Archive for Russia
www.bbc.co.uk 23rd April 2012
A group of Russian scientists on a research expedition off the coast of Kamchatka have spotted a white killer whale, or orca, for the first time in the wild. The adult has a dorsal fin of over two metres, indicating he is a mature male of over 16, and seems to be living a normal life with his pod. Other white orcas have been known but they have all been juveniles. The expedition was led by a senior research fellow with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society , Erich Hoyt, who nicknamed the orca ‘Iceberg’. The researchers are reluctant to take a biopsy of Iceberg to find out the cause of the pigmentation, particularly as he seems to be fully socialised. “We know that these fish-eating orcas stay with their mothers for life, and as far as we can see he’s right behind his mother with presumably his brothers next to him,” said Dr Hoyt. Another white orca, a young captive called Chima that died in a Canadian aquarium in 1972, suffered from Chediak-Higashi syndrome, a genetic condition that causes partial albinism as well as a number of medical complications.
e360.yale.edu 13th December 2011
Quoted from source:
‘Russian scientists sampling the waters of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf have discovered enormous plumes of methane, some more than a kilometer wide, bubbling up from the thawing seabed. Igor Semiletov, an oceanographer from the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said a research cruise late this summer detected more than 100 of these extensive methane “fountains” in an area of less than 10,000 square miles. Semiletov, who has been studying the region’s seabed for 20 years, said the scale and volume of the plumes far surpasses anything he had seen previously and could indicate that slushy methane hydrates on the seabed are thawing at an intensifying rate as Arctic Ocean ice disappears and sea temperatures rise. In 2010, Semiletov estimated that the emissions of methane — a powerful heat-trapping gas — bubbling from the seabed in this region were about 8 million tons a year, but he said the recent expedition has shown that methane releases could be far higher. “We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale,” Lemiletov told the UK’s Independent newspaper. Scientists fear that continued warming of the Arctic could release so much methane that the global climate could pass a tipping point and be pushed into an era of rapid warming.’
As the world’s leaders and scientists meet in Durban this weekend to discuss the end of the Kyoto Protocol and climate change, several nations seem intent on disrupting negotiations. Key among them is the USA who, along with China, Japan, Canada and Russia, has refused point-blank to agree to any new targets on CO2 reductions at the summit. The USA under George Bush rejected the current Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2012 and aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 5% compared to 1990 levels, back in 2001 citing the unfairness that the Protocol did not include developing countries such as India and China. Now, with the presidential elections looming, the Obama administration is refusing to agree to a new set of limitations. The stance has led to angry criticisms from many attending the Durban summit including small island nations who are likely to be the worst affected by changing weather patterns and rising sea levels. The UK’s Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott, who played a key role in the original Kyoto negotiations, spoke out against the approach. Speaking to the BBC, he said: “Let’s have a reassessment of it by 2015. But if you don’t finish in time for the ending of Kyoto Two, which is next year, 2012, then, you know, it will actually wither on the vine and that’s what Canada and America wants – and one or two other rich countries. It’s a conspiracy against the poor. It’s appalling. I’m ashamed of such countries not recognising their responsibilities.”
Although the USA and co have been labelled as the villains at the UN sponsored conference, there is evidence that a shift in the UK government’s strategy towards climate change is afoot. George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, hinted at this change when he said: ”We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers.” His words run against the government’s previous assertions that it intends to be the ‘greenest government ever’. In response, the President of the coalition’s partners, the Liberal Democrat party, Tim Farron, claimed Mr Osborne was taking on climate-sceptic attitude ”to placate 50 or 60 climate deniers on the [Tory] back benches, people who read the Daily Mail and people called Jeremy Clarkson”. It all seems that with the global economy in a downturn, environmental issues are being sidelined.
