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Russian fires prompt Kremlin to abruptly embrace climate change

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"Our country has not experienced such a heat wave in the last 50 or even 100 years," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said last week in a speech published in English on the Kremlin's website. "We need to learn our lessons from what has happened, and from the unprecedented heat wave that we have faced this summer.

"Everyone is talking about climate change now," he continued. "Unfortunately, what is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past. This means that we need to change the way we work, change the methods that we used in the past."

Those are arguably the strongest words a Kremlin leader has ever delivered to a domestic audience on the subject of climate change.

Medvedev's change in view

Moscow has taken a strong rhetorical stand at international meetings since Prime Minister Vladimir Putin threw Russia's support behind the Kyoto climate- change treaty six years ago when he was president.

But at home last year, President Medvedev said Russia would probably be generating 30 percent more CO2 by 2020, in line with the country's rapid industrial "modernization" program, and added that "we will not let anyone cut our development potential."

Kremlin leaders have also suggested that climate change might all turn out to Russia's benefit, for example in the race for natural resources previously trapped beneath the melting Arctic icecap, or by opening up a new northeast navigation channel from Asia to Europe across the top of Siberia.

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