30 November: Putin speaks
Today was the first day of the UN climate conference in Paris (#COP21) and it began with 130 heads of state and government addressing the conference. This year marks the first time in UN climate history that the conference has opened with the Leaders Summit - normally, the heads of state only arrive at the end of the second week once the intense climate negotiations have already been conducted by country delegates.
But this time around the COP opened with the lofty speeches of
Obama, Cameron and co. in which they reconfirmed their commitment to fighting climate change and announced their domestic climate plans and
policies. Next they will move on to the technical negotiations on the text
of the new post-Kyoto climate agreement which should - all things gone well - result in the new Paris agreement being adopted by 11 December.
Joining other world leaders at the Summit today was Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who was among the first to speak. He used his time on stage to acknowledge the harm that climate change is already inflicting on Russia and the world: ‘Hurricanes, floods, droughts and other extreme weather phenomena caused by global warming are causing ever-greater economic losses and destroying our familiar and traditional environment. The quality of life of everyone on this planet, the global economic growth and sustainable social development of entire regions depend on our ability to resolve this climate problem.' In his speech he also summarised Russia's efforts in fighting climate change and noted Russia's sinking levels of greenhouse gas emissions throughout the 90s and 2000s; the role of the boreal forests in reducing global emissions; and the energy efficiency measures adopted by Russia so far.
Most of the Russian experts I have been speaking to here in Paris are reacting quite positively to Putin's speech as it seemed to reflect the marked change that has taken place over the past few years in Russia's attitude towards climate change. ‘Ten years ago climate change was something that people joked about in Russia. Five years ago is was an issue that still raised a lot of doubts among Russia's politicians and within its scientific communities. But today it is clear that Russia understands that it is in the same boat as everyone else; it acknowledges that climate change exists and that it is a serious threat to Russia and the world,’ Alexey Kokorin (head of the energy and climate programme with WWF-Russia).
But for others, Putin's words today were just that - words. 'The wording [of Putin's speech] was good for sure, and we are glad to hear it but the measures that have been suggested for curbing climate change in Russia - the world's fifth largest emitter after China, US, India and EU - are far from enough,' said Vladimir Chuprov, head of the energy programme with Greenpeace Russia. In his opinion, Russia should spend less time boasting about emissions reductions (reductions that occured primarily due to the economic collapse of the Eastern bloc) at conferences such as this one and more time investing in greater energy efficiency, renewable energy, boreal forest protection and waste management to provide for a sound climate policy at home.
And measures such as these are desperately needed in Russia where just last week Sergey Donskoy, the Russian minister for natural resources, estimated that in the year 2013 alone climate change cost the Russian economy 200 billion rubles ($3 billion) and caused more than 190 deaths.
Day one over.