Putin Discusses Possibility That Global Warming Has Peaked – Newsweek
Russian President Vladimir Putin has discussed the possibility that global warming has peaked, in a conversation with scientists in Moscow.
Putin was talking with the winners of the Presidential Prize in Science and Innovation for Young Scientists on February 8, an official government transcript shows.
In an exchange with one of the prize-winners, Alexander Osadchiyev, the president asked about forecasts for the next several years regarding ice shrinking in the Arctic. Putin also enquired whether this trend will continue.
Responding to the question, Osadchiyev, a senior research fellow at Moscow’s Shirshov Institute of Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said: “I think it will, yes.
“I think the question is as follows: will there be much less ice in the coming years and will the Arctic be completely ice-free in 2050? Or will the ice cover stabilize at its current level? Will the Northern Sea Route remain open to traffic for a couple of months a year? And will there be completely ice-free passage along the Northern Sea Route? This is what the situation is like. Few people believe there will be more ice.”
Putin then said: “There are people who believe that, though… They believe we are past the peak of global warming, and a gradual fall in global temperatures is about to begin.”
It is not clear who the Russian president was referring to as the source of such a claim and whether he believes this view himself. However, climate models show that global temperatures will continue to rise over the coming years and decades.
What Are Putin’s Views on Climate Change?
It is hard to know what Putin really thinks about climate change. But, judging by his public statements, his opinion of the issue seems to have shifted. He has seemingly become more accepting of the issue over time, his latest comments notwithstanding.
“His rhetoric regarding climate change has changed significantly over the past several years,” Erdem Lamazhapov, a Ph.D. research Fellow at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Norway, told Newsweek. He has been studying climate policy in Russia and what the authorities are doing or saying about the issue. “Before, Putin often expressed his skepticism about the causes of climate change.”
Even as recently as 2019, for example, Putin was repeating an idea created by influential Russian scientists like Yuri Izrael. This theory was that, while climate change is happening and could have a serious impact on his country, no one knows if it is driven by human activities or is simply a cyclical global process.
“After all, we know that in the history of our Earth, there were such periods when there was both warming and cooling,” Putin said at a press conference in December 2019, Russian state-run newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported.
“This may depend on global processes in the Universe: a slight inclination of the Earth’s axis of rotation or its orbit around the sun can lead, and has already led in the history of our planet, to very serious climate changes.”
However, Putin has made more recent public statements that appear to contradict this view. In his Presidential Address in April 2021, Putin said Russia will start limiting emissions by 2050, even hinting that the country will become carbon neutral before the European Union.
“It is not likely that Putin ever had plans to seriously go through with these plans—even if people that drafted them hoped so,” Lamazhapov said.
He added that Putin likely made the comments because he wanted to score some popularity points during the virtual Leaders’ Summit on Climate. It was organized by U.S. President Joe Biden and was being held the following day.
In a press conference in June 2021, Putin also said: “Many people, not without reason, think that climate change is linked, most of all, to human activity, to emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere, primarily CO2.
“The tragedy isn’t that the climate in different regions of the Earth changes periodically, but that some believe that when the climate changes in certain regions and on the entire planet, it will come to a certain dangerous point… and if humanity adds to that, then irreversible processes may kick in which will make our planet look like Venus, where the surface temperature is around 500 degrees Celsius.”
According to The Moscow Times, Putin said this theory could be wrong but added that “we must minimize the impact we have.”
In his increasingly rare international appearances, the Russian leader likes to bring up climate change as an issue where there is common international interest, Lamazhapov said. Putin did this at that Leaders’ Summit and in his address to the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) on January 23 this year.
“Our close integration has become a worthy response to such global problems as poverty, climate change, shortage of resources, including the most important of them—food, water, and energy carriers, which have become aggravated due to the pandemic and the application of illegitimate sanctions by a number of countries,” Putin told the EEU, Turkish state-run news outlet Anadolu Agency reported.
Putin has used this tactic for some time. In 2015, for example, he said during a speech at the United Nations that climate change will affect the future of the entirety of humanity. He added that Russia was willing to co-sponsor a special forum under the auspices of the UN to address climate change. It would tackle other issues such as habitat destruction and the depletion of natural resources.
Another important issue for Putin is the Arctic. During the press conference in 2021, he said that about 70 percent of Russian territory is located in northern latitudes. A significant part of the country contains permafrost. If this thaws, then it would cause significant damage to the Russian economy, the Russian president said.
It is challenging to ascertain exactly what Putin knows and does not know about climate change. But, even if he believes that climate change is real, his knowledge on the topic is most likely “rudimentary,” Lamazhapov said.
At the same time, the researcher said that Putin has trivialized climate change. There are also indications that he sees global warming as potentially beneficial to Russia in some respects. For example, it could open up the Northern Sea Route for longer navigation periods.
How Is Russia Responding to Climate Change?
In Russia, climate policy has often focused on adaptation, rather than mitigation strategies. But policies have been weak, and adaptation has not been mainstreamed, a study authored by Lamazhapov and colleagues found.
Russian scientists have long warned of negative climate impacts—while also noting some positive effects—but policies at the state level have been lacking, the authors said.
In 2021, the Russian government put forward detailed recommendations for adaptation to climate change, indicating that greater political attention was being paid to the issue. But adaptation was largely framed as a “technical” task. Climate change is still not near the top of Russia’s political agenda.
“The actual work in creating adaptation strategies and emission-reduction work was done mostly in spite of Putin, rather thanks to him,” Lamazhapov said.
It is unlikely that Russia will implement any significant climate-change mitigation policies soon, according to the researcher.
“Adaptation to climate change is the response from Russian policymakers, but they think that they have time to procrastinate on that,” Lamazhapov said.
When it comes to Russia’s Paris Agreement emissions-reduction target of 30 percent below 1990, these are essentially “non-goals,” he added.
“Since the benchmark for Russian emission reductions is Soviet Russia in 1990, which was a very carbon-intensive economy, Russia practically can increase its emissions to meet them,” Lamazhapov said.
Further complicating the matter is the war in Ukraine, and Russia’s subsequent isolation. This will likely reduce the country’s capacity to implement low-carbon policies.