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Russia - Climate

Russia is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world – after China, India and the USA.

Russia is the only developed country that is expected to derive economic advantages from climate change. It is thus hedging its bets on the future: on becoming self-sufficient in food thanks to climate change, as well as on building a unique system of hydroelectric power that could potentially be used as leverage over its Asian and European neighbors. Russia seeks not only to mitigate the damage caused by climate change but also use the advantages it offers. Those are thought to include more land available for agriculture, savings on the cost of heating homes during shorter, milder winters, and greater access for Russian shipping in an Arctic Ocean depleted of ice -- thus facilitating Moscow’s ambition to exploit the Arctic for its resources.

ProPublica, warned that ‘Russia could dominate a warming world.’ No doubt music to Vladimir Putin’s ears, in line with his determination to make his country an agrarian superpower (it is already the world’s largest grain exporter).. ‘Across Eastern Russia,’ we are told, ‘wild forests, swamps and grasslands are slowly being transformed into orderly grids of soybeans, corn and wheat.’ This is as nothing to what Russia can expect, as ‘more than two million square miles [in Siberia] could become available for farming by 2080, and its capacity to support potential climate migrants could jump ninefold in some places as a result.’

Abrahm Lustgarten noted "... as the climate has begun to warm, the land — and the prospect for cultivating it — has begun to improve.... It’s a process that is likely to accelerate: Russia hopes to seize on the warming temperatures and longer growing seasons brought by climate change to refashion itself as one of the planet’s largest producers of food.... no country may be better positioned to capitalize on climate change than Russia. Russia has the largest land mass by far of any northern nation. ... Like Canada, Russia is rich in resources and land, with room to grow. Its crop production is expected to be boosted by warming temperatures over the coming decades even as farm yields in the United States, Europe and India are all forecast to decrease." But the same warming that is opening up new lands to farming will also turn existing breadbaskets into dustbowls. In Krasnodar to the south, for example, grain yields are already down 30 per cent.

Vladimir Putin warned that global warming is behind a spate of freak weather conditions as emergency workers scramble to deal with heavy flooding and vast wildfires consuming over a million hectares of land. Speaking as part of a cabinet meeting on 05 August 2021, Putin pointed out that the average annual temperature for the past 44 years has been growing 2.8 times faster in Russia than the global average. "I have already spoken about this, and experts are well aware of this," he said.

Turning his attention to plans to combat the emergency situations across large parts of the country, the president told ministers that "if not entirely, then at least to a large extent, this is due to global climate change in our nation." Vast swaths of forest across the world's largest country are now smoldering, from Siberia to the Far North. Rescue workers announced on Wednesday that more than a million hectares of land was on fire, but that there had been some progress in bringing this figure down. Yakutia, a region a little smaller than the entire Indian subcontinent, has been particularly hard-hit, with firefighters parachuting in to tackle the enormous blazes. At the same time, in the Far East province of Amur, on the border with China, emergency workers have been mobilized to deal with flooding and hand out emergency supplies and assistance to residents.

In May 2020, a freak heat wave hit Siberia, with temperatures ranging from 30 degrees Celsius to 35 C in some places. An international team of researchers says that the heatwave would be “almost impossible” without manmade climate change. While Russia’s Federal Forestry Agency identifies 12.3 million acres of wildfires across Russia by June, Greenpeace Russia estimates that 33.3 million acres had burned by mid-May. Scientists had previously predicted that Russia’s abnormally warm winter would lead to disastrous forest fires this year, as last year’s fires were never fully extinguished.

If climate change continues to escalate at the same pace it is now, the long-term effects will be especially harmful for Russia, with environmental disasters becoming increasingly frequent and severe, said Alexei Kokorin, the head of the climate and energy program at the World Wildlife Fund in Russia. “In Russia’s Far East, there will be a respective increase in floods and extreme rainfall. Regarding the southern, European part of Russia, there will be more droughts as well as heatwaves. In general, it will just become an increasingly unsustainable environment, that’s my prognosis,” Kokorin told The Moscow Times in December 2020.

At his annual press conference, on 19 December 2019, President Vladimir Putin said that climate change poses “very serious” challenges for Russia. “Our temperatures are rising 2 1/2 times faster than the global average," Putin said. "We, as you know, are a northern country -- 70 percent of our territory is located in the northern latitudes. We have entire cities above the Arctic Circle that are built on permafrost. If it begins to melt, just imagine what consequences may arise here for us. Very serious.” He acknowledged that climate change is causing “an increase in the number of various natural disasters: fires, floods, and so on," adding that this “affects us directly” and vowing to “take measures to minimize the consequences of these changes.” Putin said it is “very difficult, if even possible at all, to quantify mankind’s influence on global climate change.”

