Morality and Law
How Perception of Global Warming Is Changing in Russia

The Valdai Forum 2020 will go down in history as one of the turning points in the acceptance of these processes by society. For the first time, the Russian leadership, business and the scientific community share a common rhetoric, for the first time they all speak together about the need for urgent and comprehensive measures to reduce emissions, writes Alexey Ekaykin, Leading Researcher at the Climate and Environmental Research Laboratory of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in Saint Petersburg.

On November 4, 2020, the President of the Russian Federation published a decree On the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which provides for a reduction of emissions to 70% of their 1990 level. Currently Russias emissions are about 50% of their 1990 level. Thus, this decree actually envisages an increase in emissions of 40 percent over the next 10 years.

The situation with the perception of global warming in Russia and throughout the world is somewhat reminiscent of the transformation of societys attitude towards the coronavirus pandemic. If you remember, in the spring, during the first wave, there were a huge number of Covid dissidents, but by autumn their number had noticeably decreased. Its hard not to change your attitude when people you know get sick and die, when social media is full of photos of overcrowded hospitals amid frightening reports of a mounting death toll.

With climate changes, of course, it is more difficult: changes are an order of magnitude slower, the physics of the process is an order of magnitude more difficult to comprehend, and it is also difficult (for anyone who is not a specialist in the field of climatology) to reconcile adverse weather with the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, which, moreover, we cannot feel directly. And yet: during the heat wave in Moscow in 2010, there was still no link in the mass consciousness between this natural disaster and global warming. However, 10 years have passed, and the forest fires of 2019 and 2020, as well as the ongoing environmental catastrophe off the coast of Kamchatka, are already directly linked in the minds of Russian to the adverse anthropogenic impact on our planet.

The Global Climate Agenda and Carbon Neo-Colonialism
Climate change is becoming an increasingly important and politicised topic on the global agenda. The great challenges associated with the interaction between man and nature have begun to be perceived more and more seriously as a basis for practical action, both on the global and national levels. There is also growing support for such initiatives among the general public in different countries.
Club events

The Valdai Forum 2020 will go down in history as one of the turning points in the acceptance of these processes by society. For the first time, the Russian leadership, business and the scientific community share a common rhetoric, for the first time they all speak together about the need for urgent and comprehensive measures to reduce emissions.

When we speak of “global warming” the word “global” is multifaceted. This is not only a postulation of the fact that warming is observed practically throughout the entire Earth. This word also emphasises the interconnectedness of all processes in the Earth’s ecosystem. The production of hydrocarbons is mainly limited to a small group of countries (including Russia and Saudi Arabia), their consumption and the bulk of emissions occur in another group(developed countries, China, India), while most of the negative trends occur in the polar regions (the destruction of Greenland glaciers and Antarctica, the melting of permafrost in Siberia), and the poorest countries of Africa and Asia are dealt the main blow of these negative consequences (and will continue to do so in the future). A striking example is the state of Tuvalu in Oceania, which is literally sinking into the ocean due to rising sea levels, despite its negligible contribution to warming. This is an important lesson of the ongoing processes: no one can say “my house is on the edge, I will wait for these processes out on the side-lines,” and no one can say “I have counted profits and losses — and, perhaps, warming will be profitable for me, so I will not reducing emissions,” a this is stupid and unethical.

Another important lesson of these global processes is that the humanity is now at a point of bifurcation, at a crossroads.
The decisions and actions that will be taken over the next 10-20 years will determine the face of the planet for centuries to come.

If we follow the “blue trajectory” (reduction of emissions, limitation of warming to 1.5-2 C° by the end of the century), we will keep the planet approximately the same as it is now, although we will not do this without losses. If we follow the “red trajectory” (“business as usual”, we live as we have lived and do not change anything), the consequences will be wide and large-scale, and the losses are huge and poorly predicted. And, most importantly, if we step on the red trajectory, we will no longer be able to turn back and choose the right path.

Why is it so? Because the earthly system is characterised by a large number of irreversible processes that, once started, will no longer be able to stop, even if we suddenly put our minds to reducing the global temperature. The clearest example is the mass balance of West Antarctica. For a number of reasons, this glacier is dynamically unstable, and if its degradation starts, it will be irreversible on a scale of hundreds of years (this mechanism is called “Marine Ice Sheet Instability”), which will inevitably lead to a rise in sea level by several meters in 100-200 years.

We observe another important lesson: large-scale investments in science are needed, including the study of such seemingly distant and unrelated topics as Antarctica. Without this, it will be impossible to fully understand the processes taking place now, to predict their future development, or to assess their consequences for nature and society.

Last but not least, yes, the Covid epidemic and the associated global lockdown have slightly reduced the pressure on nature and will likely lead to some reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 compared to the previous year. But this will not only not stop global warming, it won’t even slow it down. To overcome this global challenge, immeasurably larger measures are needed. Yes, it will be expensive. But adapting to the impact of these changes in 2-3 decades will be much more expensive than the measures we can take now to limit these changes.
A Changing Climate. The Fifth Session of the 17th Annual Meeting
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.