Better to stop polluting than do nothing – climate expert

One may believe in global warming or not, but it will do no harm to start acting right now to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emissions, a Russian climate expert says.

­As a UN conference on climate change is underway in Mexico, RT talked to Aleksandr Bedritsky, the Russian president's adviser on global warming.

RT: Thank you for agreeing to sit down with us. The first question is about the Kyoto Protocol. What’s your take on it?

Aleksandr Bedritsky: It’s an efficient international regulation mechanism, which allowed the participating states to get a taste of collective work. It was not simple. If we look at the protocol now – the issue in question is whether to prolong the second period of the protocol. I would say that it is inefficient and inapplicable in its current format. President Medvedev has said Russia was not going to take part in the second period of the protocol. The reason for that is set out in the fourth report of an intergovernmental experts group, which states that global warming is accelerating. In order to prevent irreversible climate change we have to make sure that global temperatures increase by no more than two degrees. If it grows to a higher level, the accumulated changes in the climate and the biota will make life on Earth very uncomfortable for civilizations. The numbers in the fourth report state that all developed countries – we know that not every developed country is currently a member of the Kyoto Protocol – have to reduce their emissions by at least 40 per cent and then keep working on reducing them. So that’s why the Kyoto Protocol in its current format – without every developed country included on Amendment B, without the US on the list of participants and with China being the number one source of emissions, is pointless. Other developing countries such as India, Mexico and Brazil are not subject to any obligations in the current format of the Kyoto Protocol.   

RT: A faction of scientists believes global warming is a natural process that humans can’t influence. Are you a supporter of that theory?

AB: The global warming hypothesis that we currently use and its connection to human-generated emissions is confirmed by many models. When calculated, these models show that there is a link. As the concentration of greenhouse gases grows so do global temperature levels. There are theories stating that the warming is connected to geological and cosmic cycles. Those theories, as you understand, remain as theories. What do we do? What should the people and politicians believe? They can lull themselves into submission and think that nothing can be changed or they can try to influence those processes. Civilizations burn fuel and emit greenhouse gases as they develop. Those emissions can be cut. The population of the Earth is growing and we are at risk of finding ourselves in a very difficult situation within the next 20 or 30 years. We will be lacking resources if we don’t work hard on the conservation of those resources and energy efficiency. So from that viewpoint it is preferable to start that process than to do nothing.Russia is suggesting we sign a new agreement that would include all the major polluting countries regardless of whether or not they are classified as developed or developing. A lot of economies today depend on the growth of fuel consumption and therefore the growth of emissions. The difficult part is finding a line of development that would let economies and wealth grow without harming the climate or consuming more and more resources. There are ways to do that. It was done in the US in the 1970s. Of course it will require the mobilization of our resources, political will, and the right public attitude and so on. But it is a possibility. The president’s decree to raise the energy efficiency of our economy was not issued for nothing. We have massive reserves, in that sense. We could decrease the energy cost of our GDP by 20 per cent using simple measures, without even switching to high technology. Think about it. If we implement the measures envisaged in the government program, we will achieve the goals that are set out in it. That is, without impeding the development of our economy. If we follow the primitive path of development it would be impossible to grow without increasing our emissions. Russian experts who criticize the Kyoto Protocol have said that it obstructs Russia’s development. That’s wrong. An utterly populist statement, because the only way the development of a country can be obstructed by such an agreement is if the country in question is unable to fulfill the obligations it took upon itself.   

RT: But what the president probably meant is that we should raise energy efficiency because we ourselves would benefit from it, not because the world community wants us to.

AB: That’s entirely correct. It is the point I was trying to make when I said cutting greenhouse gas emissions leads to saving natural resources. It is important from the point of view of sustainable, environmentally-friendly development that would leave a potential for the development of future generations. Do you want your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to have something besides piles of garbage and exhausted wells? Then we have to work on it.

RT: So you think that such scandals do not have much influence on expert community, don’t you?