www.nytimes.com 14th June 2011
The Russian border with China is flourishing with a rather macabre trade. The smuggling of animal parts into China, where they are used in various ‘traditional’ medicines, has rocketed in recent years, a fact demonstrated by a recent haul seized by Russian customs officers on Tuesday (14th June). In the bed of a seemingly empty Chinese-owned flat-bed truck, sniffer dogs revealed 26 elk lips, 1,041 bear paws, lynx fur, unspecified claw parts and 5 tusks from the extinct woolly mammoth. The total weight of the body parts was 1.4 (US) tons. The trade is worrying. According to Aleksei L. Vaisman from Traffic Europe-Russia, which monitors trade in wild animals, “China is a vacuum cleaner for Siberian wildlife.” Since Russian customs officers started using dogs, traffickers have risked larger shipments. The average price for a set of 4 bear paws would be around $50. The mammoth ivory tusks pose more a ethical dilemma. Conservationists tend to encourage the sale of this type of ivory to take the pressure off endangered species. With an estimated 150 million mammoths frozen in Siberia’s permafrost alone, it is not difficult to see why. However, Russia requires an export license in order to make sure those tusks with scientific value, prehistoric slaughter marks for example, are sent to researchers.
www.bbc.co.uk 14th June 2011
A new report titled ‘The State of Europe’s Forests 2011′ has put emphasis on the important role European woodland can play in mitigating the effects of climate change. Announced at the Forest Europe conference in Oslo, the report is expected to help EU ministers create legally binding forestry policy. In statistics, the forests of Europe account for 25% of the world’s total and absorbs about 10% of Europe’s carbon emissions. The area of European forest covers 1 billion hectares, or 45% of Europe’s total area. 80% of this is in the Russian Federation. Forests account for 1% of Europe’s GDP, which equates to 4 million jobs. Surprisingly, the forest area is increasing by about 800,000 hectares a year although there are several potential hurdles in this bit of good news. Forest fires, insect infestations, disease, and nitrogen deposition from pollution all threaten European woodland. The conference’s opening address was made by Crown Prince Haakon of Norway who stated: ”capacity building, good governance and increased international co-operation are necessary in order to secure sustainable forest management. Forests that are sustainably managed are becoming an important part of the solution for global climate change.”
www.nytimes.com 8th February 2011
The latest severe drought to befall the world has hit China resulting in a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) alert warning of wheat shortages from the region. The drought is the worst for 60 years in the country, which is the largest wheat producer in the world. For Shandong province, one of the main provinces for wheat growing, the drought could be the worst in 200 years, unless substantial rain falls by the end of the month. The reduced crop yield could have wider implications for global wheat prices, which are already seen as being behind the popular protests in Madagascar, Tunisia and Egypt. The widespread droughts and wildfires in Russia last Summer, as well as the recent severe floods in Australia, have brought international attention to the wheat market as the two countries are also large exporters. However, China has previously been self-sufficient in wheat. The current droughts, which are affecting 5.16 million hectares of China’s 14 million hectares of wheat fields, will force the Chinese government to buy from abroad forcing up the cereal’s prices even further.
www.independent.co.uk 16th January 2011
BP have signed an agreement with state-run Russian oil company Rosneft to begin exploration of the Kara Sea, north of Siberia. BP is, so far, responsible for the world’s worst off-shore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last April. Friends of the Earth, in response to the news of the deal, branded BP “environmental villain number one” and Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Greenpeace have both promised to confront the new BP chief, Bob Dudley. The Kara Sea is one of the few untouched refuges left for a number of species including the Polar Bear, Beluga Whales, Halibut and Arctic Cod. BP has already got in trouble with conservationists over Russian drilling due to their constant seismic surveying, which WWF’s claims has caused harm to the only remaining 130 Western Grey Whales. Of this number, only 30 are female. Following the explosion on board the Deepwater Horizon rig in April 2010, Greenland was the first to ban BP from drilling in its Arctic waters. Evidently, the Russians aren’t quite so squeamish about environmental disasters.
