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3 Jun, 2010 09:10

There are positive things about global warming – Medvedev’s advisor

Does climate change really pose a great threat to the planet, and how can countries take advantage of global warming? RT spoke to Aleksandr Bedritsky, the Russian presidential advisor on climate change.

RT: At the end of 2009, the Russian president signed the climate doctrine. Could you state its main principles?

Aleksandr Bedritsky: True, on December 17 our president signed the climate doctrine, determining the country’s long-term climate policies, so that we could have an adequate response to climate changes. We know that climate changes could affect a number of processes. For example, they can worsen living conditions in different countries or affect food and water supplies in a negative way. So our country needs to assess current trends, possible threats in terms of economy, international security, and come up with an adequate response. Of course our national interests are a priority in this respect. There are several climate zones in our country. And there are specific threats that may not be relevant for other countries. They could potentially damage our economic development, cause certain social issues, have a negative affect on our people’s health.

Another important principle is that Russia’s climate policy has to be transparent and clear. These issues affect all people, so every person should understand what our state plans to do in this area and how it will do it.

There should be a principle of caution when implementing measures. We should build our economy taking into consideration negative and positive influence of climate change. We also need to understand that it is necessary to take preventive measures. We participate in international projects, which allows us to implement new technologies and realise the strategy of lowering greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect climate. So we need to be cautious and try not to set climate change in motion, but we also need to be careful when reacting to climate change.

RT: Nevertheless, Russia’s president said that this climate doctrine is a “live” document, meaning it is a work in progress, and changes could be made to it. Is it because some elements of the doctrine are hard to implement?

AB: The doctrine has a chapter where it says that climate policies may change. Several factors may play a role here – new research findings, change in the policies of other countries. We made our position known to the international community – we are ready to work in the framework of a global agreement, under which all countries would agree to take measures to protect the climate, in order to stop global warming by the middle of the 21st century, in order to prevent serious consequences in the future. At the same time we are facing certain difficulties in drafting the global treaty because different countries are not united on a number of issues. The president said that we were ready to work on the global treaty and participate in this process, but if the global treaty was not signed Russia would take the steps internally that it had planned and it had announced. We will take such measures, because they are beneficial to us. These measures are based on the modernisation of the economy. To decrease the impact on climate, first and foremost, we must use fewer resources. And we are pursuing several goals here. You know that resources are not infinite. Oil and gas resources are limited, therefore, the more we save and the less we spend per production item, the better and the more competitive our products are.
It means leaving something to future generations, leaving something of these reserves and these resources, as well as shifting to renewable energy – all these actions, all these plans are beneficial to our country.

RT: I see. A question regarding exploration of the Arctic. Quite recently president Medvedev undertook a Scandinavian tour. An argument with Norway about continental shelf delimitation has been settled. We’ve seen talks with Denmark on joint exploration of the Arctic. Does it mean that we should explore it together?

AB: The thing is that in Norway the foreign ministers have at least signed a treaty which states their agreement in principle on delimitation. But nonetheless, the treaty on delimitation itself has not been signed yet. But this agreement in principle already allows setting technical delimitation criteria. Generally speaking, they agreed on drawing a line in the middle of the disputed area – roughly speaking. The problem does exist. There are such notions as territorial waters, continental shelf and exclusive economic zone. What does it mean? Territorial waters are the area 12 miles from the coastline, and the country has sovereign rights on this territory. Metaphorically speaking, this is the country’s territory. These waters are the country’s territory. Continental shelf is the notion used in the Convention on the Law of the Sea. It has been amended twice in the 1950s and in 1982.

It says that a country may declare its continental shelf to be its exclusive economic zone. It means that the territories outside the territorial waters, which is a 200-miles zone under the Convention of the Law of the Sea. A country is entitled to the resources within this zone – it is allowed to fish there and so on and so forth. But it cannot ban ships of other countries from sailing in this zone; it cannot prohibit the construction of pipelines by other countries. According to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the zone exceeding the exclusive economic zone is the zone of more than 200 miles and less than 350 miles from the coastline. Our application at the beginning of 2 000 concerned this zone. This zone can be assigned to a country if it proves that sea ranges are part of the land. Now we need to get these proofs, and certain works are being carried out as part of the International Polar Year of 2007-2008, and I think that we will prove our rights.

RT: What about large-scale phenomena? Is it possible to predict such natural disasters as the recent volcano eruption in Iceland? It inflicted huge losses to airliners and their passengers. The world was simply paralyzed. So was it possible to predict such a large-scale phenomenon? What are its consequences for the global climate?

