Climate as a challenge

The Third Assessment Report on Climate Change and its Impacts in the Russian Federation published by Roshydromet, unlike the first two reports, includes not only facts and forecasts of a purely climatic nature, but also chapters with a detailed assessment of the impact of climate change on the natural environment, economic sectors and population. For the first time, the official document includes sections on the consequences for Russian regions and areas of adaptation to climate change.

We heat up faster

The authors of the Third Assessment Report once again confirm that Russia is warming almost twice as fast as the planet on average. The fastest warming is observed in the Arctic zone: by 0.71°C per decade. If in the last century extremely hot periods lasting more than 5 days were observed once in 5-10 years, by the middle of the XXI century they can be observed almost annually.


Meteorologists expect that by the end of this century daily precipitation maximums will increase practically on the whole territory of Russia. Already now every decade the increase is +2.2% of the norm. Especially - in the north-eastern regions of the country - by 10-20%. In the summer season, the average amount of precipitation is predicted to increase in most of the country, but the duration of dry periods is increasing in the southern regions.


The authors of the report note that deviations from hydrological norms lead to the vulnerability of ecosystems in Russian regions. In the European part of Russia, fires, droughts and extreme winds are on the rise, while in the Asian part of the country there is permafrost degradation, forest and peat fires, and the impact of insect pests. Scientists also note the ever-increasing concentration of the two main “drivers” of warming: carbon dioxide and methane.


As follows from the report, water temperature anomalies in the Arctic seas already reach 1.4-4.1°C. Water surface temperature in Russian seas is increasing at a rate from 0.2°C (Sea of Okhotsk) to 0.52°C in 10 years (Black Sea). Arctic fish species are shrinking and shifting northward, their abundance and biomass are decreasing, while alien species are increasingly invading the southern seas. The level of all Russian seas continues to rise at an average rate of 2-4 mm per year. At the same time, in the Caspian Sea the water level has been decreasing by 10 cm per year since 2018.


The decrease of salty and oxygen-rich water from the North Sea due to climate change has resulted in a fivefold increase in the area of oxygen-free areas - “dead zones” in the Baltic over the last two decades.


Vulnerable economy

The Third Assessment Report provides detailed assessments of the impact of climate change on individual sectors of the economy. It provides data on the oil and gas sector, a “strategic” industry for Russia: the consequences of permafrost thawing lead to 10-20% of oil production losses, and about 60% of accidents at facilities are related to meteorological factors.


Transportation is also one of the most vulnerable sectors to climate change. Meteorologists say the only possible upside is the opening of new routes across the Arctic seas. However, they note the reduction of operating time and capacity of winter roads. Floods and floods cause great damage to transportation communications. Abnormal temperatures and storms increasingly interfere with the normal functioning of air transportation.


Climate change brings losses and adds risks to coal and other extractive industries. Scientists have noted the intensity of precipitation in regions where major industries are located. Intense precipitation falling in short intervals of time is dangerous for the operation of mines and can lead to catastrophic consequences, as they were designed taking into account the state of the climate system in the XX century.


The energy sector is also vulnerable to climate change. The threat to infrastructure from hazardous weather events (tornadoes, heavy rains, extreme wind speeds, etc.) is increasing. Analysis of the impact on the operation of NPPs and TPPs has shown that by mid-century, the areas with the most developed energy infrastructure - the central and southern regions of European Russia and the south of Western Siberia - will be in the zone of the greatest risks. “In this situation, a comprehensive approach to adaptation, including technological, behavioral and institutional measures, is needed to improve the reliability and efficiency of power plants,” Roshydromet analysts wrote.


Experts consider the fact that by the middle of the century the heating period in the north of Russia may be reduced by 15-18% to be positive. At the same time, construction design standards in these regions will have to be revised to take into account the weakening bearing capacity of permafrost soils. Also, the number of days with the air temperature crossing 0°C will increase, which will accelerate the aging of building structures.


According to the authors of the report, the increasing anomalies of total solar radiation make solar energy even more promising for Russia. Experts emphasize that the use of renewable energy (RES) is one of the main alternatives to fossil fuels for the implementation of greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in the energy sector.


According to the report, climate change has some benefits for agriculture in the form of a longer growing season, but it may also lead to a decrease in the productivity of grain crops: by about 10% by the middle of the century. In order to overcome the negative consequences of changes in weather and climate factors, an effective adaptation strategy for the agricultural sector of the Russian economy is needed - this is the conclusion reached by experts.


