A political hurricane blew through an international scientific meeting on climate change held in Moscow last week, sparking a major row between top advisers to the British and Russian governments. U.K. scientists complained that the meeting had been "hijacked" by opponents of the Kyoto Protocol, while Russian officials accused the British delegation, led by Chief Scientific Adviser David King, of trying to suppress dissenting views.
Russia holds the key to the Kyoto climate treaty, which enters into force only if adopted by countries that together are responsible for at least 55% of the world's carbon dioxide output. In May, President Vladimir Putin hinted that he might ratify the treaty in exchange for the European Union's support of Russian membership in the World Trade Organization. That came shortly after the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) produced a report criticizing the protocol, saying it lacks scientific validity and would not be effective.
British climate experts expected the meeting, organized by RAS, to be a forum to discuss global warming and the Kyoto treaty with RAS members. On the eve of their departure for Moscow, however, the U.K. group learned about the addition of several well-known "skeptics" in the climate change debate. The list included Stockholm University's Nils-Axel Mörner, who has cast doubts on claims of rising sea levels, British climate maverick Piers Corbyn, and the Pasteur Institute's Paul Reiter, who disputes predictions that infectious diseases will explode as temperatures rise.
The new program was "unacceptable" to King, says Peter Cox of the U.K.'s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Exeter. "We knew that we would not get to the scientific issues if we went down every rabbit hole of skepticism." In fact, the opening session was delayed while King and RAS President Yuri Osipov attempted to negotiate an alternative agenda. King also asked British foreign secretary Jack Straw to intervene, several participants say. "It's very sad, but the Russian academy seems to have been take over" by Andrey Illarionov, a top adviser to President Putin and a vocal opponent of the Kyoto treaty, says John Houghton, another participant.
At a press conference after the meeting, Illarionov called the treaty an "undeclared war against Russia," based on a "totalitarian ideology." But he denies having a hand in the agenda and says he was "shocked" by British attempts at "censorship."