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Climate Change in Russia: Benefit or Disadvantage?

Rising world temperatures resulted not only in ice melting in Russia’s north but also mild temperatures and ideal conditions in major wheat-growing regions.

MOSCOW, Russia – The Russian agriculture sector has a cause for celebration: according to the country’s Agriculture Ministry, Russia’s wheat exports have grown by nearly a quarter in the first ten months of 2017. Due to the change, Moscow now earns more from agriculture than weapons sales.

“This year, Russia will ship hefty volumes of grain to foreign markets. In particular, exports of wheat may total 32 million tons,” Aleksandr Korbut, vice-president of the Russian Grain Union, said in an interview with Izvestia daily earlier this month, commenting on the development.  

However, not all that glitters is gold: being the largest exporter of wheat in the world — and beating the United States to it — has come at a price.

The answer to the Russian wheat exports growth, which has almost doubled year-on-year, might lie in the increase of temperatures. Rising world temperatures resulted not only in ice melting in Russia’s north and droughts in the south but also mild temperatures and ideal conditions in major wheat-growing regions.

While numerous countries around the world are bracing for climate change, Russia might benefit from it.

In its annual World Economic Outlook report released in October, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said poor countries located in naturally hot regions of the world, would suffer the most as average temperatures rise. However, such countries with colder climate as Mongolia, Iceland, Finland, and Russia, where winters inhibit activity, will benefit from warmer temperatures that will result in economic development.

Sebastian Acevedo, an economist in the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department, told The Globe Post that warmer weather could result in an economic improvement in historically cold regions because some areas that were previously not suitable for agriculture, for example, could open for that type of activity.

“But you also have to take into account that more extreme weather balance – more rains in few months or draught in the rest of the year – could also affect agricultural production,” he noted.

The IMF climate change team underscored, however, that all countries in the world will suffer from unmitigated climate change, adding that the international community must play a key role in supporting states’ efforts to cope with the problem.

“The other thing we highlight in the chapter is that there’s gonna be winners and losers within countries, so some sectors might benefit, but others will be hurt,” Mr. Acevedo said.

Thanks to the higher temperatures, Russia is planning to harvest about 130 million tons of grain during the current season. This is not the only win for the country: some see the melting of the polar ice cap as more good news for Moscow.

During the Arctic Forum held last spring, President Vladimir Putin hinted at some positive results of the climate change.

“What I’m about to say may be unpopular…Climate change brings in more favorable conditions and improves the economic potential of the [Arctic] region,” he said.  

In fact, the ships are already able to navigate Arctic waters, and the melting ice will help to open up exploration of the Arctic continental shelf.

Alexey Kokorin, the head of climate and energy program of WWF Russia, is on alert, however.

“Every Russian climatologist and every leader now recognize that climate change is more negative for Russia than positive,” he told The Globe Post.  

The climate expert considers the climate change a problem for the world and Russia as well.

“If some other countries are damaged, for example, by 50 percent but Russia is damaged, let’s say, by 25 percent, it doesn’t mean that Russia won’t suffer. It will. Maybe we can say it will [suffer], but be less,” Mr. Kokorin said.

The Paris climate deal, signed by 195 participants of the UN Climate Change Conference, plays an important role in improving the situation. According to Mr. Kokorin, it is “cutting the American fundings on climate adaptation project.”

The IMF climate change team also considers the Paris deal critical, as it can help the world to avoid the worst of climate change.

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