Climate Survey

Global Warming and Political Cold

Machine trans­la­tion

The past year brought a series of weath­er anom­alies: extreme heat and drought, high pre­cip­i­ta­tion and flood­ing. This spring began with a heat wave in Spain. We asked cli­mate experts Alexander Chernokulsky and Olga Dobrovidova about weath­er anom­alies and asked them to assess the devel­op­ment of glob­al warm­ing as well as how Russia’s posi­tion on inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion on a vari­ety of cli­mate-relat­ed issues affects the glob­al envi­ron­men­tal agenda.

1. Global warm­ing. Last sum­mer set a string of neg­a­tive records. Extreme heat and drought in China, Europe, and North America had dire con­se­quences for many coun­tries. The Yangtze River has shal­lowed. In France, nuclear reac­tors had to be shut down — there was no way to cool them. Navigation on the Rhine River came to a halt. There was unprece­dent­ed flood­ing in Pakistan, due to heavy rain­fall and melt­ing glac­i­ers in the head­wa­ters of the Indus.
Do you think this is a short-term weath­er anom­aly or a glob­al warm­ing phe­nom­e­non? Are the CO2 reduc­tion pro­grams adopt­ed today help­ing? Is human­i­ty capa­ble of keep­ing warm­ing to with­in 2℃ or should we pre­pare for the worst already today?

2. Russia and the World. The past few months have seen some of the largest cli­mate and envi­ron­ment con­fer­ences in the UN includ­ing the Biodiversity Summit in December 2022, the Global Ocean Protection Agreement in March, and the recent Water Conference in March 22-24. These con­fer­ences set glob­al goals and adopt very spe­cif­ic pro­grams. Russia is the largest coun­try by area. It has the longest bor­der in the Arctic and a huge area of per­mafrost. Without Russia, the accu­ra­cy of weath­er mon­i­tor­ing and cli­mate long-term fore­casts decreas­es. The need for its par­tic­i­pa­tion in glob­al pro­grams is beyond doubt.
What is the real par­tic­i­pa­tion of the Russian Federation in inter­na­tion­al envi­ron­men­tal and cli­mate projects today? Do you see any signs that Russia’s work in glob­al pro­grams is wind­ing down?


Alexander Chernokulsky, A.M.Obukhov Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia

1. Global Warming. From the sci­en­tif­ic papers on attri­bu­tion that I have seen, some of the events list­ed are con­fi­dent­ly attrib­uted to cli­mate change (well, more pre­cise­ly, their prob­a­bil­i­ty becomes sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er with cur­rent changes). These are, for exam­ple, the floods in Pakistan and the heat­wave in Europe. In gen­er­al, not every abnor­mal event is relat­ed to cli­mate change, a num­ber of them become more frequent/​intensified, some become weak­er with cli­mate change, some hard­ly change at all. Regarding reduc­tions pro­grams: in my opin­ion, so far they are total­ly insuf­fi­cient to some­how reduce our car­bon foot­print (this can also be seen in the emis­sion curve, which is grow­ing upwards with a lit­tle break for the 2008 finan­cial cri­sis and the 2020 pan­dem­ic). I don’t think human­i­ty is capa­ble of keep­ing warm­ing with­in 2℃ lim­its because of the low bar­gain­ing pow­er of coun­tries and inter­ests oth­er than cli­mate. I think mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures will sta­bi­lize at around 2.2-2.52℃. We have to pre­pare for the worst - we have to, alas.

2. Russia and the World. Russia’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in these pro­grams is quite full-fledged, I do not observe any curtailment.


Olga Dobrovidova, sci­ence jour­nal­ist, cli­mate change sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tor, free­lance writer for Science, vice pres­i­dent of the European Federation of Science Journalism (EFSJ).

1. Global Warming. Whether these are all short-term weath­er anom­alies, or whether glob­al warm­ing is man­i­fest­ing itself in this way, is not a mat­ter of opin­ion, but a field of cli­mate sci­ence called attri­bu­tion stud­ies. Using his­tor­i­cal data and cli­mate mod­els, sci­en­tists can fig­ure out how rapid human-induced cli­mate change has affect­ed the like­li­hood of cer­tain extreme weath­er events. I have a large text in Russian on how this research has evolved in the pre­vi­ous decade from the abnor­mal heat wave in Moscow in 2010 to +38℃ in Verkhoyansk in June 2020.

