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Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev

Mikhail Sergeyevich GorbachevGorbachev

ENVIRONMENT
2012-03-01
Climate change in Russian
 

The opinion that climate change will not only bring disadvantages but also advantages to Russia remains present even today. Global warming will hit Siberia especially hard, but could climate change really mean something positive for Russia? A background article by Stefan Bernhardt

Environmental protection and climate change are not top priorities for the Kremlin, while environmental awareness is not far developed in the Russian population either. Russia, as the third biggest producer of greenhouse gases, plays an important role in the containment of climate change. A first superficial view suggests a balance between positive and negative effects of climate change in Russia, but upon closer examination, that is not the whole truth.

More than only increasing temperature

 
Schiefe Bäume durch den aufweichenden Boden

Vladimir Putin is said to have commented humorously that it would be good if the temperature increased, so there would be no need anymore to turn up the heat so much during the Russian winter. But the increase of the average temperature will have tremendous effects on Russian nature. Flash floods, storms and forest fires will increase in frequency, and the Russian permafrost could suffer from increasing temperatures, subsequently migrating further north. The change of the environment is most clearly visible in the exodus of the landscapes. They are moving further north – tundra becomes taiga, steppes become deserts. The effects on the Russian ecosystem and its biodiversity are hardly foreseeable.

Not only is nature affected by the climate change in Russia, but the people as well. Both flash floods and increases in temperature could lead to greater fluctuations in agricultural yields. In those regions where the melting permafrost has a direct influence on the country’s infrastructure, the effects of climate change will be felt most directly. This doesn’t only concern the disappearance of some ice roads in the north, but also the general softening of the ground. Buildings that are not supported on concrete pillars will sink dramatically; this sinking will similarly affect streets. Warming will also have a severe effect on pipelines for oil and natural gas, Russia’s primary source of income, as they will be partially damaged. In the worst cases, they will burst and cause unpredictable environmental disasters. The adequate counteractive measures in all these areas would cost the Russian state billions of US-dollars.

Blessing in disguise?

Some changes could have a positive effect in spite of the drain on financial resources. The increasing temperatures lead to an ice melt in the arctic through which the access to new raw material reserves will be possible. This is the reason why a race regarding ownership and usage rights for resources in the arctic has recently started. Russia and Canada are at the head of the race. In addition, the periods in which the waters of the arctic are passable for ships become longer. The climate change could make both the Northwest Passage and the Northeast Passage passable. The trade routes between the West and Asia would be shorter and the trade would not only be faster but also cheaper which would guarantee Russia higher revenues.

Not only Russian trading routes would profit from the climate change; the agricultural sector would similarly increase its harvest. The alteration of the biomes ensures a move of the acreage towards the north. The arable area would increase and the rising temperatures would ensure an extension of the growing season. This could theoretically lead to an increase in the harvest. Russian farmers would be capable of growing more food which could provide for national market as well as international ones.

Everything has its price

What is often kept secret when listing these advantages is the fact that nothing will happen by itself like by magic. In order to reap the positive effects of climate change, massive investments amounting to billions need to be made. The ice of the arctic declines through the increasing temperatures, but in order to extract the resources it is necessary to develop adequate infrastructure. The new ice free trade routes for shipping need investment because harbors constructed for such a use of the waterways do not exist. The same can be said for an increase in yields in agriculture. The new arable land would first need to be seeded; here, too are investments necessary for the infrastructure.

The negative aspects should not be ignored. Increased flash floods or forest fires cost human lives and wreak havoc. In Russia, forest fires have devastated the country and the people. What kind of effect an increase of natural disasters could have can only be imagined. The damage of the infrastructure as a result of the permafrost melting makes new investments necessary to repair them. The climate change will not only have far-reaching consequences for Russia’s nature and population, but will be also very expensive for the Kremlin, thus negating all ostensible advantages.