Climate Change: Zoom on Russia

Indicators of climate change and general data about climate change in Russia

As it’s commonly agreed among scientists climate change is in large part induced by the anthropogenic influence on the atmosphere. Examination of polar ice core helped to identify a fast rise of green house gases emitted in the atmosphere starting from industrial revolution.

According to NASA key indicators of climate change are carbon dioxide concentration, global surface temperature, arctic sea ice, land ice and sea level, which all relate to the rise of the atmospheric temperature

Since the collapse of the USSR up to 2011 Russia’s total CO2 emissions dropped 23% due to the closing down the old smokestack industries. (Yale, 2011). Yet Russia remains one of the world’s largest emitters of green house gases, mostly due to the use of fossil fuels, i.e. emissions from gas consumption still represent the largest fraction (49,1%) of Russia’s emissions (Yale, 2011)

On the global arena as of 2009 Russia was the fourth world’s largest emitter  of CO2 with 5,2% of global total behind China (25,4%), USA (17,8%) and India (5,3%). Cumulative emissions in Russia (1850 -2007) equal to 94,7 MT of CO2 equivalent, 8% of world’s emissions during the same period, which of course tells a story about the heavy industrial past of the country.  With its 143 600 000 inhabitants Russia remains one of the largest countries in the world  (ROSSTAT, 2013) so the per capita emissions are not as impressive as the totals compared to other countries: 11,6 tons, Russia is the 4th after Qatar (36,9 t), USA (17,3 t) and Australia (17,0 t) (The Guardian, 2011)

Evidence of and Vulnerability to Climate Change in Russia

According to IPCC (2007) climate change effected temperature increase is greater at higher northern latitudes Climate change manifests itself on the territory of Russian federation by increase in strength and frequency of extreme natural phenomena (droughts, floods – i.e. one of the most recent and catastrophic ones in late Autumn – start of winter 2013 in Russia’s Far East; heat waves, heavy rains or snow, etc),  thawing of permafrost and specific changes in Arctic region.

Permafrost thawing

As permafrost occupies more than 60% of territory of Russian Federation its thawing due to the increase in temperature is one of the most specific manifestations of climate change in RF. Melting permafrost not only releases CO2 engraved in ice for centuries, but also might seriously harm the infrastructure, buildings and industries located on the permafrost territories as while melting the earth loses its bearing capacity. Although the density of the population in Siberia is rather low – around 6 people per sq. km (The Siberian Internet Portal, 2009), more than 30% of explored oil reserves, about 60% of natural gas and large coal- and peat-beds are concentrated in the Russia’ northern regions, the broad infrastructure serving the needs of mining industries has been developed there. Many pile-dwellings are based on the frozen ground and may be exploited only at certain temperatures (WWF, Oxfam, 2008). So, the level of development of infrastructure in the northern regions is rather high, which increases the vulnerability.

Moreover, specific attention should be attributed to the fact that nuclear waste has been buried in the permafrost zones and thawing of these zones might cause spills of nuclear waste to the soils and in the air. (Anti Radiation Association, 2013)

Wildfires, peat fires, heat waves

According to IPCC rising temperatures may cause the rise of frequency of heat waves and wildfires. In Summer 2010 Russia experienced a coincidence of heat wave, wild fire which later resulted in peat land fire. It was estimated by Munich Re that around 56 thousands of people died because of the effects of heat wave and smog from wild fires.

The natural phenomena occurring because of the climate change further induce economic and social consequences, as for example: energy poverty, adverse impacts on health, as climate change produces more frequent occurrence of extreme natural events it therefore creates forced migration and changes usual living conditions, which in its turn increases the risk of spread of contagious diseases, worsening of living conditions, impossibility to conduct traditional lifestyle for the Russia’s North indigenous population, loss of property and housing and thus, suggest a higher vulnerability to the upcoming events.

Legal and institutional framework

To mitigate where possible the risk of further climate change effects and to adjust to  its consequences which can’t be improved there have been several steps taken in Russia. The main stakeholders and partners in the process apart from government are EU and the NGOs (WWF, Oxfam, Greenpeace).

First, to take on the obligations to reduce the released GHG Russia has ratified Kyoto protocol in 2002. Yet it’s mostly commonly agreed that Kyoto protocol doesn’t work well as a binding agreement, and following the example of Canada Russia decided to withdraw from taking on further CO2 reduction targets recalling the fact that some large emitters didn’t ratify the protocol and for those who did, the burden of reducing CO2 emissions to a needed level will be more heavy and it might artificially limit economic development of these countries.

Acknowledging the necessity of climate change mitigation and adaptation president Medvedev adopted a Climate Doctrine in 2009. The Doctrine admits for the first time the anthropogenic nature of climate change inducement and stipulates that mitigation policies should be developed to mitigate the effects of climate change, which would bring net economic benefits to the nation.(Yale, 2011)

Signed in 2011 the Comprehensive Implementation Plan of the Climate Doctrine by 2020 gives further details on the concrete mitigation and adaptation measures and actions (Decision of the Government No 730-p, 25 April, 2011). Same year the president expressed support of satellite environmental monitoring systems, green energy development, and the promotion of hybrid and electric vehicles. (Medvedev, 2011)

Yet in the young 2014 the actions of Russia towards mitigation and adaptation to climate change seem to be recovery rather than preventing, as clearly show the latest floods on Russia’s Far East. Among the critiques to the governmental actions the most glaring are the following: mitigation and adaptation actions are not adequately financed and policies are left without proper attention, lack of local translation of national doctrines and policies.



WWF Russia, Oxfam (2008) Russia and Neighbouring Countries: Environmental, Economic and Social Impacts of Climate Change  Moscow, British Embassy Press, 64p

Yale (2011) Russia Climate Policy and Emissions Data Sheet , 3p

UNDP in Russia (2009) Integrated Climate Change Strategies for Sustainable Development of Russia’s Arctic Regions (Case Study for Murmansk Oblast – Summary), Moscow, 31p

NASA (2013) Key Indicators of Climate Change found at on 28.12.2013

ROSSTAT (2013) Population of Russian Federation. Survey results retrieved from on 28.12.2013

The Guardian (2011) Which nations are most responsible for climate change? Retrieved from, on the 30.12.2013

The Siberian Internet Portal (2009) Population of Siberia retrieved from, on the 30.12.2013

Anti Radiation Association (2013) Radio-Ecological Situation in Russia’s Far North retrieved from on the 03.01.2014

Medvedev (2011) Speech Before the Commission for Modernisation and Technological Development of Russia’s Economy, retrieved from on the 03.01.2014

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