By Viktor Danilov-Danilian, Director of the Institute of Water Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, for RIA Novosti
Climate change on our planet is becoming less predictable. Losses caused by abnormal heat waves, floods, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes continue to be calculated. According to the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, over the past decade, natural disasters have become twice as frequent. Their increasing numbers are a typical sign of climate change.
Some argue that nothing special happens today in the world, except a very natural variability of climate - it has been so in the past, and it will be so in the future. Others say that the problem lies simply in the uncertainty of our knowledge, and so on. Be that as it may, it is precisely in the context of uncertainty that we must think about 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 unbalanced today. The global average of the Earth's surface temperatures is rising, but the gaps are also increasing. Natural disasters are one of them. As in many other countries of the world, more and more floods are observed in Russia with dramatic consequences. They are responsible for more than 50% of all economic losses caused by all hydrometeorological phenomena.
On the territory of the Federal Region of Southern Russia, floods and droughts follow each other. It all starts with the spring floods, followed by heavy downpours in early summer, causing floods, but throughout the next three months, not a single drop of water falls. As a result, seeds that have not been washed away by floods are completed 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 weather phenomena and generally resulting in huge economic losses, are occurring more and more often today. According to estimates by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the annual losses resulting from various hydro-meteorological phenomena, including the consequences of climate change, vary in Russia from 30 to 60 billion rubles.
The Far East of Russia, including Primorye, Khabarovsk Territory, Kamchatka, Sakhalin Island and the Kuriles, is also exposed to floods, which are mainly caused by typhoons. Winter floods are typical of the rivers and streams of the Iglacial basin. In 2001, the Lena, which is one of the largest rivers in Eurasia, brought the port city of Lensk during a great 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 one degree across Russia, but in Siberia it is much more important (4 to 6 degrees). As a result, the permafrost boundary is constantly shifting, and the related severe processes have already begun, whether it is, for example, the change in the border between taiga and wooded tundra, on the one hand, or the boundary between woodland tundra and tundra, on the other. If one compares the spatial images of thirty years ago to those of today, one will not fail to note that the borders of these zones recede to the north. This trend is not only threatening the big pipelines, but also the entire infrastructure of Western Siberia and North West Siberia. For the moment, these changes are not serious enough to damage the infrastructure because of permafrost melting, but we must probably prepare for the worst.
Rising temperatures represent a huge danger for biota. The latter begins to rebuild itself, but the process is extremely painful. If, indeed, the rise in temperature is important, a change of ecosystems will be inevitable. Thus, the taiga, the forest of conifers, interspersed with peat bogs, will be replaced by broad-leaved trees. But as any warming is accompanied by the loss of climatic stability, in the general context of a tendency to increase temperatures, those of summer and winter can be equally as high as extremely low. All in all, such conditions are particularly unfavorable for both types of forests, because the heat is bad for conifers, while very cold winters are not suitable at all for hardwood forests. For this reason, the process of recasting nature to climate stabilization promises to be dramatic and unstable.
Rising temperatures are a very dangerous factor for marshes and permafrost, as it will accelerate the release of carbon dioxide and methane from decaying plants. The gas hydrates contained in the continental trays of the North Seas will not fail to become gaseous. All of this will increase the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and thus increase global warming.
At the end of such radical changes, the ecological balance is deteriorating (and is already deteriorating), and the living conditions of many animals and plants will worsen. For example, the range of the polar bear has declined significantly nowadays. In 20 at 40 years, millions of geese, eiders, barnacles and other birds can lose half of the nesting areas. If temperatures rise from 3 to 4 degrees, the food web 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 alien species into ecosystems. Thus, a parasite of fields as dangerous as the locust continues to progress towards the North. For this reason, the region of Samara (on the Volga) and a whole series of other regions are now threatened by these herbivorous and very voracious insects. The distribution of ticks has also increased rapidly since recent times. In addition, these parasites are migrating northward much faster than the border, for example, taiga or woodland tundra is declining. Penetrating into different ecosystems, these parasites are involved 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, anopheles - the inhabitant of the subtropical zones - are already found in the Moscow region.
Some scientists claim that migration from the agricultural border to the North is good for Russia. Indeed, the period of vegetation increases. Nevertheless, this "advantage" is rather illusory because it could be accompanied by a growing risk of heavy spring frosts that kill the plants that are growing up.
Could it be that, thanks to warming, Russia can save energy by having to heat less? And there, it would be useful to mention the example of the United States, which spends much more energy to cool the premises than Russia spends on heating.
But how can the human community cope with the threats emanating from climate change? Trying to oppose nature is a notoriously ungrateful business. However, we can minimize this damage that men inflict on nature. This task has been brought to the political agenda already in the last century. In 1988, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) have established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is forum thousands of researchers, including scientists from Russia. In 1994, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came into force, to which 190 countries of the world are now favorable. This document has defined the framework for international cooperation, of which the Kyoto Protocol (Japan), adopted in 1997, is the first fruit. As we already know for sure that intense economic activities have a negative impact on the climate, the Kyoto Protocol has set itself the task of reducing the anthropic effects on the atmosphere, notably by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. greenhouse, including carbon dioxide and methane. Having ratified the Kyoto Protocol in common with the other 166 countries that have signed this document, Russia is contributing to the reduction of the anthropogenic load on the atmosphere. But how to act? By introducing new "clean" technologies, by raising the general culture of production and life. By cleaning up the atmosphere, humanity will undeniably help the climate.
The opinions expressed in this article are left to the strict responsibility of the author.