spread throughout Russia, uncertainty reigns.  The given situation should influence public opinion and the position of our country’s leadership – while meantime Russia does not have a distinct climate policy.  

Meanwhile, Russia continues to remain in the centre of events.  One of the problems heavily discussed as of late concerns carbon emissions of natural origin into the atmosphere as a result of the degradation of permafrost – which comprises approximately two-thirds of Russia’s territory.  An entire wave of alarming articles on this problem has swept through the world media.  What will happen if a climate feedback mechanism occurs: warming: melting permafrost, additional emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and then even more warming?  In the meantime with this comes greater uncertainty.  Scientific estimations fluctuate widely – from skeptical to catastrophic.  Forecasts from the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) do not yet consider this factor, however.  Here again, moreover, it will be difficult to predict such changes without the participation of Russian scientific research, the strengthening of which the Doctrine devotes significant attention to.

The matter is not only one of scientific research, however.  The Climate Doctrine ends with these words: “The implementation of the policy of the Russian Federation in the field of climate change assumes development on its basis of federal, regional and branch programmes and plans of action.”  In other words, the Doctrine sets a vector of development of normatively legal, economic and other instruments, invoked to provide security of the state, economy, and society from the adverse consequences of climate change and to create preconditions for effective utilisation of potential profits.  Having accepted the Doctrine, the government would have accepted the importance of the problem, which as of yet has not occurred.  

We are a cold country with extensive territories and an extremely non-uniform population density.  We need to be warmed, transport cargo and people over great distances – that is to say that we spend much more energy per capita than many other countries.  Is it then necessary, in view of these factors, for Russia to have more leeway on restrictions for greenhouse gas emissions?  It is not that simple; the global dialogue doesn’t work easily, only continuously. The deification of this discussion will be the global summit in Copenhagen, where attempts to weigh all the pros and cons will be assessed, in the context of “general, but differentiated responsibility” and so forth.  

The absence of Russia’s national political declaration on climate change in anticipation of the climate summit in Copenhagen arouses worry.  A majority of active participants in the process of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) already long ago have left the stage of public declaration of one’s official position (the last to do so, apparently, was the Peoples’ Republic of China in 2007).  Climate policies of these countries have already been developed and detailed in their national strategies and programmes as well as other documents.  

I hope that only technical reasons lie behind the delay behind confirming the Russian Doctrine.  The international obligations of our country and its national interests demand urgent action concerning the formulation and guarantee that national climate policy will be implemented.  

Vladimir Katsov is a Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Director of the Main Geophysical Observatory named for A.I. Voeykov (the foremost State Hydrometeorological Observatory) Federal Hydrometerology and Environmental Monitoring Service, an expert for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a member of the Joint Scientific Committee for the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), and one of the developers of the Russian Climate Doctrine project. His comment is published here exactly as it was written.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get our latest news

Stay informed