Thursday, February 19, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Global Warming Hitting Russia Harder than Any Other Country, Experts Warn

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 19 – The Russian Federation will be more profoundly and negatively affected by global warming over the next 40 years than will any other country, a projection that Russian experts and officials say make it critical that Moscow take the lead both domestically and internationally to combat this trend.
A major reason for their overall conclusion is Russia’s geographical location. More than a third of that country is in the far north, where the melting of the permafrost below much of the surface will turn that region into an enormous bog and make difficult or extremely expensive for Moscow to exploit the oil and gas reserves there.
In some parts of this enormous region, that is already happening, with some roads there now completely impassable, pipelines and power lines regularly disrupted, and ability of companies to work there seriously compromised and of the government to control the area undercut, even as Moscow is talking about projecting power further into the Arctic.
Vladimir Katsov, director of the Main Geophysics Laboratory, addressed these problems yesterday in a discussion of a new report by the State Hydro-Meteorological Committee which has concluded that the earth is warming at a rate of 0.2 degrees centigrade per decade, an increase that will have enormous consequences for Russia (
In Siberia and the Russian Far East, he continued, that means that there will be ten to 15 fewer days below freezing by 2050 and that in the European portion of the country, there will be 15 to 30 fewer such days, a pattern that will mean less precipitation in the south and west and more in the northern and eastern sections of the country.
And while these consequences may seem far away to many, especially given the immediate challenges posed by the spreading economic crisis, Katsov argued, the fate of the Russian Federation in the second half of the 21st century “depends on what political decisions will be taken now.”
Other scholars and officials who took part in the preparation of the Committee’s report amplified on what Katsov said. Sergei Semyonov, a climate specialist, said that Russia is already experiencing the consequences of global warming, both because of the spread of certain weeds and because of the melting of permafrost (
But in contrast to Katsov, Semyonov suggested that global warming could have positive consequences at least in part, reducing the amount of energy that would be needed to irrigate some parts of the country while increasing the growing season in many, something that could allow Russia to produce more food.
Officials from the emergency situations ministry issued even more dire warnings in part because they even now have to cope with some of the problems global warming is causing. Over the next 25 to 30 years, they said, Russia’s permafrost zone will shrink “by more than ten percent,” increasing accidents and making it more difficult and expensive to work there.

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