news.yahoo.com 4th January 2011
The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, is one of the city’s most attractive tourist destinations. But few people are aware that the grand building is also the home of dozens of street cats. Originally brought in over a century ago to tackle the problem of rats and mice, the cats now live a comparatively luxurious lifestyle in the basements of the former palace to Catherine the Great. More than 50 now reside in the museum being looked after by a small group of volunteers. One particularly sick cat was found in sub-zero temperatures by builders and brought to the museum. He now sits on a throne-like bed and goes by the name of Viscount. Although resident in the building, the cats are forbidden from actually entering the art galleries frequented by tourists. But in a country not generally known for its animal rights record, the feline sanctuary is a safe haven from the unkind Russian streets.
www.independent.co.uk 25th November 2010
Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio has travelled to Russia to attend the international tiger summit in St Petersburg. In the summit, he has joined up with the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to spearhead a last ditched effort to save the tiger. The summit is the first time world leaders have met purely to discuss the issue and talks will focus on a World Bank proposal to rescue the species. There are currently thought to be around 3,200 tigers left in the wild, down from 100,000 at the beginning of the last century. Mr DiCaprio pledged $1 million of his own money for tiger-saving initiatives and has recently finished a tour of Bhutan and Nepal’s tiger habitats. He is also a board member of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The summit has attracted most of the leaders of countries where tigers can be found, including Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. So far, $350 million has been promised for efforts to save tigers. However, conservationists fear that without any agreements over poaching and smuggling prevention the money would be pointless. The decline of tigers has been cause in a large part by the demand for tiger parts in traditional medicines in countries such as China.
www.latimes.com 24th November 2010
The important Russian Tiger Summit, described by many as the last chance to save tigers from extinction, has ended in apparent success. 13 nations, including Russia and China, have agreed to double tiger populations by 2022, the next Chinese year of the Tiger. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who played an instrumental part in attracting so much support for the summit, said, “everybody understands full well that we are talking not just about a concrete representative of the live nature, a tiger, but we are talking about the state-level understanding with which we begin to address the environmental issues.” Although all the countries that still host tiger populations are in Asia, several others have pledged financial support. Germany will donate $30 million and the US Agency for International Development $350,000 (or just over 1% of the total German donation). There just over 3,000 tigers left in the wild due to poaching and habitat loss. It is believed that 20 to 30 are killed for furs and body parts (which invariably end up on the Chinese traditional medicine market) in Russia alone. Fines are minimal though (around $33), a problem that Mr Putin promises to tackle. However, Russian environmentalist Alexei Yablokov, an advisor to the Academy of Sciences, has warned that only a small amount of the money raised will go towards tiger conservation, such is the problem of corruption in the country.
www.fauna-flora.org 10th November 2010
The Saiga Antelope, once one of the most populous mega-fauna in Central Asia and Russia, has experienced an incredibly fast population decline in recent decades. The distinctive looking antelope, whose large, trunk-like nose hangs over its nose, has lost approximately 95% of its population in the past 20 years reducing global numbers to around 80,000. 12,000 dead Saiga were found in west Kazakhstan alone this May. The rapid decline has galvanised the conservation community into action with Flora and Fauna International, one of the most effective conservation organisations in the world, carrying out urgent research into its cause. With financial aid from the Betty White Wildlife Rapid Response Fund, established by Morris Animal Foundation, FFI hopes to highlight the Saiga’s plight and prevent numbers from falling even more. The Fund is used to give wildlife researchers the ability to react to unexpected environmental disasters. One of the last times it was used was to investigate the health of dolphin schools following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this year.
www.guardian.co.uk 26th October 2010
The scorching summer Russia experienced this year, which resulted in widespread wild-fires, is having a rather macabre effect on certain large animals in the region. The absence of their normal food-stuffs such as berries and mushrooms due to the extreme weather is causing bears to dig up bodies in municipal graveyards for food. Bears have been causing problems throughout many towns in the country due to the lack of food, scavenging in rubbish bins and raiding gardens. A young man was also mauled in the town centre of Syktyvkar in the province of Komi. In the northern Karelia province, Masha Vorontsova of WWF Russia reported that one bear learnt how to break into coffins and then taught other bears how to do it. She added, “they are pretty quick learners.” Ironically, the greatest threat to Russia’s bear population is not starvation but hunting. Numbers are relatively stable at around 120,000 to 140,000 but poaching has increased in recent years with the wealthy gun enthusiasts wiping out large male bears in the far East province of Kamchatka.
