Soviet climate science and its intellectual legacies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences


Anthropogenic climate change is arguably the most significant threat confronting humankind in the early 21st Century. The intellectual history underpinning our growing insight into the nature and scale of the problem has received marked attention in recent years and yet the specifics of the Soviet Union's contribution in this respect have been marginalised in the English-language literature. This lacuna is significant not only in view of the Soviet Union's (and latterly the Soviet successor states') size and importance for global environmental systems, but also because of the contribution made by Soviet scientists to the international understanding and associated debate in this area post-1945. The Russian Federation remains a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, it has adopted a relatively negative stance with respect to recent and ongoing international efforts to curtail such emissions.

In view of this, the overarching aim of this research project is to explore the development of Soviet climate science post-1945, with a particular focus on the debates concerning humankind's influence on climate systems and on Soviet contributions to related international initiatives. The research will also examine the intellectual legacies of these debates for Russia's positioning in post-1991 climate discussions. As part of this, the research will provide a first detailed account of Soviet engagement with international debate concerning climate change and key organisations such as the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The project will make extensive use of both Russian- and English language archival materials located in Russia, Europe and the USA. In addition, it will generate a series of oral history interviews with scientists involved in Soviet climate science. The contemporary element of the research will be underpinned by interviews with relevant policy and state actors and supported by secondary data analysis.

The project's output will consist of a series of published works and reports in addition to workshops and a project conference to be held in St. Petersburg. In addition, it will produce a block of work for use in Schools concerning Russia and climate change in collaboration with the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). This would take advantage of the introduction of Russia as a required element of study within the Key Stage 3 (11-14) National Curriculum and help to strengthen the coverage of key themes including climate change, biomes, and carbon cycle within KS3 and the new GCSE and A level specifications effective from September 2016. Further outputs will include Master classes for teachers, public lectures outlining the main findings of the research, policy briefings, and materials for the project and RGS websites.

Planned Impact

The project is designed to be of benefit to teachers, educators, school children, the interested general public, and those working on contemporary climate change debates (e.g. policy makers and government officials).

The project involves the development of materials for the UK's school curriculum at Key Stage 3, GCSE & AS/A Levels. Russia has recently been included within these parts of the curriculum and there is a notable knowledge-gap within the teaching community. Working with the Education and Outdoor Learning division of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), the project will develop a range of case study materials for use in schools drawing on the findings of the research project as well as the broader expertise of the project team. More specifically, it will advance case study material concerning socio-cultural and political trends linked to climate change as well as broader curriculum themes: biomes (KS3), climate change (KS3), and the carbon cycle (A Level). The latter would include work on Russia's permafrost regions. The materials will be hosted on the RGS website opening it up to a large national audience.

The project team (with the RGS) will put on three Master classes for interested teachers (each catering for approx. 15 people). They will be focussed primarily on KS3. To enhance regional coverage, these will take place at the RGS (London), University of Birmingham and University of Manchester. These classes will be tailored to provide teachers with a framework for delivering material on Russia at KS3.

Two 'Ask the expert' videos will be produced by the team for hosting on the RGS website. And, wall-charts drawing attention to Russia and for use in schools will also be produced in collaboration with the RGS.

School children:
In addition to the aforementioned development of teaching materials, the project will deliver 3 'A' Level Update Master classes utilising the outreach networks of Birmingham, Manchester and the RGS.

Policy makers and government departments:
The project's assessment of the influence of historical debates concerning climate change on Russia's contemporary climate agenda will be of significant interest to policy makers & government departments in the UK, EU & Russia. In order to disseminate this element of the impact agenda, the project team will produce Policy Briefings (to be made available via the project website) and hold a dedicated Workshop at the Royal Society, London. The location of the Workshop is intended to ensure a high visibility for this aspect of the impact agenda. The existing academic-policy networks of the team will also be utilised for this element of the impact agenda.

General Public:
Website - the project Website will provide the interested general public with information concerning the research and its main sources and findings.

Popular Science Article - this article will highlight key elements of the research findings and it will be targeted at a high profile media outlet such as the Geographical Magazine. Shorter pieces will be aimed at online sources such The Conversation (

Public Lectures - the research team will also put on a series of Public Lectures. These will take place in the UK, Norway and Russia and recordings of the lectures will be placed on the project website. In the UK, this element will take advantage of existing public science initiatives such as the ESRC's Festival of Social Science, the outreach initiatives of the Birmingham and Manchester universities, and the networks of the RGS.

Radio - scope for outlining the main findings of the project via regional or national radio will be explored as the project progresses.

Findings of the research will be utilised by the research team to develop new teaching resources at University level


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