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There has never been a consensus that man is to blame for global warming among the experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

I was among the fiercest opponents and have challenged that document because it is not scientifically valid. The UN Framework Climate Change Convention says the concentration of greenhouse gases must be such as to rule out the danger of anthropogenic impact on the climate. But where is that level? Nobody knows, so it can be fixed arbitrarily.

World leaders agreed in Copenhagen to use as a reference point the 1900 temperature, the pre-industrial era, and to do everything not to exceed this level by more than two degrees. This amounts to an admission, even if implicit, that man is the cause of warming. But there were periods in Earth’s history when man did not exist and the temperature exceeded current temperatures by 10-12C and the greenhouse concentration was 10 to 15 times higher.

Over the centuries, our temperature has waxed and waned for reasons that are not fully understood. Let us take the last 100 years. The average temperature decreased between 1900 and 1910, but increased by nearly 1C by the 1940s despite the wars when industry was in low gear and greenhouse emissions were comparatively low. How does one account for such a rise in temperature? Those who insist that there is global warming have no answer. Then the temperature began to decline even as industry recovered. The drop in temperature continued until 1975 before sharp growth set in, which continues to this day.

In this situation of uncertainty, it appears the Kyoto Protocol is costing trillions of dollars. That is what has to be spent to stop the increase of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet even if such astronomical sums are spent, success is not assured.

On future cooling

Many scientists say that the climate will become colder and not warmer and that the planet is entering another cycle of cold. This is based on geological data collected over thousands of years. There is no direct proof that cooling will happen, but there is indirect evidence.

For example, 10,000 years ago the icing cycle ended and the warming phase set in. Maximum average temperatures were reached 5,500 years ago, and since then it has fallen. There have been temperature leaps, but the overall trend has been downward. On that basis, scientists predict a cold age and dismiss the current warming as another temperature spike.

The data on greenhouse concentrations are interesting. If their concentration reaches about 180-200 molecules per million molecules of air, the ice age on the earth will set in. In 1900, the figure was 280 molecules, today it is 380. For the sake of comparison, when the temperature on the planet was 10-12C higher than today, that figure was 4,000-6,000 molecules.

In other words, we are closer to an ice age but we are drifting away from that boundary. True, cycles last thousands of years and if the geologists are right, an ice age will occur in the distant future while a sharp temperature rise is already happening.

On the whole, I can say that science has no clear idea of how and why climate changes, there are many imponderables, which preclude any hard and fast conclusions. The chances to be wrong are too great.

Climate history

Just how unique is the current weather anomaly for Russia? In their book A Thousand Year Chronicle of Unusual Natural Phenomena , Borisenkov and Pasetsky, drawing on Russian chronicles and those of other countries, on data from the study of Greenland ice and the width of the annual tree trunk rings, registered climate fluctuations over several millennia.

For example, the warmest period in Europe was between 1150 and 1300, when the climate was hotter than it is today, meteorologists point out. Even in Greenland the temperature reached 9C in July-August. Tall trees and grass grew there and fish and animals abounded.

This was also a favourable period for Russia, but later the climate developed out of sync. While between 900 and 1300, one or two droughts occurred every hundred years, in the 14th and 15th centuries there were 11 or 12 droughts and eight to 13 floods in each century.

Chroniclers recorded 12 “great heat waves” in the 14th century, eight sweeping the whole of Russia. Cities burned, epidemics and epizootics flared up and many thought that this was the end of the world. An unusual heat struck Russia in 1364, and in 1368 “it was dark for three months”. It was so hot that “fish died in the rivers”.

Three years later there was another heat wave and there were fires when people could not see each other “at a distance of one fathom”. Throughout the summer “there was not a drop of rain from above”.

In the late 1500s, heat was replaced with cold and the average temperature dropped by 1.5-2C. The period has been called the “minor ice age”. It came to the Russian plain in about 1560 with the cold peaking in 1645-1675. Warming resumed from 1900 and has continued.

In the 21st century

The climate will be more “jittery”. Various temperature anomalies and extreme phenomena will become more frequent, the number of hurricanes, floods, avalanches, rivers bursting their banks and droughts will increase.

Russia is vast and climate change will affect its different parts in various ways. In some it will be welcome and in others it will be harmful. For example, water is a vital issue. On much of the territory – in the north and northwest, in the Volga, Non-Black Soil, the Urals areas and in most of Siberia, the amount of water will increase, while in the Belgorod and Kursk regions, the Stavropol and Krasnodar regions and Kalmykia there will be a serious decline in water. Water will become a key problem.

In agriculture, everything will depend on rainfall and droughts. On the whole, grain crops are expected to drop by 10-13pc in the Black Soil area, by 25pc in southern Siberia while they will grow by 10-20pc in the Non-Black Soil area. If warming continues, the boundaries of warm-climate crops will move north and the areas under these crops (beetroot, soybeans, sunflowers, etc) will increase. In some southern regions, subtropical farming will become possible. At the same time agricultural pests, especially locusts, will become more of a problem.

One key climatic plus for Russia is the northward shift of the area that is suitable for human habitation. The southern boundary of extreme discomfort close to the boundary of the far north will move 60km in the area of Komi, Arkhangelsk, 150km in Khanty-Mansiisk and Evenkia, 250km in the republic of Sakha, the Irkutsk and Khabarovsk regions. The country’s centre and south will grow hotter. Temperature swings will happen more frequently, harming people’s health. High temperature, among other things, contributes to the spread of infectious and parasite-borne diseases.

By the mid-century the permafrost zone, which occupies about 60pc of our country’s territory, will move north by as much as 200km in western Siberia. This will have a negative impact on the numerous pipelines that deliver oil and gas from Siberia to Europe, and on buildings. Some experts believe that an increase of the average annual temperature by 2C diminishes the strength of foundations on piles by as much as 30pc.

More than a quarter of houses built in Yakutsk, Vorkuta and Tiksi in 1950-1970 may be destroyed. In Norilsk in the last 20 years, the surface has been melting a whole metre deeper during the warm period, which has already caused foundations to sag. What will happen if global warming hits the area with full force? There will be more precipitation on Russian territory, it will increase by an average 10pc between 2000 and 2050. The biggest growth will happen in winter, especially in the eastern and northern regions. By contrast, in most of the European Russia, in the south and southwest, there will be less precipitation.

Yuri Izrael is director of the Global Climate and Ecology Institute and member of
 the Russian Academy of Sciences

This online supplement is produced and published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russia), which takes sole responsibility for the content.

The Daily Telegraph, 3 September 2010