RUSSIA: Freak weather spurs climate research

Russia's extreme summer weather is prompting the country's top scientists to take climate change more seriously. A record-breaking heat wave, hundreds of forest and peat bog fires, and smoke-induced smog stretching for hundreds of kilometres around Moscow has turned central Russia into a disaster zone in the past few weeks.

More than 50 people have died in wildfires that stretch across the central region of European Russia and at least 2,000 homes have been destroyed.

Stifling heat - reaching 39 degrees Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) - and smog that has enveloped Moscow, reducing visibility to a few hundred metres and pushing carbon dioxide levels six times above recommended safety levels, have pushed emergency services to the limits.

Climate change has not been a high profile issue in Russia, but that could now change.

The Russian Academy of Sciences has reacted positively to a suggestion by the country's Emergency Situations Minister, Sergei Shoigu, that a "qualified, professional think-tank" be set up to research and analyse climate change.

The idea has won the backing of a range of senior members of the academy, Russia's top-level science body.

Vladimir Fortov, a member of the academy's presidium, told Russian news agency Itar-Tass: "Acute situations, such as the present one, are always a confluence of different circumstances and reasons.

"The participation of the academy in research and analysis will be not only natural, but also useful."

The academy think-tank is likely to cooperate with another new body prompted by the extreme weather - plans are being laid for a National Climate Centre that will be set up by the Russian weather-watching service Rosgidromet.

Rosgidromet and the academy have already been working together on a comprehensive plan for research into weather and climate, which must be delivered before the end of August and submitted to the Kremlin's security council.