The rapid devel­op­ment of cli­mate attri­bu­tion proved to be so impor­tant that it was not­ed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In March of this year, the IPCC pre­sent­ed its Synthesis Report, the last in this sixth cycle (the next time we’ll hear about their work will be at least three to four years from now). Since this report sum­ma­rizes pre­vi­ous reports, there is noth­ing new there, but it is con­ve­nient to use it as a kind of «abstract» of cli­mate sci­ence as of 2023. The text of the report is avail­able in English, in Russian so far there is only a press release in a non-ide­al trans­la­tion. This is, of course, just a press release, albeit a sci­en­tif­ic and polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, but here is what it says:

More than a cen­tu­ry of burn­ing fos­sil fuels and the uneven and unsus­tain­able use of ener­gy and land has led to a glob­al warm­ing of 1.1°C above pre-indus­tri­al lev­els. The result has been more fre­quent and more intense extreme weath­er events, with increas­ing­ly dan­ger­ous impacts on nature and peo­ple in all regions of the world.

Your oth­er ques­tions with the IPCC report can be answered by the «sand­wich prin­ci­ple.» Developments in tech­nol­o­gy (and the eco­nom­ic instru­ments to sup­port it) have, for exam­ple, made ener­gy from renew­able sources very much cheap­er. A cou­ple of dozen coun­tries have already man­aged to «decar­bonize» eco­nom­ic growth, mean­ing that their economies are now grow­ing, but their green­house gas emis­sions are not. Awareness of the prob­lem is grow­ing, and more and more peo­ple, com­pa­nies, orga­ni­za­tions, and even whole regions are fac­tor­ing cli­mate into their actions. All of this led David Wallace-Wells, author of the book about an «The Uninhabited Earth,» to pub­licly reclas­si­fy him­self as a mod­er­ate opti­mist at the end of 2022.

At the same time, if we add up all the cur­rent­ly announced plans of coun­tries to aban­don fos­sil fuels and oth­er mea­sures, the out­put will be not one and a half or two degrees of warm­ing, as in the Paris Agreement, but rather some­where around 2.8℃ (and that is at best, if all these plans are imple­ment­ed). To stay on the «Paris» tra­jec­to­ry, glob­al green­house gas emis­sions need to be cut by almost half of 2019 lev­els by 2030. The IPCC, as a decent and polit­i­cal­ly neu­tral orga­ni­za­tion, can­not direct­ly say that the prob­a­bil­i­ty of such an out­come is objec­tive­ly low. It is not impos­si­ble, of course, but the expe­ri­ence of the pre­vi­ous 30 years promis­es lit­tle good in this regard.

Nevertheless, all this does not mean that we can go home and «pre­pare for the worst.» Climate change adap­ta­tion pro­grams are cer­tain­ly nec­es­sary, but they alone will not be enough. Every frac­tion of a degree mat­ters in terms of con­se­quences for nature and peo­ple, and avoid­ing this warm­ing is eas­i­er than try­ing to «roll back the changes» lat­er. That’s why mod­ern­iza­tion of ener­gy, agri­cul­ture, trans­porta­tion, and oth­er indus­tries needs to be accelerated.

2. Russia and the World. Most glob­al envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion mech­a­nisms with­in and beyond the United Nations are designed so that deci­sions are tak­en by con­sen­sus: all par­ties to a con­ven­tion or treaty must agree to them, and for­mal­ly exclud­ing some­one from the process is a tech­ni­cal­ly com­plex action that will have polit­i­cal con­se­quences. Therefore, unac­cept­able actions by the Russian state in Ukraine, and in Russia itself, are expect­ed to affect the work of these mech­a­nisms, but most often do not block it com­plete­ly; in light of the seri­ous­ness of the prob­lems being dis­cussed there, a diplo­mat­ic stale­mate is not ben­e­fi­cial to anyone.

But, of course, inter­na­tion­al nego­ti­a­tions are only part of the work, the most offi­cial, but by no means the most impor­tant. And in this part, we have to admit, the Russian Federation has not shone par­tic­u­lar­ly well. But there is also sci­en­tif­ic research, edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams, a vari­ety of eco­nom­ic mech­a­nisms, tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment, pol­i­cy at the region­al and local lev­el, activism, the task of adapt­ing to cli­mate change - much of this has been suc­cess­ful­ly devel­oped in Russia, often not thanks to, but some­what «per­pen­dic­u­lar» to the offi­cial state posi­tion. This work does not require con­sen­sus, and in many cas­es coop­er­a­tion with the Russian state and those affil­i­at­ed with it has ceased. Here the grow­ing gap between Russia and the rest of the world ulti­mate­ly hurts every­one, Russia itself first and fore­most, but not only. But what is even sad­der is that the Russian gov­ern­ment is now per­ma­nent­ly «poi­son­ing the well» for all Russians: it is easy to destroy these ties, it will be hard­er to restore them.


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