www.guardian.co.uk 17th October 2010
A make or break summit has been organised for next month in an attempt to save the existence of one of Asia’s most iconic animals: the Tiger. The thirteen remaining countries that are home to wild tigers will meet with conservation groups in November for the Global Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg. Other countries such as the USA and the UK are also being urged to attend. The news of the summit comes at a critical time for the endangered species. Due to large scale habitat loss and poaching, tiger numbers have declined by a further 40% in the last decade. Recent camera footage from the WWF (see here) has revealed how deforestation in Indonesia is affecting the large cat species and police in Singapore have arrested several individuals for selling tiger pelts online. The WWF have claimed that if the summit is a failure, then the extinction of the species is a likelihood. Numbers have dropped from around 100,000 in the beginning of the century to around 3,200 wild specimens today, with 1,000 of these breeding females. A recent joint report by the World Bank, Cambridge University, and the Wildlife Conservation Society has said that four of the countries attending the summit no longer have viable breeding populations (China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and North Korea). It also threatens to embarrass Vladimir Putin, who organised the summit, as published statistics suggest that Russia’s Siberian or Amur tigers have dipped in number by 15% due to a reduction in anti-poaching police. In the mid-20th century the species almost went extinct as numbers fell to 50. They are now believed to be around 400.
www.guardian.co.uk 15th October 2010
The European Union has clashed with Greenland and other Arctic nations over their ‘perceived failure to ensure wider international stewardship over the far north.’ Diana Wallis, the vice-president of the EU, said that she feared people would ‘take to the streets’ in protest if the Arctic issue was not handled correctly. Her comments were made at a NATO workshop in Cambridge University and were directed towards the Arctic Council, a body of countries bordering the Arctic such as Greenland, Russia, Canada, and Norway. The Arctic Council is responsible for environmental protection in the region. But with the Deepwater Horizon disaster fresh in people’s minds, the EU has been pressing for a drilling moratorium which could effect Greenland. However, Greenland and some other Arctic nations are concerned that the EU is using the ‘Green’ card in an attempt to muscle in on a new source of energy. Earlier in the workshop, a senior NATO commander warned that competition over the newly available sources of oil, gas, diamonds, and fisheries could cause armed conflict. This led to Paul Berkman, from the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge which hosted the workshop, to say: “In this region, the cold war has never gone away.”
www.guardian.co.uk 11th October 2010
NATO is in the process of arranging a ‘workshop’ like debate to discuss environmental security in the Arctic following heightened tensions between those countries interested in exploiting the region’s natural resources. With joint Russian leadership, the discussions are taking place in the Scott Polar Institute at the University of Cambridge. Such debate is necessary, according to one of NATO’s most senior commanders, as without it competition over newly accessible resources in the Arctic could lead to open conflict. Admiral James G Stavridis, the supreme allied commander for Europe, outlined his opinions in a Whitehall paper written by Paul Berkman of the Arctic Ocean Geopolitics program at Cambridge University. Admiral Stavridis also mentioned that military forces have a role to play in the opening up of the Arctic but mainly as assistance for commercial interests. However, Berkman wrote at the end of the article that “the Cold War never ended in the Arctic” due to the continued presence of defensive long-range ballistic missiles positioned around the continent in earlier times. So far the interest in the Arctic’s newly accessible oil and gas reserves has been treated carefully by all those involved, with peaceful dialogue being encouraged by all sides.
www.independent.co.uk 23rd September 2010
The Arctic Forum got under way today in Moscow with five countries – Norway, Denmark, the USA, Russia, and Canada – all staking a claim on various parts of the Polar North, believed to hold as much as a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas. Three of the countries – Denmark, Canada, and Russia – have submitted a claim to the UN over the same area, called the Lomonosov Ridge, as shrinking Arctic ice makes it more accessible. Russian scientists have claimed there could be as much as 75 billion barrels of oil underneath the Ridge and the Russian flag was planted upon it three years ago, an action that drew an angry response from Canada. A previous claim by Russia to the UN was rejected in 2001.
