Five Climate-Related Discoveries

To summarize the outcomes of 2014, the Climate Secretariat presents a top-5 of the year’s most important climate-related discoveries. Not all of them are actual scientific discoveries, strictly speaking. Rather, they are both the realizations that humanity has matured enough to come to, and naked facts - that present a serious dilemma for both Russia and the rest of the world.

Experts behind Mashable, a well-known news website, say that climate policy has finally heard the “voice of science”, a.k.a. IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Ice cap discoveries

The year 2014 marked a break-through in terms of us understanding the role that ice caps play in climate change. It has been proven with a high degree of precision that glaciers have a significantly bigger impact on the sea level rise that of thermal expansion of ocean waters. The future of the world’s biggest port cities depends in large part on just two massive ice caps, i.e. Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. They contain approximately two thirds of the Earth’s fresh water, and if they are destroyed, the sea level may rise much higher than previously anticipated (maybe even up to 4.5 meters) and inundate coastal settlements all across the globe. This ice cap revelation is a very important point for Russia to consider. On one hand, the future of the Arctic depends mainly on Russia’s Arctic strategy. On the other, the country’s both Baltic and Pacific coasts are extremely vulnerable to sea level rise.

Arctic impact on weather

Over the past two years the world has seen an array of incredibly extreme catastrophic weather events. Scientists have concluded that it is the result of a rapid warming happening in the Arctic. A steep decline in summer sea ice cover is altering weather patterns throughout the Northern hemisphere. Dozens of studies on this subject have been published, with the mainstream climate science community divided on this issue so far. Additional studies coming out in 2015 will further make it clear which hypothesis has the most merit, and could lead to a rethinking of the links between long-term global warming and short-term weather extremes.

Global warming has already caused an increased number of large-scale natural disasters in Russia, primarily floods and forest fires. According to Roshydromet (The Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring), the number of extreme hydrometeorological events have increased 2.5 times in the past twenty years.

Is the global warming “pause” truly over?

With 2014 almost assured to be the warmest year on record since instrumental records began in 1880, some scientists and journalists are already proclaiming the end of the so-called “pause” in global warming during the past two decades. The words “pause” and “hiatus” have been used inappropriately, since we're talking about a period of slower global warming compared to the 1980s and 1990s, not a complete halt in warming. Moreover, nearly every climate indicator — from ice sheets to temperature-sensitive species — have continued to show increased impacts from global warming.

Connecting extreme weather events to global warming

Science has come to a stage when it is possible to diagnose the contribution of global warming to an extreme event in near real-time. Until now, such studies have come out six months after an event or later, limiting their salience with the public. In 2015, one can expect many more rapid-attribution studies to be performed, each of which will have some limitations, making them similar to a medical test that suggests a particular ailment, without firmly concluding its presence with 100% certainty.

The science of attributing the contribution of manmade global warming to individual extreme weather and climate events is also important for Russia. In the past 100 years, the temperatures in Russia have been growing almost twice as rapidly as in other countries. The process is happening at a higher rate in the northern regions of the country – up to 2 to 3 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial values. According to the Emergencies Ministry, on average, over a hundred natural and manmade disasters are recorded annually in the Arctic zone of Russia.

Wildcard: oil prices

The crash in oil prices during the past few months has become a shock for the world markets. Russia’s economy is a vivid example to its consequences. Experts provide contradictory scenarios of how the oil shock will affect the future of both traditional and renewable energy projects. Many analysts agree that the shifted position of oil in the world economy should become a reason to reassess the role of fossil fuels and start aiming towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and developing clean low-carbon technologies.

“It is important that Russia’s climate strategy and action plans respond to the challenges that scientists of the world are talking about,” says Olga Senova, Head of RSEU’s Climate Secretariat. “It is of as much relevance to Russia as it is to any other country in the world, but our country’s actions in this direction are still very fragmented. We need legislative instruments that assign clear responsibilities for adaptation and mitigation. It would be useful to distribute the experience of Russian regions as well as other countries, where there are climate strategies and plans that are being effectively implemented. It becomes more and more urgent to completely review the priorities of our energy strategy and to move away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.”