Saturday, May 3, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Climate Change Threatens Russian North, Country’s National Security

Paul Goble

Baku, May 3 – Climate change is opening the Russian North for economic development, but both global warming itself and some of the new economic activities there represent threats to the country’s national security, according to senior officials, politicians, and academic specialists who took part in a Moscow conference on the subject last week.
In welcoming participants to his ministry, Ruslan Tsalikov, first deputy minister for extraordinary situations, said Russian is being affected by global warming far more than most other countries. Indeed, he said, Russia needs to recognize “the possible threats” it poses to “the defense of our national interests” (
But he suggested that even if global warming continues at its current pace, Russia has the opportunity to respond to it in ways that will simultaneously allow it to protect both its existing infrastructure there and the local populations and to exploit the enormous natural resources of the North.
Another speaker, Senator Gennady Oleynik, who heads the Federation Council’s Committee on Northern Affairs, said that the rapidly changing situation in the country’s northern regions will inflict serious harm on anyone who thinks Moscow can avoid adopting new and carefully designed programs.
And a third, Senator Yuri Vorob’yev, who earlier served in Tsalikov’s slot, said that he was particularly concerned about protecting the traditional way of life of the numerically small peoples of the North, who are closely linked to the land and whose existence could be threatened by the economic development global warming may allow.
Participants noted that global warming is threatening not only the Arctic Sea ice but permafrost which underlies much of the Russian North. As it melts, the ground becomes unstable, threatening pipelines and other human construction. Already, they reported, some 30 percent of the pipeline accidents in the North are connected to the melting of permafrost.
Its melting also threatens buildings there – roughly a quarter of all housing and other construction in the Russian North is now at risk of collapse – and, because of the changes warming makes to the surface ecology, many of the numerically small peoples of the North will find it impossible to continue to life as they have from time immemorial.
Unfortunately, several of those who took part in the sessions indicated that some businesses going into the region ignore these realities, and thus do things which may bring short term profit but guarantee more problems in the future both for the firms themselves and for the country.
But the Federation Council members did announce one positive step: The upper house is readying legislation that will directly address the impact of global warming on the peoples of the North and provide new funds both to protect their way of life and to provide guidance to companies moving in to exploit the natural resources on their lands.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the participants issued the following five e continuation of recommendations: First, they called for the establishment of better monitoring of development in the North and improved sharing of information among the various institutions active there. Second, they urged the continuation of current Russian research on global warming.
Third, they called for the development of special methods and organizations to deal with warding off or recovering from accidents in the Far North caused by climate change. Fourth, they urged the codification of rules for all future construction of buildings and pipelines in this region.
And fifth, they said that the central government must recognize the North as it is now threatened by global warming as a distinct zone in which the rules that work elsewhere do not apply, a broad requirement but one that could open the way for greater discussions about how Moscow should respond to the broader challenge of global warming.

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