Despite the high stakes involved all parties are encouraging disputes to be solved through dialogue rather than conflict. The Russian and Norwegian foreign ministers have jointly written an article for a Canadian newspaper on the subject. “We firmly believe that the Arctic can be used to demonstrate just how much peace and collective interests can be served through the implementation of the international rule of law,” wrote Jonas Gahr Store and Sergey Lavrov. “Moreover, we believe that the challenges in the Arctic should inspire momentum in international relations, based on co-operation rather than rivalry and confrontation.”
www.guardian.co.uk 20th September 2010
Europe’s most extensive collection of fruit and berries, a 1,200 acre group of fields just south of St. Petersburg planted in the early 20th century, in under threat from the development of new housing. The species of flora in the Pavlovsk Research Station were collected by Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov on a mission that spanned two decades and five continents. The botanical collection is under threat from a federal housing department that wants to confiscate some if its land to create upmarket dachas for the area’s growing elite. However, after intense lobbying from conservationists and scientists, the Russian premier Dmitri Medvedev has announced that he will look into the problem. It is possible that due to the recent extreme weather in Russia that drastically reduced the country’s wheat harvest, the chances for the Research Station’s survival are healthy. The spate of fires this summer highlighted fears of Russia’s ability to feed itself.
90% of the botanical collection cannot be found in any other seed bank in the world. It includes 600 types of apples from 35 countries, a thousand types of strawberries from 40 countries and a thousand types of blackberries from 30 countries, and over a hundred types of plums, gooseberries, cherries, red currants, and raspberries. Over half of Russia’s black current crop was bred from varieties from Pavlovsk accounting creating a $400 million annual income.
Sources: http://www.newscientist.com 3rd September 2010
This years hurricane season was predicted to be a busy one with Colorado State University predicting 18 tropical storms of which 10 would reach hurricane force. Record sea-temperatures and a weather system known as La Niña were cited as the cause to such activity. However, compared to the last few years which saw larger hurricanes forming before 20th August, this year has been unusually quiet, defying predictions. The reason for this is a weather pattern over Pakistan and Russia that has disrupted the jet stream. This weather pattern is also responsible to the severe floods in Pakistan and the heat-wave that struck Russia over the Summer (causing widespread wildfires and food shortages). As a result, instead of the humid air needed for the development of tropical storms, dry air is sitting above the Atlantic’s surface.
Is this the beginning of a wider shift in climatic patterns? Are anomalies such as this merely that, i.e.: a glitch in the records? Or is it due to something more disturbing such as global warming? Although the USA and the Caribbean Islands may have been given some much needed respite from hurricane season, the environmental consequences of Russia’s extreme weather may prove to have a far more profound impact on the world.
Sources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news 3rd September 2010
The UN has called together a special meeting to discuss the global rise in food prices. The meeting will take place on the 24th September in Rome and has been called in response to Russia’s decision to continue a ban on grain exports. The ban, originally intended to run from the 15th August to the 31st December, was implemented as a result of the severe droughts experienced by Russia this summer. Devastating wild-fires added to the loss of crops. Russia is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, barley, and rye but with crops believed to be as low as 60 million tonnes (Russia’s domestic consumption alone is 80 millions tonnes) it is unlikely any crops will be exported until the next harvest is reaped (according to Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin). The ban, along with other grain shortages across the world, has caused wheat prices to rise 50% since July. Riots have been recorded in Mozambique with 7 reported to have been killed.
As global temperatures rise and weather conditions grow harsher, surely such events are going to become more frequent? With a growing world population more and more space is needed for farming cereals and yet crop production is among the lowest is have ever been. How else can society sustain a multiplying population. Will riots related to food-shortages become common place?