Consequences of climate change for Russia are ‘here and now’ says international report

Publish date: July 2, 2008

MOSCOW - Oxfam, one of the world’s leading humanitarian organizations, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) a heavy-hitting environmental group, have teamed up to produce the first report on the impact of climate change in Russia on the well-being of Russian society.

The report will be released in Russia in early July.

The doubling up of the humanitarian and environmental spheres in the area of climate change is part of a new tendency in studying climate change, as the projected the environmental catastrophes due to climate change will have a direct impact on the world economy, a broad range of societies and will effect where future battle lines for resources are drawn as a result of entire populations migrating to more hospitable lands.

The authors of the report “Russia and Adjacent Countries: Ecological, Economic and Social Consequences of Climate Change,” say that Russia and its neighbours are already confronting the effects of global warming. They further say that the struggle will, in the near term, only become more difficult.

“This is the first report that looks at social and economic consequences of climate change for Russia and its neighbours, not just environmental consequences, which we are used to hearing,” said Nikolas Koloff, director of Oxfam Russia.

He said that Russia faces mass migrations of populations in Russia as well as its neighbouring countries as people search for water resources.

Central Asia drying up

The first instances of “climate poverty” have already turned up in Central Asia, says the report. These include the drying up of the Aral Sea – at one time the 4th biggest land-based water source in the world – which experts say is at least 20 percent attributable to climate change and 80 percent the fault of over-taxing its resources for farm irrigation. The death of the lake has led to mass migrations from Tajikistan and poverty for those who have remained.

Global warming in Central Asia, say the report’s authors, will, in the western and southern regions where the bulk of agriculture and the population are concentrated, bring about a 10 to 20 percent river outflow reduction annually due to dwindling ice packs that feed riverheads. The report forecasts more spring flash floods and a harsh water deficit in the summer.

Tajik specialists say that by 2050, thousands of small glaciers in the country will have disappeared, iced areas will reduce by 20 percent, and the volume of ice overall will be reduced by 24 percent. In the previous century, experts estimate, Tajikistan lost more than 20 cubic kilometers of ice. As a result, Tajikistan’s rivers have lost 3.3 cubic kilometers of outflow a year over the last 30 years.

Balancing energy and climate
But there are some deceptively positive impacts of climate change projected for Russia. For instance, the peak home heating seasons will drop by 5 percent in their duration by 2025.

But the report’s authors note that the reduction in winter’s length carries with it unstable and changeable weather conditions that will lead to abnormally high and low temperatures, and strong winds and blizzards during the home hearing season and later. These conditions will require no less heat, which means pollution levels will not drop.

The situation in Russia’s regions will become more severe with a growing use of coal in residential homes. The energy balance of the country would then expect a growing portion of the most polluting coal – with pollution rising by as much as two times in southwestern Siberia, where pollution is already a problem. Rising gas cost could also trigger more pollution as households switch to coal.

Climate change and accompanying pollution, say the report’s authors, will mean shortened life expectancies for Russians – whose short average life spans are already creating a demographic crisis – by an average of two years. The efforts toward resolving Russia’s demographic mayhem, says the report, will come to nothing “if the health of Russians is sold abroad in the form of expensive gas.”

The climate and permafrost
Another climate threat to Russia is melting permafrost, which could wreak havoc with the infrastructure of northerly regions of Russia. The report indicates that over-saturated building foundations could lead to accidents.

The areas at most risk, according to the report, is Chukotka, in Northeastern Siberia, the upper basins of the Indigirka and Kolma River, the southeastern portion of the Yakutsk region, the Western Siberian plains, the shores of the Kara Sea, Arctic Island of Novaya Zemlya, as well as other island frost north of Russia’s European territory.

These areas host Russia’s oil and gas complex and associated pipelines, the Bilibin Nuclear Power Station and the electrical infrastructure surrounding it.

Melting permafrost in northern Russia could lead to radioactive leaks from storage facilities. The report’s authors are especially troubled, however, about radioactive dump-sites on Novaya Zemlya, a former nuclear weapons testing range.

Disease and poverty
Tuva currently suffers from on of the highest rates in Russia of mite-borne encephalitis. According to regional authorities, the rate has risen by 7.4 times since 1997.

Tuva will be one of the proving grounds for the joint projects of Oxfam and the WWF to support local groups in the new economic and socio-ecological conditions.

“Tuva is one of Russia’s poorest regions, high employment, a bad infrastructue. The republic’s government is disposed toward cooperation to overcome poverty,” said Koloff. “For our part, we cooperate with ecologists trying to raise the standard of living – they have stopped poaching and letting cattle graze in barren areas.”

The project led by Oxfam and the WWF will help people adapt to economic and climactic changes. Part of this will be to help improve irrigation and restore diverse vegetable growth in the area.

Koloff said the groups are ready to assist local authorities in organising rational land use of grazing lands, spur the development of farming, and help find financing for these activities.

“As we understand it, local authorities really need held in putting together project proposals. Russia is, after all, a rich country, but money doesn’t make it to the provinces frequently because those at the top don’t get good administrative proposals,” said Koloff.

The project itself will go on for five years, and an evaluation of the situation on the ground is expected to last another year. Oxfam plans to invest £1 million ($2 million), which will come from donations to the organisation. Other funds will also contribute.

The ecological side of the programme will be financed by the WWF.

Experts recommend
Russia plays a key role in the Kyoto Protocol. Decisions made by Russia have an influence on the ecological, economic and social conditions of the world.

Russia needs political and economic initiative included in the general strategy of the low carbon development of the world, the report’s authors say.

They call on Russia to draw a detailed road map for the country’s energy strategy up to 2030. They recommend the introduction of standards for fuel efficiency in the production of energy and heat. They recommend that Russia adopt a law on renewable energy and get plans from each region on how they plant to implement that law by including up to 20 percent of renewable sources in the fuel energy balance.

The authors of the report also suggest other measures, such as adopting a plan to introduce fuel efficiency in new automobiles over the next 25 years.

They also suggest that Russia brace early for the consequences of climate change in different regions of the country, including addressing forecasted water shortages in the south, preventing poverty in the country’s most poorly developed areas, and preventing the spread of infectious diseases. The authors also propose assistance to the Central Asian countries specifically in helping them avoid water deficits.

The report is to be distributed to high-ranking Russia officials and decision makers, Koloff said, to show that the problem of climate change is “here and now,” and not in the future on some other continent. Global changes in climate make it necessary to appraise the situation in one country – like Russia – whose tight relations with their neighboring countries influence these neighbors, and evaluate how that situation effects the world as a whole, Koloff said.

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