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Putin orders Russian government to work towards Paris climate goals

(This November 5 story has been corrected to show emissions cut goal is up to 30%, not up to 70%, in paragraph three.)

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech for the opening day of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, November 30, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree ordering the Russian government to work towards meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement to fight climate change, but stressed any action must be balanced with the need to ensure strong economic development.

Russia, the world’s fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has previously signalled its acceptance of the accord even as environmentalists have criticised Moscow for shunning compulsory emissions targets for companies backed with fines.

In a decree published on Wednesday, a public holiday in Russia, Putin formally ordered the government to work towards a cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 of up to 30% below emission levels in 1990.

That, said Putin, would mean harnessing the capability of forests and other eco-systems to absorb such gases.

Putin’s order came with a big caveat. He said any action to cut emissions must take account of the need to ensure steady and balanced socio-economic development, and ordered the government to draw up and ratify a socio-economic strategy up to 2050 that factored in lower emissions.

A previous draft of such a strategy has drawn criticism from green groups for allowing emissions to rise before falling.

Climate change poses a serious challenge for Russia, whose economy relies heavily on oil and gas production, as well as mining. Some of that infrastructure is built on permafrost, which is vulnerable to rising temperatures.

Putin, who has questioned whether human activity is the sole driver of warming climate cycles, has cast himself as a defender of the environment.

He has praised the Paris pact in the past, while saying it would require countries to modernise industry, something likely to cost big business billions of dollars and incur job losses, an eventuality he said had to be properly planned for.

Editing by Alex Richardson and David Holmes

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