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Russian weather puts risks in focus.

31 Aug 2010

The Irish Times

RUSSIA'S SUMMER heatwave has dimmed prospects that northern countries will "win" from climate change thanks to factors such as longer crop-growing seasons or fewer deaths from winter cold, experts say.

Canada, Nordic countries and Russia have been portrayed as among a lucky few chilly nations where moderate climate change will mean net benefits such as lower winter heating bills, more forest and crop growth and perhaps more summer tourism.

Russia's two-month heatwave - blamed on global warming by president Dmitry Medvedev even though many experts say it is impossible to link individual weather events to climate change - is likely to shift the perceptions of risks.

"There ought to be, coming out of this, a greater awareness that many hazards come with climate change," said Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

"It's not a matter of a benign shift to a longer growing season for northern nations," he said. Russia's heatwave doubled death rates in Moscow, wrecked a quarter of Russia's grain crop and may cut $14 billion from gross domestic product.

Many people in Nordic nations and Canada have grown aware of possible damaging side effects of less chill weather, including the risk to forests and crops of insect pests normally kept in check by winter frosts.

But that belief is less widespread in Russia, where prime minister Vladimir Putin has in the past sometimes spoken about benefits of global warming. As president, in 2002 he joked that less icy weather would enable Russians to buy fewer fur coats.

"By and large, Canadians understand that there may be benefits but climate change is going to be bad," said Steven Guilbeault, of Canadian environmental group Equiterre. Extreme weather in 2010 "is going to help people understand the risks". He said government policy did not match the urgency felt by the public. Canada's greenhouse gas emissions were 24 per cent above 1990 levels in 2008, despite a promise under the UN's Kyoto Protocol to cut them to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

Russia's emissions were 33 per cent below 1990 levels in 2008, partly due to the collapse of high-polluting Soviet industries, and well within its Kyoto goal of keeping emissions below 1990 levels by 2012.

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