For a fresh look at climate change

The International Union of Railways representative, Margaret Sagevik, one of the participants of the international "Train to Copenhagen" project, seen leaving a special Russian Railways carriage at a railway terminal in Moscow on December 1, 2009. The purpose of the journey was to attract attention to rail as a part of the solution to the "greenhouse gas" exhaustion problem, as transport causes nearly one quarter of the global CO2 emissions.   | Photo Credit: Pavel Golovkin

The “Climategate” over the alleged rigging of temperature data in support of global warming might not have contributed to the failure of the world summit in Copenhagen but it highlighted the need for a fresh look at the problem of climate change. Russia, for one, has pledged to undertake such a review. A new climate doctrine signed into law by President Dmitry Medvedev during the Copenhagen conference stresses the importance of making “independent assessments and conclusions on the basis of exhaustive, objective and authentic information on the current and possible future climate changes.”

The objectivity of the data supporting man-made global warming was thrown into doubt when a thousand private emails were hacked in November from the computer of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (Hadley CRU) and posted on a Russian website in what came to be known as the “Climategate.” In the emails, climatologists apparently discussed doctoring the raw temperature figures to show a relentlessly rising global warming trend and silencing dissenting scientists.

Russian researchers poured more fuel in the scandal, accusing British climatologists of manipulating weather data for Russia. In a report released last month, the Moscow-based Institute for Economic Analysis (IEA) said the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research of the British Meteorology Office used only carefully selected statistics from weather stations in Russia that fitted its global warming theory, and ignored those that did not.

The Hadley Centre ignored data from three quarters of the weather stations in Russian territory. This means 40 per cent of Russia’s territory is not represented in the world’s most important temperature database, on which the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others have relied for more than two decades.

Worse still, the British climatologists preferred data from warmer urban met stations in Russia to those in rural areas, especially Siberia, the IEA report said. All in all, the institute evaluated “the overstating of the scale of the warming” for Russia between 1870s and 1990s, at 0.64 degrees Celsius at the very least. Distorted temperatures for Russia, which accounts for 12.5 per cent of the global landmass, must have led to exaggerated global warming levels (estimated at 0.74 C over the past 100 years), the report said.

Discussing climate change with Russia’s leading scientists in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit, Mr. Medvedev said politics, commercial interests and emotions “heavily weighed down on” climate predictions. He suggested that the human factor in climate change could be greatly overstated and drew parallels with the 2000 software scare that prompted governments and businesses to spend an estimated $300 billion to fight the non-existent “millennium bug.” “When the clocks rolled over into 2000 nothing happened, but moneys were earned and pocketed,” the Russian leader said.

Russian Academy of Sciences Vice-President Nikolai Laverov recalled the ozone depletion scare that led to an international ban on Freon gas in the 1980s and enriched a U.S. company that introduced an alternative refrigerant. “We have since proved that refrigerants do not destroy the ozone layer,” the academician told Mr. Medvedev. He said the post-Kyoto climate debate amounted to “an attack on countries rich in oil and gas.”

“The anti-hydrocarbons bias is there, of course,” Mr. Medvedev agreed. “We must not allow them to pull the wool over our eyes.” Analysts see Europe as the main driving force behind the anti-carbon campaign. “Europe’s own hydrocarbon reserves are fast dwindling and hence it is actively promoting the idea of giving up oil and gas for ecological reasons,” says Konstantin Simonov of the Russian Centre for Current Politics think tank.

Mr. Medvedev strongly warned against trying to tax hydrocarbons producers, calling such proposals “witch-hunting” that would kill any climate agreement. A growing number of Russian scientists — solar physicists, biologists, palaeontologists, geographers — believe that the world climate changes in recurring cycles are related to solar activity and many other natural factors ( The Hindu, July 10, 2008).

The new Russian doctrine reflects the widespread scepticism in the Russian scientific community over climate change. “The doctrine mirrors the view of our scientists that the human impact on climate change is still unclear and hard to gauge,” Mr. Medvedev’s economic adviser Arkady Dvorkovich said. “In large measure, climate change is linked with long-playing global trends, and irrespective of what we do changes will persist due to natural causes; therefore, we will take measures to adapt to changes.”

Yet in Copenhagen, Russia did nothing to undermine the talks. Addressing the conference, the President pledged to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 25 per cent or 30 billion tonnes by 2020 compared with 1990 so long as this was part of a global pact. His offer did not mean that he had become a climate change zealot. Rather he backed a global agreement in Copenhagen because it would facilitate access for Russia to energy saving technologies and thereby help advance his goal of modernising the Russian industry.

“We must be in the mainstream … in order to try and solve our economic problems and create an energy efficient economy,” Mr. Medvedev said before travelling to Copenhagen. “The so-called global climate deal gives us a real chance to expand scientific innovation cooperation with our partners … an opportunity to switch to advanced technologies.”

Russia, which is the third largest producer of carbon dioxide today, would strive to cut emissions by adopting energy efficiency measures rather than by slapping restrictions on industry, Mr. Medvedev said. He has promised to make Russia 40 per cent more energy efficient by 2020.

“We will not make any emission reduction commitments that may negatively affect our economic growth,” Mr. Dvorkovich said. This idea underlies the Russian doctrine. “The strategic goal of climate policy is to guarantee the secure and stable development of the Russian Federation,” the doctrine declares. Russia will shape its climate policy “on the basis of national interests.”

Over the next decade or so, emission cuts will not hamper Russia’s growth. Its emissions declined so sharply when the industrial sector collapsed after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 that the 25-per cent reduction target Mr. Medvedev announced in Copenhagen would actually mean an increase of 13 per cent from 2007. Russia feels it has already made more than a generous contribution to the Kyoto process.

“Our country accounts for half of all emission reductions in the world over the last 20 years,” Mr. Medvedev said at the summit. “This has gone a long way towards offsetting increases in harmful emissions in other countries.”

His use of the term “harmful emissions,” instead of “carbon dioxide” or “greenhouse gases,” is significant. Many Russian scientists believe that the anti-CO 2 warriors are diverting attention from the real problem of air and water pollution. “We should fight real harmful emissions, such as nitrogen oxides and a range of other pollutants spewed by our industry and vehicles, not carbon dioxide, a perfectly harmless gas which is moreover essential for the life of plants and animals,” said academician Andrei Kapitsa, a renowned Russian geographer.

Climatologists deliberately confuse the two issues, claiming that a low-carbon economy would kill two birds with one stone — save the world from global warming and improve ecology. However, if man is powerless to influence climate, as Russian scientists say, why throw away billions of dollars on burying carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels underground or combating methane emission from animal husbandry. Surely, not because corporate interests are salivating to create a carbon emissions credits market double the size of the oil market? Wouldn’t it be more sensible, as the Russian doctrine proposes, to concentrate on measures to adapt to climate changes?

Russia’s open mind on climate issues and emphasis on independent studies could pave the way for a truly objective international review of the causes and effects of climate change. “It is necessary to fund and organise climate research in such a way that scientists are protected from the state’s political interference and even from fellow scientists,” says Prof. Konstantin Sonin of the New Economic School in Moscow

A vast body of scientific evidence challenging the man-made warming theory has been accumulated in Russia and other countries. It shatters the myth of a Global Warming Consensus. The BRIC group, whose sustainable development plans would be derailed if the West imposes its selfish climate agenda on the world, could take the initiative in launching climate research outside the framework of the U.N. Panel on Climate Change, which has sought to exclude critics from the debate. The two-decades-old Indo-Russian Integrated Long-Term Programme (ILTP) of scientific collaboration could provide an initial basis for multination across-discipline studies of climate-related problems.

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