By Viktor Danilov-Danilian, director of the Institute for Water Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, for RIA Novosti
Climate change on our planet is becoming less and less predictable. We keep calculating the losses caused by abnormal heat waves, floods, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes. According to the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, in the past ten years, natural disasters have become twice as frequent. Their increasing number is a typical sign of climate change.
Some claim that nothing special is happening in the world today except a completely natural climate variability - it has been so in the past, and it will be the same in the future. Others argue that the problem simply lies in the uncertainty of our knowledge, etc. In any case, it is precisely in the context of uncertainty that we must think of climate risks because they are just as serious as the risks of nuclear war.
Global warming is already an indisputable fact, but the problem is not limited to this phenomenon, because the entire climate system is today unbalanced. The overall average temperature of the earth's surface is increasing, but the differences are also increasing. Natural disasters are one of them. As in many other countries of the world, there are more and more frequent in Russia great floods and floods with dramatic consequences. They are responsible for more than 50% of all economic losses caused by all of the hydrometeorological phenomena.
On the territory of the Southern Federal Region of Russia, floods and droughts follow one another. It all starts with the great spring floods which, followed by heavy showers at the beginning of the summer, cause floods, but throughout the following three months, not a single drop of water falls. As a result, the seeds that were not washed away by the floods are ended by drought. Such a threat still hangs over the territories of Krasnodar and Stavropol which are, moreover, the main granaries of Russia, and the loss of the harvest in these lands would be very painful for the whole country. It must be recognized that such scenarios, linked to abnormal climatic phenomena and which, as a rule, result in enormous economic losses, are occurring more and more often these days. According to estimates by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), annual losses from various hydrometeorological phenomena, including the consequences of climate change, vary in Russia from 30 to 60 billion rubles.
The Far East of Russia, including the Primorye, the territory of Khabarovsk, Kamchatka, Sakhalin Island and the Kurils, is also exposed to floods which are mainly caused by typhoons. Winter floods are typical of rivers and streams in the Glacial Ocean basin. In 2001, the Lena, one of the largest rivers in Eurasia, swept away the port city of Lensk during a major flood. We had to move people, build a new city with all its infrastructure. The volume of losses is hard to imagine.
The warming constitutes on average a degree through Russia, but in Siberia it is much more important (4 to 6 degrees). As a result, the permafrost border is constantly shifting, and the serious processes associated with it have already started, such as changing the border between the taiga and the wooded tundra, on the one hand, or the border between wooded tundra and tundra, on the other. If we compare the spatial shots of thirty years ago to those of today, we will not fail to note that the borders of these areas retreat to the north. This trend not only threatens the large oil pipelines, but also the entire infrastructure of Western Siberia and North-Western Siberia. At the moment, these changes are not serious enough to damage the infrastructure due to the melting of the permafrost, but we must probably prepare for the worst.
Rising temperatures represent a colossal danger for biota. The latter begins to recover, but the process is extremely painful. If, indeed, the rise in temperatures is significant, a change in ecosystems will be inevitable. Thus, the taiga, the coniferous forest, interspersed with peat bogs, will be replaced by trees with large leaves. But as any warming is accompanied by the loss of climatic stability, in the general context of a trend of rising temperatures, those of summer and winter can be just as high as extremely low. All in all, such conditions are particularly unfavorable for both types of forest, since the heat is harmful for conifers, while very cold winters are not at all suitable for hardwood forests. For this reason, the process of overhauling nature until climate stabilization promises to be dramatic and unstable.
Rising temperatures are a very dangerous factor for marshes and permafrost, as this will accelerate the release of carbon dioxide and methane from decomposing plants. The gas hydrates contained in the continental shelves of the North Seas will not fail to pass into the gaseous state. All of this will increase the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and will therefore increase global warming.
As a result of such radical changes, the ecological balance will deteriorate (and is already deteriorating), and the living conditions of many animals and plants will worsen. For example, the range of polar bears has shrunk considerably today. In 20 to 40 years, millions of geese, eiders, barnacles and other birds may lose half of the nesting areas. If temperatures rise 3 to 4 degrees, the food chain of the tundra ecosystem may be disrupted, which will inevitably affect many animal species.
The invasion which also bears witness to the restructuring of biota is undoubtedly one of the most unpleasant manifestations of global warming. Invasion is the penetration of foreign species into ecosystems. Thus, a parasite in fields as dangerous as the locust continues to progress north. For this reason, the region of Samara (on the Volga) and a whole series of other regions are today threatened by these herbivorous and very voracious insects. The distribution area of ticks has also suddenly expanded recently. What is more, these parasites are migrating north much faster than the border, for example, of the taiga or wooded tundra recedes. Penetrating into different ecosystems, these parasites intervene there in gangster species, their own active reproduction having a devastating effect. There is no doubt that the current climate changes are creating favorable conditions for all these negative phenomena, as well as for the spread of diseases of all kinds. Thus, one already finds in the region of Moscow the anopheles - this inhabitant of the subtropical zones.
Some scientists claim that the migration from the agricultural border to the North is good for Russia. Indeed, the growing season increases. However, this "advantage" is rather illusory because it could be accompanied by an increasing risk of strong spring frosts which kill the plants which arise.
Could it be that, thanks to global warming, Russia can save energy by having to heat less? And there, it would be useful to evoke the example of the United States which spends much more energy to cool the premises than Russia spends for heating.
But how can the human community cope with threats from climate change? Trying to oppose nature is a notoriously thankless endeavor. However, we can minimize this damage that humans inflict on nature. This task was brought to the political agenda already in the past century. In 1988, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which is a forum thousands of researchers, including scientists from Russia. In 1994, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force, which 190 countries around the world now support. This document defined the framework for international cooperation, of which the Kyoto Protocol (Japan), adopted in 1997, is the first fruit. As we are already fully certain that intense economic activities have a negative impact on the climate, the Kyoto Protocol has set itself the task of reducing anthropogenic effects on the atmosphere, in particular by reducing the release of greenhouse gases. greenhouse, including carbon dioxide and methane. Having ratified the Kyoto Protocol jointly with the other 166 countries signatories to this document, Russia is making its contribution to reducing the anthropogenic load on the atmosphere. But how do you act? By the implantation of new "clean" technologies, by the general elevation of the culture of production and life. By cleaning up the atmosphere, humanity will undoubtedly help the climate.
The opinions expressed in this article are left to the strict responsibility of the author.