Interview Angelina Davydova

Part II

COP28 in Dubai 2023
COP28 in Dubai 2023. Photo Angelina Davydova

- Editing of the English version Timothy Nutter -

CCnetwork: Let's come back to this Russian Pleistocene project at the COP28 pavilion. What is it all about?

AD: There are already many reports and films about it. The Pleistocene Park is a project that has been running for a few years in the north of Yakutia, which is a Russian region in Eastern Siberia. Two scientists, a father, and a son, worked at a meteorological station high up in the north and they came up with the idea of creating an ecosystem from the Pleistocene, an era before the Holocene and before the Anthropocene. Their idea to resettle large mammals, very large animals, to the area, so that they can trample around, and more grass will then grow, which in turn will affect the soil in such a way that the permafrost can no longer continue to thaw, or at least the thawing processes can be slowed down. They have already introduced some large mammals, like bison and Kalmyk breed of cows. Before the war, they even had a preliminary agreement with Yale University which is trying to breed a mammoth using DNA manipulation.

These mammoths were abundant in the Pleistocene, and their teeth and tusks are still found these days. For example, when the banks of the Lena River melt in spring, mammoths’ tusks, teeth and other bones are uncovered, many of which later appear internationally on the black market. But out of these remains scientists have also been trying to get DNA long enough to implant in a female elephant and get closer and closer to the real mammoths by breeding them for longer and longer periods of time. And then once you have the mammoth, you can reintroduce it into a park like this, which would be a familiar habitat.

CCnetwork: But what was it all about at COP28?

AD: There is a Russian oligarch called Andrey Melnichenko. At the moment, his foundation is one of the sponsors of this park, also the pavilion of the park in Dubai has been supported by his foundation. Melnichenko himself now lives mainly in Dubai, he has even become a citizen of Dubai. He indirectly owns a number of coal and fertilizer companies in Russia and has been very active in climate policy for years. Through their work in industry lobby groups many of these companies have tried to continuously block climate legislation in Russia. But now he has found something better, he is now talking about nature-based solutions: We would simply have to focus on restoring ecosystems like the Pleistocene Park and planting trees - then we won't even need to talk about reducing CO2 emissions, which, in any case, we won't be able to doeffectively by switching to renewable energy.

CCnetwork: You proposed the presentation of this project as curator for the Climate Cultures Festival "Fueling East - Warming North" that we had planned. That was before COP28. Do we have a problem now?

AD: I still think it's an interesting project, a very important scientific experiment, with all the results you get from it. Of course, it only makes sense to evaluate it after many years, and they are still in the early stages. There are a lot of ideas about terraforming and landscape transformation in various parts of the planet, lots of discussions and speculations, but the Pleistocene project is very concrete. I think it's a really important and interesting project and we should keep an eye on it.

CCnetwork: What perspective on climate protection would you like to promote at the planned festival?

AD: Firstly, it is incredibly interesting and also very important to inform our Berlin audience and also our wider international audience about what is happening in the Russian Arctic, what is happening to the permafrost regions. Since the full-scale war in Ukraine started, a lot of scientific communication and cooperation has stopped. The international community now receives significantly less data about the Russian Arctic and permafrost, for example (and vice versa). But the Russian part of the Arctic and the global Arctic are extremely important in terms of global climate science. We very often focus on the tropical regions, on the Global South. But what about the methane bombs, huge methane holes, the melting ice, the way all this affects biodiversity - what do we know about that now?

CCnetwork: How could you clarify this from a climate culture perspective?

AD: First of all, we need to know what is actually happening. To do this, we also need to understand what is currently happening politically in Russia and what the social conditions are like. Who is making which decisions, what is the government doing? What are the companies doing? The companies play a huge role with their plans for the extraction not only of oil and gas in the Arctic, but also of minerals, rare earth or rare minerals, which are urgently needed for the digital infrastructure and the energy transition. And what about the indigenous peoples of the Arctic? What about climate and environmental activists? Can they still have a voice under the current conditions in Russia, can we even have a dialogue with the people under the current conditions, and what kind of dialogue could that be? I don't support the Kremlin's agenda and the war at all That's why I decided to leave Russia after the war in Ukraine started in 2022. But Russia really is a huge country, and what happens there is important in terms of the climate. For me, it's about finding actors and voices that international experts and activists can still interact with.