“The domino effect”

As follows from the report, climate change is already having a negative impact on Russian residents, and these processes will worsen. Experts have identified three areas in which climate change affects human health. These are direct impacts due to extreme weather: loss of life, increased traumatism, increased mortality from exacerbation of chronic diseases.


Second, indirect impacts due to changes in the environment and ecosystems: the spread of infectious diseases by various fauna, waterborne diseases, health problems caused by dust transported from desert areas.


Third, socio-economic changes can cause nervous and mental disorders. For example, too high air temperatures can lead to an increase in suicides, and sweltering weather provokes an increase in alcoholic psychosis.


Climate change will affect employment in Russia as early as 2030. If certain efforts are made, it may be possible to benefit from it - higher temperatures in winter may promote tourism.


But already now, due to natural hazards, working hours are being lost, and under the influence of global climate change, the frequency and scale of natural disasters will increase. In addition, extreme heat noticeably reduces labor productivity.


At the same time, in Russian cities the change in the temperature regime is noticeably more intense than in the adjacent background territories, due to the clearly defined effect of the “heat island”. In a city, a single extreme natural phenomenon can lead to a cascading effect, large-scale destruction of infrastructure - a “domino effect.”


The authors of the report raise the issue of the impact of climate change on demographic processes. Climatic conditions are currently responsible for about 0.3% of all migratory movements of the Russian population. Forced displacement from natural disasters caused the evacuation of more than 142 thousand people in Russia in 2010-2020. According to forecasts, by 2030 natural and climatic changes may lead to an increase in mortality by about 0.1% and cause up to 0.5% of all migratory movements within Russia and across its borders.


Rising temperatures worsen living conditions and economic activity in the climatically unfavorable regions of the Far North, Siberia and the Far East, and lead to increased migration and depopulation. Indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Russian Far East are particularly threatened by climate change, as their way of life is based on reindeer herding, fishing and hunting.


Finally, the need to implement measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will lead to significant structural shifts in the Russian economy and, consequently, in the country’s labor market. The fact is that the main importers of Russian oil, gas and coal will reduce their demand for fossil fuels, which creates risks for both the country’s economy as a whole and its labor market.


“All this demonstrates the importance of timely implementation of climate change adaptation measures, which should be aimed not only at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, designed to slow down the rise in global temperature, but also at increasing adaptive capacity in various spheres of society,” the authors of the report summarize.


Sustainability orientation

The authors of the report note that “the entire set of threats, risks and opportunities caused by observed and expected climate change is important for Russia, which brings specific features to the climate policy of the Russian Federation both at the federal and regional levels, and which to some extent distinguishes our country from most countries in the world.”


“Russia must fulfill its commitments under the Paris Agreement and reduce greenhouse gas emissions domestically,” they write. “In addition to reducing the share of hydrocarbon fuels, a focus on sustainable agriculture and an energy- and resource-efficient economy is needed.”


The current state of affairs indicates “a significant adaptation deficit.” The report states that a strategy for urban adaptation to climate change should include: expanding health surveillance and early warning systems for hazardous weather events using technology and social media, especially for the elderly, very young and poor; reducing the urban heat island effect using passive approaches: tree planting, green and reflective roofs and permeable sidewalks; developing strategies for resilience of water and energy systems to climate change, which play a key role in protecting.


In addition, the authors of the report consider the capacity and importance of ecosystems for regional adaptation to be underestimated. For example, protective forests have significant potential to reduce the speed and magnitude of floods, the effects of heat waves and a number of other negative climate-related effects.


According to the report, actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation will lead to the development of clean energy and increased recycling rates, which in turn will create new jobs in these areas of the economy, as well as in construction, science and education.


In addition, special social programs can help reduce poverty and mitigate the negative effects of the “green turn” on the labor market for vulnerable groups: rural residents, migrant workers, women, indigenous minorities, as well as residents of single-industry towns, where the town-forming enterprises are oil and gas or coal industry.


“World experience shows that the lower the initial level of structural and technological modernization of the country’s economy, the more significant will be the decline in GDP growth rates and living standards of the population during the transition to a “green economy”, and the greater will be the job losses. Therefore, Russia in this context needs to prioritize investments in fixed capital, the development of processing industries and the “knowledge economy” (science, education, health care, culture),” the report noted.

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