Facing the heat on climate change

Wrangel Island in the Republic of Chukotka, the  home of the polar bear. Source: Bezrukov & Bashnaeva

Wrangel Island in the Republic of Chukotka, the home of the polar bear. Source: Bezrukov & Bashnaeva

Russia could find its environment-related policies clearly outlined at the UNFCC COP climate conference scheduled in Paris later this month.

The 2012 floods in Krasnodar were the largest in the history of Russia’s Black Sea coast, killing 171 people. Five months’ volume of rainfall hit the mountainous regions of the Krasnodar in just two days. Rivers overflowed and mixed with mud flows to seriously damage settlements.

In Krymsk, the worst hit city, water levels reached seven metres above normal. The flooding started in the early morning and took everyone by surprise. After the floods, authorities were criticized because the city’s alarm system had failed in the disaster and the local storm sewer system and Adagum riverbed was not prepared for such volumes.

Three years later, Russian and German researchers have shown that there was another culprit: climate change. In an article published in the July 2015 issue of Nature Geo-science, scientists linked the flood in Krymsk to the two-degree Celsius increase in temperatures in the Black Sea since 1984. This is how scientific data highlights the need for cities to prepare for the impact of climate change. But most Russian cities are not prepared. St. Petersburg is the only city with a plan to adapt to climate change.

St. Petersburg’s strategy, adopted this year, took four years to develop and was based on plans from Finland, Denmark, the UK and India. The strategy includes measures for mitigating risks and adapting to serious threats, especially floods.

By 2100, sea levels in the Gulf of Finland could rise by a meter and the city’s flood-protection systems might not work.

Moscow, which suffered severe heat waves in 2010; the Far East, which in 2013 was by the severest flood in centuries; and the Arctic, which scientists say is losing territory at an alarming rate from global warming and erosion, are all without plans to adapt to climate change.

According to Vladimir Chuprov, Greenpeace Russia’s energy expert, the federal plan for adapting to climate change, adopted in 2011, exists only on paper. Its implementation was handed to the Ministry of Regional Development, which was later disbanded. It is now up to the regions themselves to implement the plans.

What to expect from Paris?

The main difference between the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, which will most likely be signed at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference beginning on November 30 in Paris, is that the emphasis at the conference will not be on limiting emissions but on ways of adapting to the changing climate.

The conference will be particularly relevant for Russia because its adaptation plans are only in the early stages.

Alexei Kokorin, head of WWF Russia’s energy program, thinks the conference’s focus will be on how the world’s leading economies will give more vulnerable countries resources for 
adapting to climate change, and the time frame for that to happen.

Experts believe that the sum of the resources required will be about $100 billion by 2020. In other words, Kokorin thinks that Paris “is a 10 to 15-year pause in the real reduction of emissions, compensated by massive aid to weak countries.”

Developed countries will try to lay the burden for adaptation on its private corporations, while the countries that are the most vulnerable to climate change will be given more resources.

Since Russia is part of an intermediate group of countries (that is, developing countries that do not need financial aid but are not strong enough to be major donors themselves), the conference’s agenda will bypass Russia.

Meanwhile, Russia will try to figure out how it can become part of the low-carbon global trend without damaging its economy, which is very dependent on traditional energy sources.

The obligations that Moscow is ready to assume seem impressive: Russia is promising to cut emissions by 25-30 per cent by 2030 from levels in 1990. But Russia’s emissions are already less than in 1990, so this commitment sounds more significant than it actually is.

Russia may cut its emissions more substantially, but at this stage, it 
is not making dramatic 
commitments.

Ecologists predict that Russia is likely to return to business as usual, although it may work harder at adaptation strategies and developing green-energy industries, which right now only produce one per cent of Russia’s power.

Still, it is important to note that the Russian government has begun recognizing the reality of climate change. During his recent speech at the UN General Assembly, President Vladimir Putin said that climate change is one of the most important problems facing humanity.

According to the director of the ecology department 
at the Ministry of Economic 
Development, Vladimir Maximov, after Putin signed the decree On The Reduction Of Greenhouses Gases Russia began to address its climate issues.

The results of the Paris Convention and the signing (or not) of the Paris Agreement will determine how far Russia will go in developing its adaptation plans.

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