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Russia lacks concrete action to address climate change

Rachel Savage and Angelina Davydova -

Russia’s first plan to adapt to climate change is a tardy but much-needed acknowledgement of the risks and opportunities presented by global warming, although it lacks concrete action to address the increasingly evident threats, analysts said.

The document, published this month on a government website, said climate change would have a significant and growing influence on Russia’s “socio-economic development, living conditions and human health, as well as on the state of economic infrastructure.’’

Russia would need to adjust to an increase in droughts, heavy rainfall, flooding, forest fires and infectious diseases and should start teaching climate change in schools, it said.

Given the “increasing vulnerability” of the population and economy to extreme weather and climate impacts, measures to adapt would be of “strategic importance”, including “making use of” new economic opportunities, it added.

The fossil fuel-rich nation could reap advantages from higher temperatures and melting ice, including less use of energy for heating, increased access for shipping in the Arctic and an expansion of agricultural production, it noted.

But climate change experts said the new framework was too general and did not require authorities to take real steps in the near term — even as the effects of climate change are becoming more apparent.

Alexey Kokorin, head of the climate and energy programme at green group WWF-Russia, said the adaptation to a warming climate was “so evidently a necessity”.

The negative consequences of climate change were “already quite strong” for Russia but it had yet to work out how “to take advantage of the positive ones”, he added.

Temperatures in Russia have risen 2.5 times faster than the global average since the mid-1970s, according to the document.

Recent climate-related disasters in Russia have included 2019 wildfires that raged across Siberia, destroying at least 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) of forest.

Roman Vilfand, acting head of Russia’s Hydrometeorology Centre, noted this month that temperatures across the country were far above normal levels, including 200C higher than average in Siberia, one of the world’s coldest places.

Moscow’s authorities were even forced to bring in artificial snow for New Year celebrations during the Russian capital’s warmest December since 1886.

Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development said the plan, which it produced, would lay the foundations for a national strategy to adapt to climate change, while raising public awareness of the issue.

“It will also emphasise that the Russian Federation is ready to make efforts and systematically deal with the fight against climate change,” the ministry said in a written comment.

The document outlines a framework for national adaptation, mainly through legislative amendments and drafting of plans for regions and economic sectors over the next three years.

“Regions are not really required to do anything over the next few years — it is a very unambitious document,” said Georgy Safonov, associate professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

Until recently Russia had no coordinated policy on climate change adaptation and most of its responses to weather disasters were “reactive”, he said by email.

In a social media post, Russian youth climate activists in the Fridays for Future group welcomed the new plan but said “as always, the Russian government is in no hurry and is turning a blind eye to the sky-rocketing average temperature on the planet.’’

— Thomsun Reuters Foundation

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