By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
In a recent article published by Valdai Weekly (Mid -November), Russian Prof. Alexei Eykaykin, an leading researcher at the Climate and Environmental Research Laboratory of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St Petersburg reflected upon this year’s 17th annual Valdai Conference (20th October, see previous article by EH) which according to Eykaykin marked a turning point. The AARI was founded in 1920, making research in the field of oceanography, glaciology, meteorology, hydrology, geophysics, polar geography and water resources. In the article, entitled “How the perception of global warming is changing in Russia,” Eykaykin wrote that the “Russian leadership, business and scientific community share a common language and for the first time they all speak together about the need for urgent and comprehensive measures to reduce emissions.” He made reference to a November 4rth presidential decree which provides for a reduction of emissions to 70% of their 1990 level. “Currently Russian emissions are about 50% of their 1990 level; the decree envisages a 40% reduction in the next 10 years.”
The researcher pointed to events that have occurred in the past two years in Russia, which changed the attitude of many: these were the forest fires in Siberia (destroying millions of hectares of land) as well as the ongoing environmental catastrophe off the coast of Kamchatka – they are directly linked in the minds of Russians to the adverse anthropogenic impact of our planet. “When we speak of ‘global warming’ the word ‘global’ is multifaceted…The word also emphasizes the interconnectedness of all processes in the Earth’s ecosystem. The production of hydrocarbons is mainly linked to a small group of countries (including Russia and Saudi Arabia). Their consumption in the bulk of emissions occur in other groups (China/ India) while most of the negative trends occur in the Polar Regions. The destruction of the Greenland glaciers and Antarctica, the melting of Permafrost in Siberia, the poorest countries in Africa and Asia are dealt the main blow of these negative consequences and will continue to do so in the future.”
According to Eykaykin humanity is now at a crossroad. “The decisions and actions that will be taken over the next 10-20 years will determine the face of the planet for centuries to come.” He spoke of “irreversible processes that we can’t stop. The clearest example is the mass balance of West Antarctica. For a number of reasons this glacier is dynamically instable and if its degradation starts, it will be irreversible on a scale of hundreds of years (this mechanism is called Marine Ice Sheet Instability) which will lead invariably to a rise in sea level by several meters in 100-200 years. We observe another important lesson: large scale investments in science are needed including the study of such seemingly distant and unrelated topics as Antarctica. Without this, it will be impossible to fully understand the processes taking place now to predict their future development or to assess their consequences for nature and society.”
Putin on Russia’ role in the management of the climate change
An important aspect of Putin’s speech this year Valdai Conference was his focus on the environment and climate change. President Putin in his speech had emphasized the importance to “preserve our common home for future generations. Scientists think that the recent outbreaks of dangerous diseases are a response to the interference of man. That is why it is so important to develop harmonious relations between Man and Nature,” Putin stated. Hence climate change “requires more attention on our part.” He referred as an example to the melting of the ice caps which was a major item during the fascinating panel on “climate change,” in which also Prof. Alexei Eykaykin had participated. “According to expert estimates,” Putin stated, “the speed and scale of this process will be increasing in the next few decades. This is a huge challenge to the world and Russia, since the permafrost occupies 65% of the Russian national territory. Such changes can do irreparable damage to biological diversity, have an extremely adverse effect on the economy and infrastructure and pose a direct threat to people (…), it affects pipeline system, residential districts built on permafrost and so on. If as much of the near- surface layers of permafrost, which is about three or four meters, melt by 2100, we will feel the effect very strongly. Moreover the problem could snowball into a crisis very quickly. A kind of chain reaction is possible, because permafrost melting will stimulate “methane” emissions, which can produce a greenhouse effect that will be 28 (!) times larger than in the case of carbon dioxide.”
In the discussion which followed after Putin’s speech, the President, in an answer to Italian Journalist Nathalie Tocci on energy transition in respect to the so called EU Green Deal, stated that Russia is not so obsessed like the EU in respect to the Green Deal. “We are working on alternative energy sources ourselves. We are one of the richest countries in hydrocarbons, oil and gas, but this does not mean at all that we should not think about the future. We are thinking about it and about solar energy and hydrogen energy.” On November 26th the Russian online newsletter “Sputnik” and German press prominently reported that leading companies from Germany and Russia are cooperating on a “pilot project” concerning the future technology “Hydrogen”, where Russia would become the most important Hydrogen Exporter to Germany and Europe. This was stated by leading business managers that attended an online Conference organized by the “German-Russian Chamber of Foreign Trade”(AHK) with 1000 online participants in Moscow and by Russia’s deputy Energy Minister Pawel Sorokin.
