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DateLine Sunday, 30 September 2007

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Global warming leaves Russians cold

Over half of Russians asked about global warming say they haven't heard much about it, according to a BBC World Service poll of 22,000 people in 21 countries.

The Russian media focus on what seem to be more pressing problems.

There are burning social issues, there's uncertainty about the security, there's a falling-out with the West, and, crucially, it is a very cold country.

A meteorologist in Arkhangelsk, in the north of Russia, once told me: "I know global warming is a problem, but I would welcome a bit of warmth up here. Then I could grow my own tomatoes."

We spoke as we stood on ice in the middle of the frozen Dvina river. The temperature was approaching -25C.

This meteorologist is by no means the only person in Russia to think this way. His view virtually mirrors the state's official position. "We are not panicking. Global warming is not as catastrophic for us as it might be for some other countries," Rinat Gizatullin, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Ministry, says.

"If anything, we'll be even better off: as the climate warms, more of Russia's territory will be freed up for agriculture and industry."

Alexey Kokorin of WWF in Russia says Russians who are aware of global warming tend to live in some of the worst affected areas, such as Siberia, with its melting permafrost, or the Caucasus, with its regular heatwaves.

The real problem, Mr Kokorin says, is not that people don't know what's going on, it is that they have some of the "weirdest ideas about what causes global warming, and they don't feel the need to change things".

Quota sale

The government says it is trying to educate people. But, so far, most of the steps that have been taken have been aimed at businesses, not at ordinary Russians.

Russia has signed up to the Kyoto treaty, and the country is now expecting millions of dollars' worth of investment.

Moscow's hope is that Western polluters will be queuing up to buy its carbon emission quotas. The money will then go into improving infrastructure and energy efficiency.

This approach alone - focusing more on the economy than ecology - may not convince Russians that the whole world is heating up. But at least it will give the issue more prominence.

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