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Nature 423, 792 (19 June 2003)
Researchers rattled as Kyoto Protocol hangs in the balance
by QUIRIN SCHIERMEIER
[MUNICH] European climate researchers are expressing unease about the objectives of a conference to be held in Moscow this autumn. They fear that sceptics in Russia want to use the meeting to help block ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change.
Several scientists, who didn't want to be identified, told Nature that they had considered boycotting the forthcoming World Climate Change Conference (WCCC), after attending a programme committee meeting in Moscow last month.
But the researchers said that they had decided to press on with the conference, in the belief that a boycott would offend the Russians and jeopardize climate negotiations inside and outside Russia.
Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol is currently being debated by the Russian administration and, if it happens, would mean that the international treaty would finally come into force. But the debate is very finely balanced, and some researchers fear that climate-change sceptics in Russia want to use the WCCC meeting to block ratification.
Western researchers privately complain about what they regard as the autocratic behaviour of Yuri Izrael, the Russian chairman of the programme committee, at last month's preparatory meeting. It was a "pseudo-democratic exercise, everything was stage-managed," says one German participant.
Izrael is a vice-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and a science adviser to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who will open the meeting on 29 September. The 73-year-old former director of the Russian weather service, Izrael is described by his critics as firmly rooted in Soviet scientific traditions. He is also well-known for his reservations about the Kyoto Protocol.
At least one participant has decided not to attend the WCCC. "The objectives of the meeting have not become clear to me at all," says Ulrich Cubasch, a meteorologist at the Free University in Berlin. "I don't want to let myself be used for purposes which I may not want to support."
"The WCCC would be an occasion to raise important issues," says Hervé Le Treut, director of the Laboratory of Dynamical Meteorology in Paris. "But after all the difficulties in discussing things freely at the preparatory meeting, I have very mixed feelings about this conference." He adds that he has not yet decided whether he will accept an invitation to give a talk at the conference.
But Izrael dismisses the criticism. "It will be a purely scientific meeting," he says. "There will be no political decisions or recommendations."
The first scientific speaker on the programme, former IPCC chairman Bert Bolin, has said that he will attend the conference, and most of the 37 invited Western keynote speakers are following suit.
"A boycott of Western scientists would only help those who might be interested in steering the climate debate in Russia in a direction that they see fit," says Hartmut Grassl, an atmosphere researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg.
© 2003 Nature Publishing Group
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