According to Sorokin Russian- German energy partnership will continue including the cooperation in the field of Hydrogen energy.” The leading Russian researcher on Hydrogen, Jurij Dobrowolskij, suggested at that occasion to use the Baltic Sea Pipeline Nord Stream 2 for transport of Hydrogen from Russia and use in turn German technology for the construction of the 700 km highway from Moscow to Kasan (Rep. Tatarstan) and use the highway for hydrogen powered trucks and cars. Representatives from Siemens and Thyssen Krupp Steel Europe AG consider Russia as a “market leader” in the area of Hydrogen propelled trains and in the area of Hydrogen energy. The pilot project which got discussed in Moscow goes back to February (see also article by EH) to a conference organized by the “German Industry and Trade Federation” (DIHK) and the Moscow based “Industrial and Commerce Chamber” (AHK). At that time German Economics Minister Peter Altmaier founded a working group on Hydrogen energy together with Putin advisor Maxim Oreschkin, Industry Minister Denis Manturow and deputy Energy Minister Sorokin.
Russia’s role in the Antarctic
During the Q&A period in Valdai President Putin stated that it was not realistic to abandon hydrocarbons in the near future. “I believe the near future embraces several decades: Russia has adopted or is adopting a strategy for developing activities in the Antarctic. And what about nuclear energy? Despite of what anyone says or the scare tactics around, I believe the near future also embraces several decades: 30, 40, and 50 years from now. When we hear about European novelties on hydrocarbons and relevant restrictions, I do not know on what basis these proposals, conclusions and decision are made. Are they explained by domestic political struggle? Later they are followed by restriction in international trade and cooperation, right? I do not think this will lead to anything good. It is necessary to achieve a result in this respect not through restrictions but through cooperation and a striving to reach common goals.”
Putin again referred to the initial remarks during his Valdai speech stating that in his opening remarks he had spoken “about the speed at which permafrost is disappearing and the consequences this may have for all humankind. And what about us? We have a lot of transport system in this zone: oil and gas pipelines and railways. Our residential districts and whole cities are located on this territory. This is a huge problem for us, and that is why we are willing to work and will work, both ourselves and at the international level. That said it is impossible to do it without hydrocarbon. But there is also natural gas as a hydrocarbon source. It is actually the cleanest of hydrocarbons. And what about nuclear energy? Despite what anyone says or the scare tactics around nuclear power and nuclear power stations it is one of the cleanest kinds of energy.”
Scientific development in the Antarctic
During the Q&A debate with President Putin Prof. Alexei Eykaykin asked the President why his government didn’t invest more into science projects in the Antarctic. He referred to the 200th anniversary since the discovery of the Antarctic and asked: “Russia has adopted or is adopting a strategy for developing activities in the Antarctic. A new Vostok station is under construction in the Central Antarctic as part of this strategy. You know this. It would seem that everything is fine, investment in the infrastructure and the like. So you may get the impression that we are doing well in the Antarctic. Alas, this is not the case, because the policy is about infrastructure but does not say a word about science. This is a fairly paradoxical situation. I would call it strange because we invest in the infrastructure, whereas the main goal for which we need it, that is science, remains somewhere backstage.
“At our Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, we have prepared a draft federal program for studying the area around the Vostok station for the next 15 years. It has been drafted in detail. It consists of two main themes. The first is the study of the past climate based on ice core data, and this study is very closely connected with the climate theme. Yes, this drilling the ice, that’s right. The second theme concerns the subglacial lake Vostok. You also know about this. It is one of the most unique phenomena on the planet. These are two subjects in which we Russian scientists are generally strong; we are not trying catch up with anyone in this respect. We are at the proper level and even ahead of some of our colleagues. Nonetheless there is no government support for research in the Antarctic. I find this strange.“
In his response President Putin emphasized that “Eykaykin and colleagues made the discovery about Lake Vostok which is thousands of years old and was not connected in any way with the world, remaining under ice, this of course is of greatest interest to people like you who study what eventually became the Earth and how the climate was changing,” and he promised he would look into this.
By Elisabeth Hellenbroich