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|Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
travelled beyond the Arctic Circle on Monday to look into evidence
for climate change after a record heatwave ravaged central Russia
Putin, who has in the past displayed a light-hearted approach to
global warming by joking Russians would have to buy fewer fur coats,
flew to a scientific research station in the Samoilovsky island at
the delta of Siberia’s Lena River.
“The climate is changing. This year we have come to understand this
when we faced events that resulted in fires,” Mr. Putin told climate
scientists working at the station, opened in 1998 to study the
melting Siberian permafrost.
The two-month heatwave, Russia’s worst on record, killed 54 people
in forest fires, destroyed a quarter of the grain crop and shaved at
least $14-billion off the economy.
Mr. Putin, who has sought to burnish his action-man image flying
firefighting planes and facing angry fire victims, was clearly
stunned by the extent of the natural disaster, likening it to Nazi
Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union.
Though experts say it is impossible to link individual weather
events to climate change, the heatwave has shown signs of shifting
perceptions of global warming risks among northern nations such as
Russia, Canada and the Nordic countries.
Mr. Putin, dressed in a warm jacket, told the scientists on the
barren tundra that he was still waiting for an answer whether global
climate change was the result of human activity or “the Earth living
its own life and breathing”.
He argued that the end of the Ice Age which forced woolly mammoths
to seek refuge in Samoilovsky and other Arctic islands ten thousand
years ago was not mankind’s fault and sought advice on how to handle
“Which islands should we be fleeing to?” he asked.
Scientists blame global warming on emissions of greenhouse gases
from burning fossil fuels. Mr. Putin, keen for Russia to retain
position as one of the leading exporters of oil and gas, has spoken
dismissively of alternative energy sources.
Russia’s own greenhouse gases emissions are well within its Kyoto
goal of keeping them below 1990 level by 2012, but are set to rise
as the country bids to develop manufacturing.
Russia was the fourth biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in 2009,
according to energy firm BP, and is a key player in efforts to agree
a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, whose first phase ends in 2012.
Scientists say that melting Siberian permafrost which stretches up
to 1.5 km into the ground will accelerate the global warming process
further, as huge quantities of methane gas are released into the