AB: Well, you know, I am not interested in any discussions whatsoever of any such issues. Why? Because it’s not British scientists who determine this. People are absolutely ignorant about how observations are made, how things are assessed and how they are summarized, what it’s all like – I mean whether there is global warming, or there is no such thing. That is why the role of some scientists is being exaggerated for advertising purposes. First, a part of the World Meteorological Organization is Global Atmosphere Watch co-ordinating observations of all the greenhouse gases. The center gathering the information about all greenhouse gases emission is located in Japan. There is a network of climate centers around the world, including Russia. Those centers are summing up observation data over their territories. There are strict rules and requirements in place concerning the centers watching climate, not just weather on a regular basis, but things to be summed up. As a rule, they have long observation history. As I say, there are strict requirements of the World Meteorological Organization, and therefore, observation mistakes – of course, there might be some, but they are few. If somebody takes a look at those data 50 years from now, they may state that something could have been done differently. But from the point of view of our today’s capacities and scientific facts we have, they fully comply with what we should have.I have great concerns that in this particular case those scandals are not about how those data are being gathered, but on how they are being presented to the intergovernmental group of experts assessing them. That’s where different interpretations may occur. For instance, I’ve been saying that according to some scientists, some countries should cut concentration of greenhouse gases by 25 to 40 per cent by 2020. That’s what European scientists introduced. My attitude towards it is that of distrust, because in this case scientists were tackling the issue from the political point of view. Interpreting scientific research data and drawing up a report on it can be politicized, and most likely this kind of politicizing was the case.

RT: Global warming has a great impact on the Arctic, a region where Russia plays a major role. What is Russia doing there to prevent the negative effects, and what’s currently going on there?

AB: Well, briefly speaking, global warming reduces the ice cover. Smaller ice area is not just mere reduction, it also means the emergence of icebergs. This wasn’t the case before. So, if talking of practical steps regarding shelf exploration for oil and gas, industrial development, it’s definitely being done. On the other hand, ice is a natural component of the climate system meaning balance. Smaller ice area leads to various effects. It is believed that global warming will lead to a colder climate in Europe, which is linked to the theories that water will impact thermal water circulation, and the Gulf Stream flowing close to Europe and reach the Barents Sea, which is never covered with ice, will become colder, and the regional climate will change. It is a possibility, but scientists have differences as to when it’s likely to happen. In other words, theoretically, it looks likely, but we don’t know exactly how much ice should melt and how long it will take. There are different assessments. According to the most alarming ones, it may occur in 2010 and Europe will be frozen. But this has not come true so far.

RT: But still, is Russia doing anything in the Arctic to prevent or to slow down this process?

AB: Definitely. First, the Arctic is one of the least explored regions of the world. Severe climate conditions and absence of people are the factors hindering the exploration, which can lead to understanding different processes there. It was Russia who initiated the Third International Polar Year in 2007-2008. According to the world scientific community, its scientific program has become one of the major scientific results of the beginning of the 21st Century. To ensure continuity, Russia has come up with the idea of holding the International Polar Decade. From the point of view of climate research and observations, we need exploration trips. We have drifting stations, but you understand that it’s just one spot drifting in the ocean, changing its position every year. As for satellite observations, we do not have satellites to give a complete picture. Polar orbital satellites are needed, which can provide time specific shots. Therefore, setting up such observation equipment is a major innovation objective. We announced and started up such a project consisting in creating the Arctic project. But the project has not gained momentum yet, while our colleagues in Canada and in the US and the EU are actively working in this area, because the one who manages to receive information on a regular basis will, first strengthen their knowledge and second, their positions. The Arctic region needs serious exploration. The Arctic is called the weather kitchen, and climate depends on the Arctic in many respects. Another thing I’d like to point out is that we have a state policy on the Arctic. We hold a number of scientific conferences and a number of scientific mechanisms in place, which help us understand what’s going on, as well as to sum up research data and the opportunity to carry out business in the Arctic, while minimizing human impact on the nature.

RT: We wish you and all of us good luck in fighting global warming. Thank you very much!