CCnetwork: Is there still a chance to build bridges between all these intellectuals in exile and those who stayed?

AD: I think so, there are a number of attempts in the field of research and I myself am a member of many networks that maintain contact between people who have left Russia and people who have stayed in Russia. Part of my work is organizing dialogue on climate issues between experts in Germany, the European Union and Russia, not with the governmental experts, but with people from civil society, academia and other groups. It is important to first understand what is happening and then to conduct this dialogue, everything else will follow later. We have to wait and see how the situation develops.

CCnetwork: Were there any Arctic peoples from Siberia represented at COP28? Did indigenous knowledge play any role?

AD: Before the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine in 2022, yes. Russian indigenous groups even organized regular side events at COPs. But this time, at COP28, I didn't see any Russian Arctic groups in particular. In general, indigenous groups from various parts of the world have been playing an important role. Many indigenous groups are doing climate actions at the COP, you can see them almost every day. There are maybe 10 or 12 protests a day, a few of which are done by indigenous groups who want to make themselves visible and heard. They say: “Look, this is what we see. This is how we suffer.”

On the one hand, it is specifically about the climate damage they are experiencing and the climate risks that affect them, the ecosystems they live in and their livelihoods. But it's also a lot about the knowledge of the indigenous people. Nowadays, there is a growing understanding that indigenous groups have a lot of knowledge that modern civilization has abandoned and is not using, even as we deal with the polycrisis and recognize that environmental problems should be solved through different kinds of knowledge, including indigenous knowledge. So, the interest in indigenous knowledge is growing.

CCnetwork: How does this manifest itself concretely at a COP?

AD: For example, there is a whole series of new scientific research projects, undertaken by not only professional academic scientists, but also by other stakeholders, including indigenous groups. At the COP, in addition to the protest actions, many indigenous groups are organizing their own side events where they present their views on climate policy - What can be relevant from an indigenous perspective? What can or must be done? But they also report directly from the people who live in these endangered ecosystems, they report about the changes they observe, which is very useful for us, people who live in urban environments. They talk a lot about what kind of risks they face, how their lifestyles are threatened by climate change, by corporations, by government decisions to build a new oil pipeline or other infrastructure.

CCnetwork: Would you say that indigenous groups are closely connected to or an important part of the international climate movement?

AD: Certain parts of indigenous groups are, probably not all, but I have the impression that there are some people within indigenous groups and indigenous communities who work specifically on climate issues and are interested in networking with the international climate scene. And that doesn't just mean Fridays For Future, but also, for example, the Climate Action Network, the largest network of all non-governmental organizations in the field of climate protection, or Greenpeace or WWF or Friends of the Earth or many others. Many of these groups are particularly working with people from the Amazon region.

CCnetwork: Do you believe that a new impetus from indigenous culture can flow into the global climate movement?

AD: There is a lot of talk and writing about how much we need indigenous knowledge and that it can help us as humanity to solve a whole series of crises. We are currently experiencing the so-called polycrisis, an overlap of climate crisis, biodiversity crisis, plastic pollution crisis, supply chain crisis, economic crisis, wars, it's all intertwined. So, we can't just say, one crisis solved, all good. We have to look for systemic solutions and these should come from a combination of different approaches, including the ideas of indigenous groups.

I think it is very important that we hear these voices, that we know the stories, that we understand the perspective. And that also gives us food for thought: What is actually a civilization? Aren't there very different ways of living, of organizing the economy, of being there for and with each other? Shouldn't we take a critical look at some of the achievements of civilization and see what other forms of organizing life are possible? How can people live differently and what do we need to learn from each other so that we can all live together on the planet at the same time?

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Interview mit Angelina Davydova Teil I →