Climate change opens tremendous new opportunities for Russia to strengthen its position in the international arena. Russia benefits from its favourable geographical position near the Arctic Circle, where geologists have estimated up to 30 percent of the world’s natural gas and 13 percent of its oil reserves are situated, trapped under the Polar ice. As the Arctic permafrost melts, these resources will become more accessible, particularly to Russia, which has staked out a large portion of the Arctic by showing that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of its continental shelf maritime borders.

Furthermore, changing temperatures are making the waters along the coast of the Russian Arctic territories less hazardous than before, and making the idea of new trade routes through the Arctic Ocean more promising, with countries with ports in the North and Baltic Seas standing to benefit – Russia in particular. According to one “extreme scenario” found in a 2014 UN report, in a situation where Arctic maritime routes are capable of operating ice-free year round, as much as “two-thirds of the trade that passes through the Suez Canal would be diverted to the new shipping routes. In any event, the melting of Arctic icebergs will increasingly open up commercial routes from Russia’s northern shores to East Asia, with vast implications for global trade,” the newspaper notes.

Russian policy in the Arctic, which has included beefing up the region’s defences and laying out a comprehensive strategy for economic development and investment, including tax breaks, the construction of all-new ports, the creation of a new railway line, a new satellite navigation standard specifically for Arctic use, etc. is all part of a larger Russian scheme designed to challenge the global trade map as it is being drawn via policy decisions by the West.

Vladimir Putin said 30 March 2017 that climate change was not caused by humans, as the White House announced that President Donald Trump would decide by May on continued US participation in the landmark Paris Agreement curbing global carbon emissions. One day after visiting the Franz Josef Land archipelago in the Arctic, Putin claimed that icebergs had been melting for decades and suggested that global warming was not mankind’s fault.

“The warming, it had already started by the 1930s,” Putin said in comments broadcast from an Arctic forum held in the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk. “That’s when there were no such anthropological factors, such emissions, and the warming had already started.” The Kremlin strongman added: “The issue is not stopping it... because that’s impossible, since it could be tied to some global cycles on Earth or even of planetary significance. The issue is to somehow adapt to it.”

Climate change is affecting Russia. The average annual temperature for 2007 was 2.1°C higher than the historical average since 1886. Some of the fastest and most significant climate changes are taking place in the Arctic, resulting in melting sea ice, thawing permafrost and thinning snow cover. Warming is especially clear in the Arctic during the winter, while record high temperatures are also becoming common. The Arctic region is being exposed to new infectious diseases that are able to move northwards with the warming climate.

The Russian Arctic has a significantly larger population than Arctic regions in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Scandinavian countries. The Russian Arctic is home to 46 cities and towns, with 5,000 and over residents. Heavy industrial facilities are also located in the region, including some of the world’s largest metallurgical works, quarries, mining and processing enterprises, coalmines, nuclear weapons test sites, radioactive waste storages and other environmentally hazardous facilities.

Climate change in the Arctic is more severe than in many other parts of the world. These changes have decreased the area and thickness of sea ice, eroded coastlines, thawed permafrost, moved the border of the forest zone northward or to higher altitudes, increased risks of flooding in littoral areas and increased risks of forest fires. Changes have also occurred within ecosystems.

Climate change in the Russian Arctic also degrades permafrost, such that vast territories of tundra may be replaced by taiga. From epidemiological point of view these changes could expand the habitat of rodent species that carry infections. Changes in water circulation and rising water temperatures could also increase diseases in marine mammals and fish. Changes in permafrost also damage the foundations of buildings and disrupt the operation of vital infrastructure in human settlements, resulting in an additional risk of disease. Studies forecast that the total area of permafrost may shrink by 10-12% in 20-25 years, with permafrost borders moving 150-200 km northeast.

Russia has a largely continental climate because of its sheer size and compact configuration. Most of its land is more than 400 kilometers from the sea, and the center is 3,840 kilometers from the sea. In addition, Russia's mountain ranges, predominantly to the south and the east, block moderating temperatures from the Indian and Pacific oceans, but European Russia and northern Siberia lack such topographic protection from the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans.

Because only small parts of Russia are south of 50° north latitude and more than half of the country is north of 60° north latitude, extensive regions experience six months of snow cover over subsoil that is permanently frozen to depths as far as several hundred meters. The average yearly temperature of nearly all of European Russia is below freezing, and the average for most of Siberia is freezing or below.

