Official says Russia’s heat wave, drought and fires are another indication of global warming

By David Nowak, AP
Monday, August 16, 2010

Official: Russian disaster sign of global warming

MOSCOW — Russia’s heat wave, drought and wildfires — which have killed dozens of people and destroyed millions of acres (hectares) of wheat — are another indication that global warming is causing more weather extremes around the world, a Russian official said Monday.

Alexander Bedritsky, the Kremlin’s weather adviser, also cited other disasters that he believes may be related to rising world temperatures, including Pakistan’s worst floods in recorded history, and France’s 2003 heat wave, which killed 15,000 people.

Taken together, they “are signs of global warming,” Bedritsky, who also serves as president the World Meteorological Organization, said at a news conference.

U.S. climate change envoy Jonathan Pershing also recently said that such weather disasters are the kind of changes that could be the result of climate change.

Russian firefighters, meanwhile, have succeeded in pushing back some of the country’s wildfires, and meteorologists said a cold front was advancing from the northwest that would hit the Moscow region Monday, bringing heavy rains and colder temperatures.

Five-hundred blazes were still burning in Russia, but the amount of land on fire fell 15 percent in the last 24 hours, the Emergency Situations Ministry said Monday. The area covered by fires around Moscow also has nearly halved in size over the past two days, it said.

Russia’s heat wave — unprecedented in 130 years of record keeping — has sparked thousands of fires, most of them in western Russia. Heat and acrid smog from the fires also blanketed Moscow for a week this month, doubling the number of recorded deaths in the city.

More than 50 people have died in the wildfires across Russia, and more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed.

The blazes and drought also have cost Russia one-third of its wheat crop, prompting the government to ban wheat exports through the end of the year in a move that has sent world grain prices to new highs. The government promised subsidies to farmers and warned traders that it would closely monitor prices to protect domestic consumers.

Russia’s economy largely depends on exports of oil and gas, and government officials have traditionally been cautious on climate change issues.

Moscow is a signatory to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a pact among industrialized nations to cut carbon emissions by 5 percent by 2012, but a post-Soviet industrial decline had freed it of the need to actually cut greenhouse gases. Russia says that any further deal on emission cuts should credit it for meeting Kyoto obligations ahead of schedule.

Russia’s heat wave has raised concerns that wildfires could spread to areas contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and spread radioactive particles over broader territory. But authorities have insisted that all wildfires in the Bryansk region and other Chernobyl-affected areas have been quickly dealt with.

Officials said they are well equipped to combat blazes, but Lyudmila Kolmogortseva, an environmentalist and a regional legislator in the Bryansk region, said that emergency workers in the area lack firefighting aircraft and could do little if the fires spread.

“Almost a million cubic meters (yards) of dead radioactive wood pose serious danger if the fires spread,” she told The Associated Press. “The forest is practically impenetrable, and we practically have no aviation, so we’ll have nothing to fight the fires if they spread.”

Kolmogortseva said that sporadic blazes in the area covered a total of about 30 hectares (74 acres) this summer but that they all have been extinguished before they could spread radiation.

The regional branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry said Monday there are no fires burning now in the area and that radiation levels have remained normal.


Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov contributed to this report.

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