Climate change will create winners and losers — or rather, mostly losers, and a few winners. Impoverished equatorial countries face the harshest impacts. Wealthy Western nations will cope better. Russia may fare the best of all, largely as an accident of geography.
This is good new for Vladimir Putin. He wants Russia to become an agricultural powerhouse. Climate change could help.
Putin is upping crop production in an effort to become, as he said, “the world’s largest supplier of healthy, ecologically clean and high-quality food.” This year, Russia surpassed the United States as the world’s biggest exporter of wheat. Russian farming is booming. Plutocrats are snatching up arable land. In the years ahead, global warming could bolster Russian agricultural supremacy.
Vladimir Putin previously said that “an increase of two or three degrees wouldn’t be so bad for a northern country like Russia. We could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up.” He’s at least partly right. While climate change threatens to stunt wheat production in the United States, in Russia it’s a different story.
Rising temperatures will thaw Russia’s icy reaches. Melting permafrost will damage infrastructure and release noxious methane gas, but it will also expand arable land. A 2011 study found global warming could add more than 400,000 square miles of potential farmland, an area more than twice the size of California. That fact has investors looking to Siberia with dollar signs in their eyes.
Under the Paris Climate Agreement, Russia pledged to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent below 1990 levels, but emissions currently stand at 35 percent below 1990 levels, meaning Russia has allowed itself room to pollute even more — a boon for the world’s fourth-largest carbon emitter, third-largest oil producer and second-largest natural gas producer.
Despite all apparent indifference on global warming, Russia will face numerous challenges in the coming decades. Rising temperatures will deliver heat waves and wildfires. Drought is already hurting farms in the south, where skilled growers live and work. The cost of relocating those operations to newly arable lands in Siberia would be enormous.
Is climate change good for the Russia? That remains to be seen. At the very least, Russians won’t have to spend so much money on fur coats.