AB: The International Civil Aviation Organization – ICAO – has set up 9 centres, which observe volcanic activity. Each of these centres is in charge of a certain area. The problem is that it is impossible to forecast the scale of the volcanic emission. It is possible to record the beginning of eruption by earthquake data, by remote sounding data, by satellites, because its heating will be seen within the infra-red band. The ash in polar latitudes can appear in the area for which no centre is responsible. There are two such areas in the world – it’s a part of Antarctica – as there are no volcanoes there – and a part of our territory – Siberia, Novaya Zemlya – this area, including Chukotka, Kamchatka etc. If ash goes to this area and if cross-polar flights are scheduled for this time, there may be a problem.

Therefore, I know that this issue is going to be discussed. This area should either become the responsibility of one of the centres or there is a need to set up a new centre, let’s say, in our country. Eruption consequences definitely exist. The spray being erupted (the small particles) if an eruption is massive and the particles are thrown high into the sky as was the case with this volcano, they increase reflective capacity, i.e. less solar energy is available. And this leads to lower temperatures. This was the case with Mount Pinatubo in late 1980s early 1990s. For a couple of years before the spray went down, the temperatures did not go up. In this respect a volcano leads to cooling.

RT: Last year there was a scandal among British climatologists. Their e-mail correspondence was made public, in which they allegedly discussed distortion of forecasts. Then they were acquitted by court. What do you think? Is such distortion of meteorological data possible? What can it lead to?

AB: It is practically impossible to distort the data for a simple reason. These data are available to all the countries. They circulate the global telecommunication system of the World Meteorological Organization.
As they are accumulated, these data become the basis for climate observation. Climate observation requires not short-term data – 12-15-hour data, but rather summarised data for at least one month. Therefore, incorrect interpretation and summary may be the case. These methods are not simple. Using these methods scientists average the data to receive the data typical of a particular area over a certain time period. And naturally, there are ongoing discussions regarding these methods among scientists. But the very system of preparing for scientific research, of preparing climate data and the methods of summarising climate data provides for avoiding mistakes. There might be mistakes, few mistakes, but gross distortion leading to completely incorrect interpretation is out of the question. But when the people who do not know this system and are unaware of the details get access to such information, they give incorrect interpretations.

RT: Many believe that the attempts at the previous climate conference in Copenhagen were not successful. What’s the stumbling block here?

AB: You know, the following is the current situation after the Copenhagen Treaty was drafted. It states the need for joint effort of all the countries – both developed and developing ones, and it is a step forward as compared to the Kyoto Protocol, which says that developed countries must act and undertake responsibility, while developing countries must strengthen their capacities in terms of stats and scientific research etc. and undertake no obligations.

In this respect it was a step forward made in Copenhagen. But an interesting question arises here. It appears that global measures are to be taken under two different treaties. It is not very convenient, as you see.

Developing countries are supposed to be signatories to both the Kyoto Protocol – getting the resources and using its flexibility – and to the new long-term treaty. While the developed countries must position their obligations only within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol. That’s their opinion. This is simply unacceptable to many countries who understand that only joint action under universally acceptable conditions may lead to success.

RT: This year during the Olympics in Canada the country faced the following problem. The country where it is traditionally snowy lacked snow. So, it was hard to run the Olympics. Could it be the case in Sochi in 2014?

AB: The thing is that when a country files an application to host the Winter Olympics, its climate conditions are studied first of all – its average snowfall in a particular month at a certain place, possible years when there might be no snow – as snow is distributed unevenly, especially in the mountains. Therefore, there is such a possibility, of course. In such cases special equipment is used – it has been tested at ski resorts – the so-called snow-making machines are used. It is possible to add the required amount of snow wherever needed.

RT: We’ve now talked about unpleasant surprises, like bad weather conditions. Are any improvements likely globally and in Russia? What can contribute to these improvements?

AB: There are positive factors in terms of global warming. Higher crop levels could follow if we carry out relevant agricultural activities. But if we continue exhausting our soil as we’ve been doing until now, then we won’t see more crops. It means more water resources at certain places. Our country has various conditions. If the water resources get smaller, say, in the European part, it will mean negative consequences. If the water resources grow in Siberia, it will be beneficial for shipping and energy generating at hydro-power plants. Global warming will mean a shorter winter heating season, for instance. Four to five days less would mean a huge saving for our economy.