Thursday, July 9, 2009

Climate Change Threatens Russia's Energy Infrastructure

Climate change will force countries to reconsider how they develop and maintain their energy infrastructure. For example, this week, French nuclear power plants were forced to shut down because of high water temperatures in French rivers, as the Times reports. This exemplifies how conventional nuclear power may not be sufficient for energy security in spite of its lack of carbon emissions. The underlying problem here is that these power plants were built on the assumption that the water would not get this warm. What engineers had once deemed a constant – the environment – they must now see as a variable.

Few places show this dynamic better than Russia. Climate change threatens Russia's energy security. In 2007, a report done by the United Nations Environment Program on Russia outlined the impact scenario:

Rising temperatures will push the permafrost boundary further north and deepen the surface melt. This may have big implications for future oil, gas and other investment projects...Destabilised, shifting permafrost conditions release greenhouse gases and could lead to flooding that will not only affect coastal and river bank human settlements, but will also require more expensive underpinning of buildings, refineries and other infrastructure such as the Baikal Amur railway and the planned East Siberia-Pacific export oil pipeline. This may increase the costs of pipeline construction because extensive trenching may be needed to combat the effects of coastal instability and erosion, especially that caused by permafrost melting. (italics mine)

Russia's most important industry, petroleum, relies on pipelines built on permafrost that's rapidly melting due to climate change. Developing resilient energy infrastructure is vital for energy security in the context of climate change.

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