Winters in Russia have been getting warmer for many years. Temperatures in Russia have in fact been increasing by 0.43 degrees Celsius per decade, compared to a world average of 0.17 degrees. The cause is global movements of warm air generated by the world's oceans. Dr Alexei Kokorin, the head of the Russian branch of the WWF explains how, why and what the impact of this is on Russia.
Why is Russia heating up so much?
Dr. Alexei Kokorin: The principle difference between the Russian increasing temperature and the global increase is just the atmospheric physics. Maybe, it is too timely to describe what caused it, but it is just physics. It is an absolutely logical thing – that global warming, which is mainly the warming of the oceans and global warming of the atmosphere, the lower atmosphere, by the way. The upper atmosphere is cooling, because the greenhouse gas film is more severe. And it is absolutely logical that the polar regions and Russia is increasing in temperature twice than globally, Arctic – more than twice.
So, it’s got nothing to do with the Russian factories spilling out into the atmosphere vast quantities of pollutants. It has to do with the vast global weather partners and the heating of the lower levels of the atmosphere over the oceans, and moving them over towards Russia which, as the result, is heating up as a whole.
Dr. Alexei Kokorin: Absolutely! These are principally global processes. I met people many times and even the meteorologists from the local meteorological stations saying that – we record a cooling, it is global cooling. Not at all! Any local measurement is the proof of nothing.
How long has this been going on for?
Dr. Alexei Kokorin: It is about 30-40 years. Roshydromet, as well as the World Meteorological Organization traced linear trends for about 35 years.
Is there anything we can do? Should we try and stop this?
Dr. Alexei Kokorin: Yes, certainly. And the so-called fifth assessment report of the IPCC is a very good review in four volumes. And it has a clear physical basis, the impact on the nature, the impact on health and then what is in the option. If we speak about this century as a whole, certainly the reduction of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions is a really good tool. So, first, though the isotopic analysis the scientists confirmed that increasing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is certainly anthropogenic, it is not natural. Then, the physical process, which is well known. And if we reduce the emissions, in the second half of the century the consequences will be significantly smaller. I underline – the second half – because the main element of climate system is the ocean. It has huge inertia. Therefore, we have to take care about our grand-grand-sons and daughters reducing the emissions now.
Some people have said, rather controversially, that warning is good for Russia? For example, the change that brings lower heating costs, prolonged navigation period and extra CO2 can boost plants photosynthesis. The production grows, forests grow, grasses grow, Mr. Frolov, the head of the Russian Meteorological Service said. Is this kind of short term way of looking at things?
Dr. Alexei Kokorin: Certainly there are some positive effects, but we have significantly more severe negative effects. And the first one is just the more frequent extreme weather events. For Russia as a whole it is the main factor. It has already doubled in the last 15-20 years. In the middle of the 1990’es it was about 120-150 per year, now it is more than 400 and sometimes more than 450.
We are talking about major crises, like floods.
Dr. Alexei Kokorin: It is floods, it is storms and it is many other things. And mainly heat waves and abnormal precipitation can already be linked to the global warming. Of course, there are some absolutely outstanding events, like it was in Moscow, in summer 2010. It was absolutely outstanding. But many other heat waves were damaging as well, and they are not outstanding by the physics of the process. And they are more and more frequent.
What do we have? The medical doctors say we have a larger mortality rate, we have the expansion of the so-called southern diseases. We have the expansion of encephalitis ticks, which is very dangerous, malaria and some others. Sure, no one of these diseases is generated by climate, but climate increases its severity and it increases the number of illnesses and even mortality rate.
When we speak about agriculture, yes, some bioclimatological conditions in the northern Russia will be better. But the soil is the same, you cannot change soil to have the same harvest, as you have in the chernozem or very highly productive south Russia and middle Russia soils. It is impossible. And moreover, an invasion of different insects and illnesses of crops is a very important thing.
So, you have to take care, you have to pay money for the special chemicals, for the medicine for crops. You have to take more care about the droughts, because they will be more frequent, simultaneously with the more frequent floods, terrible erosion, terrible storms, because less ice – more storms, more waves. A very bad impact on the polar bears, on walruses, on the reindeers and any other animal.