UPDATE: Russia government reviews doctrine on climate change, prompting cheers and jeers


The document, which was composed without public consultation, is awaiting the approval of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.  Adoption of the text by the government and its official publication is expected prior to Medvedev’s signature.

That the document exists at all comes as a shocking surprise in a country that has not devoted much energy to stemming the impact of climate change, and many see it as a positive signal in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate talks in December, when an internationally binding convention on emissions caps will hopefully be negotiated.

But Russian environmentalists, including Bellona, are crying foul, noting that the document focuses on bracing for the changes to come, rather than participating with the world community in eradicating the sources of climate change.

The doctrine reviewed last month will be the fundamental text specifying climate change and its influence on economic and territorial planning in Russia, and will contain a complex of measures aimed at adapting to climate change.

“It is very positive that Russia has gotten on the road toward the climate question – until recently, the official Russian position denied the entire problem,” said Kristin Jørgensen, leader of Bellona’s Russia group.

“With this initiative Medvedev is announcing Russia is again in the world debate, and it is encouraging that Russia is not isolating itself relative to this important issue, as the country has often tended to do.”

Jørgensen, however, was quick to point out that the document was hardly geared toward preventing climate change, and was more a call to take cover.

“The document is by and large taken up by how Russia should adapt to climate change, not the fight against climate change that the rest of the world occupied with,” she said.

According to the Russia’s Natural Resources and Ecological Ministry, which has worked out the corresponding systems of measures, it is possible to reduce the dangers of natural phenomena, cut down the expenses on liquidating emergency situations, and increase the durability of various economic sectors such as agriculture, transport and energy.

“It is remarkable that climate change is being included in general development plans,” Greenpeace Russia said in a statement on its website.

The consequences of climate change for Russia
Because of its size and geography – much of Russia being located in polar regions, which are expected to be hit hardest by climate change – the diversity of possible consequences for general planning, public health and the flora and fauna of Russia is one of the key issues figuring into the country’s response to the international climate change debate.

If Russia at the beginning of the 1900s annually experienced 150 to 200 dangerous natural phenomena causing damage to the economy, then within the last few years the number of such phenomena has grown to 300-400 annually. Climate change will manifest itself in the form of increased frequency and intensity of extreme meteorological phenomena such as floods, winter melts and earthquakes.

A year and a half ago, Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS) had already formed a disquieting forecast for the territories of Northern Russia until 2030. MChS fears that these territories of Russia will simply be consumed by

Flooding could even impact underground formations such as natural oil reservoirs, which will raise the risk of the voiding of marshlands. Russia is estimated to have 70 billion tons of marshlands – a third of the marshlands in the world.

“First of all, there is a significant risk associated with the increase of the world’s oceans,” said Russian Natural Resources Minister Yury Truntyev, introducing the doctrine.

“Over the last 100 years, their levels have risen approximately 10 centimeters – if this tendency continues they will rise by 10 to 20 centimeters by 2050. If the oceans rise by 10 centimeters by 2050 to 2070, a significant portion of St. Petersburg and Yamal could flood – if they rise by 20 centimeters the Arkangelsk and Murmansk regions are at risk of flooding as well as a number of other regions in the country.”

But for all his dire predictions, Truntyev has been only vaguely backed by his superiors.

As Bellona’s Jørgensen pointed out: “Medvedev has said that, ‘We support climate efforts that benefit Russia. So we must wait and see what kind of posture Russia will take ahead of and at Copenhagen before we can see anything certain about Russia’s development in this period.’”

The fundamental tasks of Russian environmental policy
In the doctrine, Truntyev spelled out for the government the fundamental tasks facing Russian in forming its environmental policy on climate change.

The doctrine speaks of fortifying and developing informational and scientific component ensuring comprehensiveness and reliability of information on the systems effecting the climate, causing its changes and what their consequences are.

The doctrine expounds on the necessity of realizing strategic and long-term measures aimed at reducing man-made effects on the climate and adaptations to these changes, participation in international initiatives toward the solution of climate issues and associated problems.

The document notes that in drawing up climate policy it is necessary to consider the specific impact of climate change on the natural environment, the economy, different social groups and populations, particularly the high probability of migration necessitated by the redistribution of food and water resources.

To bring those tasks noted in the document to life, a structural rebuilding of the economy of the country is required, including the introduction of stimulus mechanisms for rational natural resource use and the adoption of resource and energy saving technology, as well as creating the conditions for the effective functioning of the natural resource complex and the reclamation of renewable natural resources.

It will also be critical to conduct fundamental and application oriented research relative to climate change to guarantee the adoption of solutions by government and economic management departments, and the creation of state regulation in the area of man-made climate impact.

Truntyev considers it necessary to implement long-term measures to realize the document, among them the development of a climate oversight body, the development and implementation of a government system for the technical facilitation of a national centre for climate studies, and he spoke about the organisation of research, as well as personnel and technical reorganisation of production.

The carbon content of industry must be lowered, he said, and attention must be devoted to the rise of industry’s energy efficiency as well as energy demand by 2030, with a longer perspective to 2050 in different sectors of the economy. The doctrine also envisions harmonising Russia legislation regulating climate issues with internationally accepted norms.

Environmental reaction equivocal
Russia’s Greenpeace offices consider that a one piece of paper is too little to achieve these goals.

“It is necessary to create an organ responsible for the fulfillment of the proposes goals and tasks, it is necessary to establish clear deadlines and concrete enumerated obligations. Unfortunately, the minister (Truntyev) in his appearance said nothing of this,” said Greenpeaces’s statement.

“Aside from this, if the document becomes public, then it will be necessary to hold public discussions on it. It is all good and well that a “climate doctrine” will appear in Russia, but it is bad that its development is taking place if not under conditions of secrecy, then in a complete absence of information for the public, specifically environmental organisations. The authors of the report acknowledge in private conversations that the document is of a closed character and will be presented post factum,” read the Greenpeace statement.

Jørgensen said that such an approach could be the downfall of the document.

“The climate doctrine has been held in secret, and no environmental organizations or other representatives of the public have been included in the discussion of its contents or measures,” she said.

“This does not consider any goals – opacity and secrecy have characterized the whole process against a fixed and ready climate doctrine.”

Umbrellas no defence against hurricanes
Nina Lesikina, energy projects coordinator for Bellona Murmansk expressed regret that the fundamental aspects of the doctrine is focuses on the implementation of measures to adapt to climate change and not on the eradication of the reasons behind the climate crisis.

“While the rest of the world is developing and implementing greenhouse gas emissions cutting measures by shifting their focus to renewable energy, energy efficiency and carbon capture and storage technology, Russia is egotistically busying itself only with adapting to climate change,” she said.

“The European Union is earmarking an enormous sum for financing projects to reduce carbon gas emissions, is adopting strict directives for its countries, while Russia cannot even take upon itself the obligation of reducing CO2 emissions,” said Lesikhina. “Stabilising the climate demands reducing global emissions of CO2 by 50 to 80 percent by 2050, and this is possible only by a concerted effort of all countries.”