How is economic growth affecting global warming?


Georgy Safonov

Georgiy Safonov is the director of the Center for Environmental Economics and Natural Resources at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow.

In Russia, climate change is even more dramatic than in other countries. The consequences for the Russian economy are significant. There is a risk of damage from extreme or dangerous natural phenomena amounting to 2% of Russian GDP per year. However, the problem of climate change is not taken seriously in politics and the population. Russia's climate policy is ambivalent: it exists on paper, but it is practically not implemented.

Climate change in Russia

The climate changes affect all countries of the world and lead to steadily increasing damage, which is currently estimated at hundreds of billions of US dollars annually, and in the future, by 2100, could increase to 20% of the global gross product (Stern, Nicholas: The Economics of Climate Change The Stern Review, Cambridge, January 2007.). In Russia, climate change is even more dramatic. Over the past hundred years (from 1907 to 2006), according to data from the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring ("Rosgidromet"), the warming for the whole of Russia has been 1.29 ° Celsius while global warming has averaged 0.74 ° over the last 150 years (IPCC: Fourth Assessment Report, Climate Change, 2007). The average rate of increase in air temperature in Russia from 1976 to 2012 was 0.43 ° Celsius every ten years; this is more than double the analogous value for the global temperature rise (see the "Report on climatic peculiarities on the territory of the Russian Federation for 2012", published in 2013 by Rosgidromet [russ.], p. 6). In many regions a much stronger increase can be observed. In Barnaul (southern Siberia), a temperature increase of over 3.5 ° Celsius has been recorded since 1838. A particularly rapid rise in temperature can be observed in the northern regions of the country, where it could be over 7–8 ° Celsius by 2100 ( ).

The consequences of climate change

The most dangerous consequences of climate change include flooding, the melting and disappearance of glaciers, landslides and mudslides, periods of drought, heat and cold waves, rising sea levels and flooding of coastal areas, the spread of diseases and the habitats of insects that transmit diseases (from Tick-borne early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE), malaria, Lyme borreliosis, etc.). The data from "Rosgidromet" show an increasing frequency of dangerous hydrometeorological phenomena in the country. Over the entire recording period, 2012 - like the previous decade - was a record year with 469 major risk situations. One of the "contentious" questions about the role of climate change concerns agriculture. The opinion that the changes that are taking place are beneficial for agricultural production is quite widespread. This is partly true: according to the "All-Russian Research Institute for Agricultural Meteorology" (WNIISChM), the climate-related yield rate of cereal crops has increased in the last twenty years. The droughts of 2010 and 2012, however, when the damage from bad harvests was over 300 billion rubles, refute this view of the "positivists" (S. Safonow, GW, Ju. A. Safonowa: Ekonomitscheskij Analis wlijanija ismenenija klimata na selskoje chosjajstvo Rossii: nazionalnyje i regionalnyje aspekty, Moscow: Oxfam, 2013; The forecasts up to 2030 and 2050 leave no doubt that the industry will have to adapt to the consequences of climate change: In arid scenarios, crop yields would decrease by nine and seventeen percent respectively ( id = 77). Under the aegis of »Rosgidromet«, a number of specialist authors have presented an in-depth scientific analysis of the effects of climate change on the entire economy and on individual sectors up to 2030 and beyond ( Despite the rather conservative assumptions, the authors of this work estimate the damage caused by extreme or dangerous natural phenomena due to climate change to be 2% of Russian GDP per year and, for some federal subjects, even up to 5% of regional economic output. The authors are also of the opinion that "around the year 2030, climatic barriers could arise that slow economic growth", as "signs of such barriers became clear as early as 2011". Despite the abundance of scientific information in Russia, the attitude towards the problem of climate change is reticent. The population only becomes concerned when nature cataclysm such as the heat wave and peat fires in 2003 in the central part of European Russia, the forest fires in 2010 and 2012 or the drought in the country's agricultural areas in the summers of 2010 and 2012.

