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Russia - Climate

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 Moscows ambition to exploit the Arctic for its resources.

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 mankinds 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 worlds 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 Russias 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 regions 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 mankinds 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. Thats 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 thats 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 2.1C 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 worlds 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 -8C in St. Petersburg, -27C in the West Siberian Plain, and -43C 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 4C, and the southernmost regions average 20C. Russia's potential for temperature extremes is typified by the national record low of -94C, recorded at Verkhoyansk in north-central Siberia and the record high of 38C, 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. Russias 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 Russias 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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