Most of Russia has only two seasons, summer and winter, with very short intervals of moderation between them. Transportation routes, including entire railroad lines, are redirected in winter to traverse rock-solid waterways and lakes. Some areas constitute important exceptions to this description, however: the moderate maritime climate of Kaliningrad Oblast on the Baltic Sea is similar to that of the American Northwest; the Russian Far East, under the influence of the Pacific Ocean, has a monsoonal climate that reverses the direction of wind in summer and winter, sharply differentiating temperatures; and a narrow, subtropical band of territory provides Russia's most popular summer resort area on the Black Sea.

In winter an intense high-pressure system causes winds to blow from the south and the southwest in all but the Pacific region of the Russian landmass; in summer a low-pressure system brings winds from the north and the northwest to most of the landmass. That meteorological combination reduces the wintertime temperature difference between north and south. Thus, average January temperatures are -8°C in St. Petersburg, -27°C in the West Siberian Plain, and -43°C at Yakutsk (in eastcentral Siberia, at approximately the same latitude as St. Petersburg), while the winter average on the Mongolian border, whose latitude is some 10° farther south, is barely warmer.

Summer temperatures are more affected by latitude, however; the Arctic islands average 4°C, and the southernmost regions average 20°C. Russia's potential for temperature extremes is typified by the national record low of -94°C, recorded at Verkhoyansk in north-central Siberia and the record high of 38°C, recorded at several southern stations.

The long, cold winter has a profound impact on almost every aspect of life in the Russian Federation. It affects where and how long people live and work, what kinds of crops are grown, and where they are grown (no part of the country has a year-round growing season). The length and severity of the winter, together with the sharp fluctuations in the mean summer and winter temperatures, impose special requirements on many branches of the economy. In regions of permafrost, buildings must be constructed on pilings, machinery must be made of specially tempered steel, and transportation systems must be engineered to perform reliably in extremely low and extremely high temperatures. In addition, during extended periods of darkness and cold, there are increased demands for energy, health care, and textiles.

Because Russia has little exposure to ocean influences, most of the country receives low to moderate amounts of precipitation. Highest precipitation falls in the northwest, with amounts decreasing from northwest to southeast across European Russia. The wettest areas are the small, lush subtropical region adjacent to the Caucasus and along the Pacific coast. Along the Baltic coast, average annual precipitation is 600 millimeters, and in Moscow it is 525 millimeters. An average of only twenty millimeters falls along the Russian-Kazak border, and as little as fifteen millimeters may fall along Siberia's Arctic coastline. Average annual days of snow cover, a critical factor for agriculture, depends on both latitude and altitude. Cover varies from forty to 200 days in European Russia, and from 120 to 250 days in Siberia.

The Arctic “has been warming substantially faster than the rest of the world. Western Siberia is a region that has high variability in temperature. This means that, to some extent, large temperature anomalies are not unexpected. Russia’s vast Sakha region is accustomed to extreme temperatures; they vary there more than anywhere else on the planet. The rapid pace of warming stunned climate scientists, despite years of gradually rising temperatures. But while some reassessed their already dire predictions for coming years, Siberians were flocking to rivers and lakes and making the most of the short summer -- and marveling at the scenes that climate change seems to create.

Deep in Siberia, two settlements vie for the unenviable title of Russia’s Pole of Cold: Oymyakon, population 500, and Verkhoyansk -- home to 1,200 hardy souls. Since the 1890s, both have hit a temperature record unparalleled in history -- minus 67.7 degrees Celsius. On 20 June 2020, Verkhoyansk made headlines with a radically different milestone. That afternoon, temperatures reached 38 Celsius, probably the hottest seen above the Arctic Circle since records began.

Raging wildfires are consuming swaths of forest in Sakha, which reported 183 active blazes across the region on 05 July 2020 and has deployed aviation to prevent them from engulfing villages and towns. Warming temperatures have also been blamed for a slew of environmental accidents this year, including a massive fuel spill near Norilsk, a city above the Arctic Circle, in late May 2020. According to officials, thawing permafrost caused pillars supporting a storage tank to collapse, releasing 20,000 tons of diesel into waterways and turning nearby rivers crimson.

The Norilsk spill was the largest and potentially most devastating of various recent incidents attributed to thawing permafrost, which across the region has caused the collapse of numerous buildings built on special stilts meant to withstand pressure. Russia loses vast sums of money each year from infrastructure damage from permafrost thaw -- a cost likely to reach $100 billion by 2050, according to an international study released last year.

As the active permafrost layer stops freezing in winter, the added warmth awakens microbes in the soil, which digest the thawing organic material, emitting carbon dioxide or methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent. The warmth spreads deeper into the permafrost, accelerating the thawing process. If the world fails to curb emissions, scientists say, permafrost could within decades become a greenhouse gas source on parallel with China.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 17:25:07 ZULU