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Russian Federation

Russian wildfires: No winners from climate change

Alan Miller's picture

A commonly heard comment in climate change discussions has been that the benefits of climate change – milder winters, increased agricultural productivity -- also have to be acknowledged. Russia and Canada, it has often been argued, could be economic “winners” from climate change due to easier access to ocean shipping routes, longer growing seasons, and the space and water necessary to increase agricultural production. A 2008 report of the U.S. National Intelligence Council notes that Russia “has the potential to gain the most from increasingly temperate weather”, citing easier access to Siberian energy reserves and an Arctic waterway. This idea was popular with some Russian scientists and politicians, who as recently as the past year questioned whether reductions in greenhouse gas emissions were necessary.

 

While consideration of benefits is appropriately included in economic studies of climate change, the recent heat waves and wildfires in Russia illustrate the limitations in thinking this way. The July heat wave – the worst in the
130 year record -- brought Moscow temperatures in excess of 100 degrees, destroyed crops on an estimated 25 million acres (about the size of Iceland), and led to intense fires across the country wiping out entire villages. Burning peat fields darkened the skies and filled the air with high levels of pollution. Breathing the outside air for an hour in Moscow is now reported to be equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes. In response to this, and other climate-related production declines in the EU and Canada, grain prices have risen 90 %. In order to protect domestic markets, Russia has banned grain exports.