Problems of Russian climate policy

The orientation towards carbon-intensive economic growth leads to the fact that global development tendencies in the economy are ignored, primarily the boom in the branches of the "green economy", which, according to many experts, is a driving force of the modernization and development of the global economy in the 21st century . In the areas of renewable energies, increasing energy efficiency, waste, water and land management based on the principles of ecologically sustainable development, Russia has so far not had much success, unlike Germany, Great Britain, the USA, Japan or other countries. Perhaps the problem for the government lies in the difficulty of implementing climate policy administratively. After all, economic, energy, ecological and health policy issues as well as regional development and international politics are linked here. This probably results in the diffuse public opinion on climate issues in the state media, as well as the complicated nature and extremely low productivity of decisions on climate issues as well as the reluctance to negotiate the United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. Nevertheless, it should be noted that there is a formal policy on climate change in Russia. The general principles and tasks of this policy are formulated in the "Climate Doctrine of the Russian Federation" from 2009 and in the plan for its implementation from 2011; in the latter, the tasks and deadlines for their implementation as well as the responsible ministries have been specified. Russia participates quite actively in research programs on the climate problem, contributes to the work of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC / "Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change") and other bodies. With regard to international processes, Russia - as a participant in the climate protection framework agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, as a participant in the negotiations on a new climate agreement - supports the initiatives under the aegis of the G8 or the G20.

Approaches to a modern climate policy?

At first glance everything is correct, there are all the characteristic elements for a modern climate policy in Russia. However, this impression changes drastically when the situation is viewed from the point of view of the results, not the declamations and decisions made. Here are some observations:

  • After ongoing discussion for over a year and a half, the President's decree “On reducing greenhouse gases” was issued on September 30, 2013, which formulated a maximum of 75% of the 1990 emissions level by 2020 as a target. The government intends to adopt a plan to implement this decree in March 2014. These overdue decisions are welcomed in expert circles, but require considerable effort to implement them. And funding is not earmarked for this plan.

  • No data on greenhouse gas emissions have been included in the efficiency criteria for government policy and its measures; they are also not mandatory for company reports. This means that the decision for a policy, a program or an investment project is not determined by any considerations about CO2 reduction.

  • There are no targeted mechanisms in Russia to promote projects and technologies to reduce CO2 emissions. Access to the global CO2 market with sales of over 150 US dollars will be blocked after 2012. In Russia no alternatives to the flexibility mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol have been created.

  • The measures taken by sectors and regions to adapt to climate change are piecemeal, not systematic in character. In 2010, after the major forest fires, more than 15 billion rubles were approved for equipment to fight forest fires. In 2010 and 2012, after the droughts that destroyed a large part of the agricultural harvest, subsidies worth billions were granted to the agricultural producers affected. In 2013, hundreds of thousands in Russia's Far East suffered from the floods in the Amur region. However, there is no adjustment strategy.

  • Risks of climate change

    What specific risks can be observed in Russia and who pays for them? Some examples. The agricultural producers. Unprecedented droughts occurred in 2010 and 2012. The damage from crop failures (and loss of quality in grain) was over 300 billion rubles. The indebtedness of the country's agricultural companies has grown to over 1.7 trillion rubles! At the same time, grain prices have risen many times over in several steps over the past three years. Basically, the population had to compensate for the losses caused by the crop failures by increasing the price of bread. Forestry. Forest fires, disease and pests cause serious damage to forest operators. When leasing forest sections, the companies not only risk the loss of standing, economically usable wood stocks, but also have to bear considerable damage in the event of forest fires. The forest companies' debts continue to grow and amount to tens of billions of rubles. The population. The summer of 2010 claimed thousands of lives in central Russia due to the ongoing heat wave in combination with the smoke from forest and peat fires and the pollution of the near-earth atmosphere. The living areas of insects that spread dangerous diseases such as tick-borne tick-borne meningoencephalitis (TBE) or malaria are spreading. During the spring floods, tragedies like those in Lensk, Krimsk or on the Amur are repeated. Overall, Russia's climate policy can be described as ambivalent: It exists on paper, in the form of resolutions, ordinances, and decrees, but so far no significant, systematic measures have been taken to implement this policy. The existing strategies practically preserve the current development tendencies of the country for 30 to 40 years, demotivate authorities and business in a move towards "green" economy and low-carbon technologies. Russia remains beyond the modern trends towards greening and climate-neutral development. With growing risks and increasing actual damage, from which the population and the economy are affected due to climatic anomalies, and also due to a loss of competitiveness in the markets of the developed countries, more effective stimuli for a more active climate policy and constructive cooperation with the World community emerge. So far, however…. The following proverb applies in Russia: As long as there is no thunder, the farmer does not cross himself.

    Translation: Hartmut Schröder

    Reading tip:

    This article and the previous one by Sergei Bobylev and Renat Perelet come from the volume "Bobylev, Sergei, Renat Perelet (eds.): Sustainable Development in Russia", Berlin / St. Petersburg, 2013, 203 p. and climate protection. The volume can be downloaded free of charge from the German-Russian Exchange website: