Thursday, January 6, 2011

Subsiding buildings and buckled pipelines

I was tidying my computer and found this piece I wrote for someone, published somewhere...and quite like it so thought I would post it here!

"Subsiding apartment buildings and buckled pipelines; rampant encephalitis bearing tics; and, Central Asian migrants making their way in ever greater numbers to the heartlands are just some of the social and economic impacts of climate change emerging in Russia as the average mean temperature steadily rises; and, rises at a quicker rate than elsewhere, reflecting its more northerly latitude.



The most visible impacts – damaged infrastructure – are already a reality. In June 2002 a block of flats was ruined owing to the permafrost melting beneath it. In the summer of 2006, a car park in Yakutsk similarly disappeared, swallowing several cars in a giant crater.


But there are more insidious threats: in Tuva cases of encephalitis, a debilitating disease, sometimes fatal, is on the rise as the tics that carry it survive the steadily warming winters.

Meanwhile, as the poorer countries of Central Asia such as Tajikistan dry out with retreating glaciers affecting irrigation and sharper but less frequent rains damaging crops, people in ever greater numbers will be tempted to migrate to Russia in search of work. A process with which many ethnic Russians are deeply uncomfortable (said with typical English understatement): immigration stimulating the potential for social conflict.


These cumulative effects have the capacity both to lower economic potential and disturb social peace. They require co-ordinated, long term policy responses from a government not especially versed in the art of thinking into the long term; and, with a dual-headed administration only one of which (Medvedev) treats climate change with the seriousness it deserves.

But change is slowly underway with an emphasis on energy efficiency (reflected in new legislation) to cut emissions and the incorporation of adapting to climate change within policies emerging from the new governmental mantra of ‘modernisation’.


Russia has come up with realistic and robust targets for emission reduction based on what they think they can achieve rather than wishful thinking (or international grandstanding). They have taken a low key approach to the post-Kyoto negotiations but have never been obstructive (nor highly constructive). They are proud of meeting (their admittedly unchallenging) Kyoto targets.

The next phase will possibly depend on how far ordinary Russians (to whom the government does listen, sometimes and more than people, especially ordinary Russians, think) take climate change seriously; and, to this end, Oxfam GB has been working with a range of civil society organisations, particularly those working with young people, to raise the profile of the challenge Russia faces; and, why global warming in a cold climate is not necessarily a ‘good thing’!


The full report (of which I was the co-editor) on which this was based is ‘Russia and Neighbouring Countries: Environmental, Economic and Social Impacts of Climate Change’ published by WWF Russia and available in Russian and English from www.wwf.ru."

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