Greenpeace Russia warns the government of the dangers of climate change

Press release - 20 November, 2009
The thaw of permafrost presents a serious threat for the Russian economy, according to a Greenpeace report presented today at a press conference at Information Agency RIA Novosti. Important infrastructure, including thousands of kilometers of oil and gas pipelines in West Siberia, is under threat of damage and destruction. Greenpeace will hand the report to federal and regional governments, as well as major companies.

Yamal children

The permafrost zone comprises over 60% of Russian territory. Over the past fifteen years, the area whose climate is favourable for permafrost has shrunk by about a third. Temperature rise as a result of global climate change leads to the degradation of centuries-old permafrost soils. This has the potential to become an economic, geopolitical and social problem of a national scale.

The report, authored by the leading Russian and world experts in cryology (permafrost science) and climate science, estimates the social and economic consequences of permafrost degradation, and identifies the most vulnerable areas and infrastructure.

"Projected changes in permafrost present a serious danger for the Russian economy, particularly because of a rising risk of damage to the infrastructure of the Far North. There are no accurate quantitative estimates of this potential damage yet, and no adequate economic methods to arrive at these estimates" - said the leading author of the report, Dr Oleg Anisimov, Dr Oleg Anisimov (Russian State hydrology institute, St. Petersburg), participant of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

According to the scientists' observations, the number of accidents with infrastructure at permafrost zone has grown in the past 20 years. As temperatures rise and soil thaws, pile-buildings become less reliable, so dwellings, bridges, and pipelines deform and collapse.

At the oil wells in Khanty-Mansiysk district, an average of 1900 accidents a year happens as a result of thawing permafrost. In West Siberia, 7400. So the country spends an annual 55 bn roubles on maintenance of pipelines and repair of damage related to permafrost thaw.

The geopolitical aspect of the problem is equally important. Annually, in East Siberia Russia loses over 10 square km of coastal land, which adds up to 30 sq km a year throughout the Arctic. With global climate changes these processes only will amplify.

The report includes not only estimates of evident impacts of climate change in the Russian North, but also predicts dangers for the short-term future. The scientists have put together detailed maps showing the main danger zones and infrastructure objects at risk of damage and destruction (2).

"An additional danger of the permafrost thaw is the release of a greenhouse gas far more powerful than СО2: methane. In thaw lakes of West Siberia there are sites of concentrated emissions of gas, where it literally bursts in bubbles from under the thawed surface. And the more intensive the thaw, the more methane in the atmosphere. The literature calls this "the methane threat"" - said Dr Sergey Kirpotin, biologist, vice rector of Tomsk University.

"The quantitative estimates of CO2 and methane release caused by permafrost degradation need further study. According to the scientists methane emissions can reach significant values and this needs to be taken into consideration at the coming Copenhagen climate change conference", - said Vladimir Chuprov, Greenpeace Russia energy Campaigner.

Apart from the permafrost thaw, Russia suffers from many other impacts of climate change. They are documented in the photo album 100 Months which Greenpeace also plans to submit to the Russian authorities. It is possible to slow down climate change (and the permafrost thaw), according to Greenpeace. Russia can significantly reduce energy use and become a world leader in the fight against climate change. It is possible if it gives up its development model based on the fossil-fuel, realizes its energy saving potential (about 40% of current total use) and goes to renewable energy sources.

Notes for editors:

1. The report "Major natural and social-economic consequences of climate change in the permafrost region: predictions based on observations and modeling" can be found here (Russian).

2. The permafrost zone provides around 93% of the current Russian gas extraction and 75% of the oil, which makes around 70% of the national total exports. According to the less optimistic scenarios, the zone of significant damage will include the Nenets Autonomous Area (including Novaya Zemlya), west and south-west parts of Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Area (including Surgut and Nizhnevartovsk), the northern part of Yamal Peninsula (including Bovanenkovskoye oil reserve), central Buryatiya (including the capital city Ulan-Ude), practically all of Chukotka, and Taimyr coast line. The largest reserves of oil and gas and thousands of kilometers of oil and gas pipelines are in the high-risk zone.

3. Russian Deputy Minister for Emergencies Ruslan Tsalikov said in a statement in June 2008: "By 2030, the damage from global warming may become catastrophic. Up to a fourth of the dwellings in the North of the country is at risk of destruction."

4. Cost of works of a zero cycle of building (preparation of a platform for capital construction and a base bookmark) in the conditions of permafrost degradation can increase by 3 % - 56 % at the expense of additional actions for thermostabilization.

5. To see the album 100 Months

Contact:

+7 495 988 74 60, Greenpeace Russia;

+7 903 129 46 51, Vladimir Chuprov