Russia's Medvedev warns of climate catastrophe

SINGAPORE, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned on Monday that climate change posed a "catastrophic" threat in some of the sharpest comments yet on a subject the Kremlin has often seemed reluctant to confront.

Although the United States said that the consensus amongst the 19 leaders at the weekend Asia Pacific summit in Singapore was that a climate change deal this December was unlikely, Medvedev made clear he felt it was a top priority.

"If we don't take joint action, the consequences for the planet may be very distressing to the point that the Arctic and Antarctic ice can melt and change ocean levels," he said shortly before leaving Singapore.

"All of this will have catastrophic consequences."

Russia signed up the Kyoto protocol after years of haggling about its implementation, but has been criticised by environmental groups for not offering more ambitious emissions cuts ahead of December's Copenhagen summit.

In the past, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had appeared to shrug off the threat from climate change, joking that Russians would welcome warmer weather and would need to buy fewer fur coats.

Some prominent Russian scientists argue that climate change is a natural phenomenon. (Reporting by Oleg Shchedrov; Writing by Conor Sweeney; Editing by David Fox)