Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Russia's Adaptation to Climate Change

Russia's adapting to climate change by taking advantage of the warming of the Arctic. In the past few months, a few reports came out discussing a possible cold war over resources in the arctic which this blog discussed. One of the key factors is the relationship of the Arctic to Russia's national identity. The Times back in March quoted the Russian Envoy to NATO when referring to Russia's presence in the Arctic said,

“This topic will not be included in the agenda of co-operation between Russia and Nato ... there is nothing for them to do there," (hyperlink mine).

So Russia views its Arctic claims as non-NATO related even though it's trying to claim vast amounts of territory that Norway contests. The article then quotes Artur Chilingarov, the Russian government's representative to the Arctic who stated,

"Look at the map. Who is there near by? All our northern regions are in or come out into the Arctic. All that is in our northern, Arctic regions. It is our Russia."

'It's our Russia.' Chilingarov's claim is not based on economic considerations but on a perception of Russian identity. An excellent report released this month from The Arctic Climate Change and Security Policy Conference last December indicates:

Russia’s activities could be disruptive to the region if its recent focus on politics and territorial claims retains priority over increased attention to science and international cooperation. The driving factors may be Russian prestige, identity, and image, which converge on borders and territorial claims. For Russia, sovereignty in the Arctic is a “hard” security issue. Russian military interests center on the Kola Peninsula, home to the Russian nuclear submarine fleet, and on rebuilding the Northern fleet." (italics mine)

A melting arctic would allow easier access to resources but it would also provide an opportunity for Russia to regain its status as a great power. To that end, Russia's already manipulated its control over Europe's energy supplies and seeks to do so for the future.

Ironically, Russia's way of adapting to climate change is not to modernize its economy toward renewables and efficiency but to increase its dominance in fossil fuel exports by expanding its supplies in the Arctic. This 'adaptation' explains Russia's reluctance to seriously cut emissions and explains why it benefiting from climate change could come at a cost to the international community. The World Wildlife Fund's report on the climate change policies of the G8 countries has this to say about Russia:
No comprehensive national plan; ratified Kyoto Protocol very late and only under pressure; not very active in the preparatory negotiations, and often an obstacle at the last minute
On the other hand, rising temperatures would wreck much of Russia's infrastructure built on melting permafrost. Securing the Arctic won't adapt to that consequence.

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