“If we don’t take joint action, the consequences for the planet may be very distressing [and] will have catastrophic consequences.”

18 Nov 2009

When the Russians start talking about working on climate change because it will have dire consequences, then the world better sit up and listen.

Russia (and the Soviet Union before) haven’t been exactly green. They dumped huge amounts of radioactive waste into the oceans, for example, according to the Book Poison in the Well.

So you can be sure that Russian president Dmitry Medvedev wasn’t trying to save the polar bears when he said this week:

“If we don’t take joint action, the consequences for the planet may be very distressing to the point that the Arctic and Antarctic ice can melt and change ocean levels,” he said shortly before leaving Singapore.

“All of this will have catastrophic consequences.”

Moderate warming—say, global temperatures 1 or 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels—might be beneficial for Russia. It would lengthen the growing season so they could grow more food, for example. But with researchers saying that business-as-usual could push the planet to 6 degrees above pre-industrial levels by the century’s end, then that period where Russians might say “global warming’s not so bad,” would be all-too-brief.

Plus, Russia borders on some countries that could be hit pretty hard by climate change, like the various Stans—Kazakhstan, etc.—and China as well, and I’m sure problems and unrest in neighboring countries is a big part of what Medvedev has in mind when he talks about “catastrophic consequences.”

Or is he being disingenuous? Maybe he’s not really worried about climate change. His predecessor and mentor, Vladimir Putin, didn’t seem too concerned. He did sign the Kyoto Protocol, but only after getting a lot of concessions. Oh—and the treaty didn’t ask Russia to do much of anything, and it could have brought in a bunch of money for them, if they were able to sell carbon credits.

The only advantage I could imagine of Russia pretending to be worried about climate change, when it’s actually not, is to try to lure other countries into some kind of carbon-cutting arms race, in which their opponents’ sap their economies by spending loads on solar panels, wind turbines, and so on. But that’s seems like a remote chance.

Anyway, even if Medvedev is trying to trick others into action, if it works, I wish him luck.

UPDATE: I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but here’s a paper that might have some clues as to what’s going on: “Is the new ‘climate doctrine’ marking a turning point in Russian policy?” by Anna Korppoo, from Climate Strategies. It says:

The ‘climate doctrine’ recently discussed by the Russian Cabinet could mark a shift in the thinking of the Russian high-level policy-makers similar to that of the Stern review in the UK. The costs of climate change were first time reported in the headlines, and it was argued that mitigation policies would be good for the Russian economy. But to re-enforce these positive Russian developments they should be recognized internationally. This paper provides an update on Russian climate policy following the Climate Strategies ‘East-West Investment’ project, which was completed last year.


books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Mason's favorite books »