Kremlin’s economic goals could make climate change worse, Russian government agency says

icemelt2 Polar ice melt. Credit: Shutterstock

In another stunning report from an agency in its own government, Russia’s audit chamber has warned the Kremlin that failure to address the threats of climate change will cripple the economic and social goals of President Vladimir Putin for the next decade, The Moscow Times reported.

According to the report, global warming could shave some 3 percent off Russia’s gross domestic product by 2030, and derail an ambitious multi billion-dollar plan to increase Russian life expectancy and boost the economy, said the newspaper.

The assessment of the Audit Chamber, which analyzes government spending, is the latest in a series of dire reports the Russian government has issued on global warming. A government position on climate change published earlier this month directed Russian agencies to prepare for climate calamities like droughts, floods and fires and to draw up plans for crisis resettlement.

In September, Russia’s natural resources and environmental ministry warned that the country was warming two and a half times faster than other nations of the world. Melting permafrost, which accounts for some 65 percent of Russia’s landmass, could threaten hundreds of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure the ministry said.

Some of those predictions began to bear out last summer, when Russia was gripped by a permafrost-thawing heat wave that warped highways and railways and caused apartment blocks to buckle as their foundation shifted with the melt.

Yet while Moscow, long a holdout, finally backed the Paris Climate Accord last year, the Kremlin’s embrace of producing more coal, oil and gas – the three fossil fuels most responsible warming global temperatures – is firm. A broad initiative released in December details the Kremlin’s massive effort to increase shipping traffic and hydrocarbon recovery throughout an Artic that is increasingly withered by climate change. Putin – who has long denied that human activity is altering the climate for the worse – has said that ten percent of Russian government investments are now focused in the polar region.

But the Audit Chamber’s report seemed to criticize this course of action, saying that Moscow has been too slow spend money on projects geared toward environmental preservation, The Moscow Times said. To make its case, the report ticked off a litany of discouraging environmental statistics, said the paper: More than Russian 140 cities, housing 56 million Russians, labor under polluted air; nearly every Russian river has been contaminated by raw sewage; landfills, already bursting, will run out of space for urban waste within six years.

At the center of the Audit Chamber’s critique is the government’s National Projects plan, a wide-ranging $400 billion infrastructure and social development initiative that underpins Putin’s domestic policy for his final term as president. Among the bigger goals of the project are increases in Russia life expectancy, now among the lowest in Europe, and natural population growth.

But its assessment of the plan’s ability to withstand a changing climate was blunt: “The National Projects do not cover issues related to climate change,” it said, according to the paper.

Indeed the National Projects plan drive to bolster economic growth and build out infrastructure could make matters even worse, the Audit Chamber said.

For instance, the plan’s aim to boost construction and living space in Russia’s urban areas provides insufficient planning for recycling and effective waste management.

“It is difficult to imagine achieving the national development goals, especially increasing life expectancy and reaching a steady natural growth in population, without solutions to these environmental problems,” The Moscow Times quoted the report as saying.