Russia has published a plan to adapt its economy and population to climate change, hoping to mitigate damages while also seeking to “use the advantages” of the warmer temperatures the country is experiencing.
The 17-page document, published on the government’s website on Saturday, outlines a plan of action and acknowledges that changes in the climate are having “a prominent and increasing effect” on peoples lives, health, industry and socioeconomic development – despite Kremlin denials that global warming is a man-made phenomenon.
Russia’s temperatures are rising 2.5 times faster than the rest of the world and the country is producing more coal, oil, and gas – the three fossil fuels that are responsible for the bulk of the planet-warming gas carbon dioxide – than ever before. Meanwhile, a warmer than average December saw Muscovites treated to banks of fake snow trucked into the city center by city authorities.
The new document’s so-called “first stage plan” says the government officially acknowledges that climate change is a problem, even as President Putin said “nobody knows” the cause of global warming at his year-end press conference on December 19, where he argued that it could be chalked up to cosmological processes.
The plan lists preventative measures such as building dams and switching to more drought resistant crops and goes on to urge crisis preparation measures, such as temporary resettlement, evacuations, and emergency vaccinations against resurgent diseases.
The two-year scheme covers the first phase of the country’s adaptation to climate change until 2022, with the aim of “lowering the losses” of global warming.
The plan goes on to say that climate change poses a risk to Russia’s public health, endangers permafrost and increases the likelihood of infectious illnesses and natural disasters that could push numerous species out of their traditional habitats. Russia will likely see longer and more frequent droughts, extreme precipitation and flooding, and an increased risk of wildfires, says the document.
Yet the document isn’t all bad news. Among the possible “positive” effects of climate change, say its authors, are the reduction of energy consumption in colder regions, shrinking levels of ice, which will foster increased access to navigational opportunities in the Arctic Ocean, and expanded agricultural zones.
The plan lists 30 measures economic and social steps the government will take to minimize the country’s vulnerability to climate change. These include calculating the risk that Russian products could become less competitive as world markets favor new climate-related standards, as well as printing new educational materials to teach climate change as a subject in schools.
The document instructs government agencies to develop sector specific adaptation plans by September 30, 2021, including plans for housing, transport and energy.
Russia is uniquely vulnerable to climate change, with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure in arctic areas built on foundations of permafrost. At the same time, its average temperatures have increased 2.5 times more quickly than the average global air temperature since the mid-1970s.
In recent years, Russia has experienced disastrous flood and fires with massive wildfires engulfing Siberia in 2019. That year also marked its hottest on record, according to the Russian federal meteorological service.
Russia formally adopted the 2015 Paris climate agreement in September, and criticized the administration of Donald Trump for withdrawing the United States from the accord. The country has also seen a number of regional drives to construct wind and solar plants, as well as to bolster infrastructure for electric cars.
But President Putin is famously hostile to the notion of man-made climate change. At an Arctic forum in 2017, he said global warming was “a factor that bolsters optimism,” adding that it “provides more favorable conditions for economic activity in this region.” He once even quipped that climate change would allow Russians to save money on fur coats.
At the level of economic policy, the Kremlin has made long bets on Putin’s mild global warming forecasts. The rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice has opened the Northern Sea Route through once-impassible waters, and the Russian government has pledged some $11 billion over the next six years to develop it as a major shipping artery.
Once icebound shores are thawing, expanding access to minerals, gas deposits and fossil fuels, and Moscow is enlisting Asian partners – particularly China and South Korea – to haul out the bounty under the escort of its growing nuclear icebreaker fleet. Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom has been tapped to oversee the development of this vast new infrastructure – and to collect tolls from those who use it. In a recent speech, Putin said that one tenth of Moscow’s current investments are in the Arctic.
Environmental activists in Russia meanwhile labor in an atmosphere of official suspicion, and their organizations are often targeted by authorities and branded as “foreign agents.”