PEVEK, Russia – Renewed port. New plant for the production of electricity. Road repair. There was money left for the renovation of the library and the construction of a new esplanade on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.
Globally, climate warming is an impending disaster that threatens lives and livelihoods with floods, fires and droughts, and requires enormous effort and cost to combat.
But in Pevek, a small port town in the Arctic Ocean in Russia’s Far North that benefits from the boom in Arctic shipping, a warming climate is seen as a barely softening windfall.
“I would call it a revival,” said Valentina Khristoforova, curator of the local history museum. “We are living in a new era.”
While governments around the world may be in a rush to stave off the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change, Russia’s global warming economy is shaping up differently.
Arable land is expanding, and farmers are planting corn in parts of Siberia where it has never grown before. Heating bills are declining in winter, and Russian fishermen have found a modest pollock catch in the thawed regions of the Arctic Ocean near Alaska.
The outlook is nowhere brighter than in Russia’s Far North, where rapidly rising temperatures open up many new opportunities, such as mining and energy projects. Perhaps the most important of these is the prospect of year-round Arctic shipping as early as next year using specially designed ice-class container ships that will become an alternative to the Suez Canal.
The Kremlin’s policy on climate change is controversial. In domestic politics, this does not really matter. But with Russia’s global image in mind, President Vladimir Putin recently pledged for the first time that Russia, the world’s fourth-largest producer of greenhouse gases and a giant fossil fuel producer, would be carbon neutral by 2060.
Fortunately for Pevek and other outposts in the High North, in practice the Russian approach seems to boil down to this: While climate change can pose a huge threat to the future, why not take advantage of the commercial opportunities it currently offers?
Across the Russian Arctic, a consortium of state-backed companies is halfway through a plan to invest 735 billion rubles, or about $ 10 billion, over five years to develop the Northeast Passage, a sea route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans that the Russians call Northern Sea Route. They plan to attract sea traffic between Asia and Europe, which now passes through the Suez Canal, as well as create opportunities for mining, natural gas and tourism.
The more the ice recedes, the more sense these business ideas make. The minimum summer ice cover in the Arctic Ocean is about a third less than the 1980s average when monitoring began, researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado said last year. The ocean has lost nearly a million square miles of ice and is expected to be mostly ice-free in the summertime by about mid-century, even at the North Pole.
Pevek is a key port on the eastern edge of this thawed sea. Before the big melts and economic opportunities were in the spotlight, it was an ice backwater, one of the many dying outposts of the Soviet empire that gradually turned into ghost towns.
It was founded in the 1940s as a gulag camp for tin and uranium mining, where many prisoners died. “Pevek, it seemed, consisted of watchtowers,” recalled former prisoner Alexander Tyumin in a collection of memoirs about the Arctic Siberian camps.
In the tundra outside the city, snow accumulates on the masses of abandoned helicopters, abandoned cars and on the fields of old fuel drums, as garbage collection is too expensive.
In the eerie, empty settlements of the GULAG scattered nearby, broken windows stare blankly at the frozen wasteland.
In winter, the sun sinks below the horizon for months. The seasonal wind howls at 90 miles per hour. When this comes, parents do not let their children go outside so that they are not blown away by the wind.
Pevek’s previous business plans fell through. An attempt to sell venison to Finland, for example, fell through when Finnish inspectors rejected the product, said Raisa Timoshenko, a reporter for the city’s North Star newspaper.
Just a few years ago, the city and its satellite settlements were largely abandoned. The population dropped to 3,000 from 25,000 during Soviet times. “There were rumors that the city would close,” said Pavel Rozhkov, a resident of the city.
But with global warming, the wheel of fortune turned, and the population increased by about 1,500 people, confirming in at least one small pocket the Kremlin’s strategy to adapt to change – spend where necessary and profit where possible.
This policy has its critics. “Russia is claiming the merits of its adaptation approach because it wants to realize the full commercial potential of its fossil fuel resources,” said Marisol Maddox, Arctic analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scientists in Washington.
Overall, she said, for Russia, “the evidence suggests that the risks far outweigh the benefits, no matter how optimistic the Russian authorities are.”
The Kremlin has not turned a blind eye to the shortcomings of global warming, recognizing in its 2020 policy decree “the vulnerability of Russia’s population, economy and natural resources to the effects of climate change.”
The plan noted that global warming would require costly adaptations. The government will have to cut firewalls in forests that have become vulnerable to wildfires, reinforce flood dams, rebuild houses that have collapsed on melting permafrost, and prepare for a possible decline in global oil and natural gas demand.
Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear company that coordinates investments in the shipping route, said the initiative benefits from climate change, but will also help combat it by cutting emissions from ships plying between Europe and Asia by 23 percent, compared with much more. long Suez route. …
For example, a trip from Busan (South Korea) to Amsterdam via the Northern Sea Route is 13 days shorter – a significant saving in time and fuel.
Shipping in the Russian Arctic grew by about 50 percent last year, although it still accounts for only 3 percent of traffic through the Suez Canal. But a test voyage last February with a specially reinforced commercial vessel confirmed that the crossing could be completed in winter, so traffic is expected to skyrocket when the route opens year-round next year, Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev said. Russian media.
“We will gradually remove transport from the Suez Canal,” Trutnev said of the plan. “The second possibility for humanity, of course, does not bother anyone.”
The money is being funneled into Arctic projects. In July, Rosatom signed an agreement with DP World, a port and logistics company in Dubai, to create ports and a fleet of ice-class container ships with specially reinforced hulls for navigating the icy seas.
The melting ocean has also made oil, natural gas and mining businesses more profitable by lowering shipping and shipping costs. The billion-dollar joint venture between Russian Novatek, France’s Total, China’s CNPC and other investors now exports about 5 percent of all liquefied natural gas traded globally through the melting Arctic Ocean.
Overall, analysts say at least half a dozen large Russian energy, shipping and mining companies will benefit from global warming.
One of the benefits that the residents of Pevek did not feel is the feeling that the climate is really getting warmer. The weather seems to them as cold and terrible as ever, despite the fact that the average temperature is 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit higher than 20 years ago.
Global warming was “a plus from an economic point of view,” said librarian Olga Platonova. However, she and others say that in light of the costly and dangerous changes around the world, they have no reason to celebrate.
And even here, the environmental impact is uncertain, many say, citing the unsettling appearance in recent years of a flock of noisy crows that have never been seen before.
And Mrs. Platonova had one more regret: “It is a pity that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will not see the frozen north as we experienced it.”