Climate change to pose significant risks to Arctic pipeline infrastructure

Some Russian regions are likely to improve their economies due to global warming, but in Northeastern Russia, where temperatures are rising two and half times faster than in the rest of the world, the economic damage can be astronomical.

Climate change may cost Russia 9 trillion rubles ($99 billion) due to direct damage to buildings and infrastructure, says bneIntelliNews citing Deputy Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic Alexander Krutikov. “The most optimistic prognosis, with marginal warming, is 2 trillion rubles by 2050, while the most extreme damage, if the intensity of the warming increases, will amount to 9 trillion rubles,” the minister said at a recent meeting in the Russian Federation Council. He explained that the estimates were based on anticipated damage on buildings and infrastructure.

Among 24 Russian regions that are permanently frozen, nine contain extensive infrastructure and cities. These regions are crucially important for the national economy, as they account for the bulk of Russia’s raw material production. The latter brings almost half of the country’s GDP. The melting of the permafrost in these remote areas may cause significant damage to buildings and crucial infrastructure, including thousands of kilometres of oil and gas pipelines.

A separate study by Dmitry Streletskiy from the George Washington University on the impact of climate change on the fixed assets estimates the cost of the damage even higher, at 19 trillion rubles ($250 billion). According to Streletskiy, cities are more endangered than pipelines, as in the coming decades, about a fifth of all infrastructure and up to half of the housing in the permafrost regions may need to be upgraded or rebuilt entirely. He believes that the worst affected regions will have to spend between 4% and 5% of their GDP on repairs and upgrades.

Krutikov and the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic are currently working on a federal plan on Arctic climate change adaptation. The plan, which is developed with the assistance of 36 leading researchers in the field is meant to be presented in December. The ministry is also involved in the development of a state environmental monitoring system for the Arctic. According to Krutikov, the region needs much more monitoring stations in addition to the existing 430 hydrological units.

The Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring says that the Kara Sea and nearby areas of Taymyr and Yamal are seeing the quickest warming and biggest temperature deviation. Maps presented by the service show that some areas near Dikson, a local town in Taymyr, registered temperatures more than five degrees warmer than normal in the summer.

By Anna Litvina