This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Russia Country Manager Michael Oshchepkov
Throughout the past year, the impact of climate change has increasingly become evident by a series of extreme weather events around the world—Russia is no exception. Climate change is accelerating in the country as we speak and local residents are facing unprecedented weather anomalies. At the beginning of the year, the average temperature in the country was above normal only in a few regions of Russia – the Southern Federal District, most of the North Caucasian Federal District and the south of the Volga Federal District (Figure 1), while in spring and summer the climate began to change dramatically.
Figure 1. Russia’s hot regions at the beginning of 2021
In April 2021, the weather in Southern Siberia was very frosty. The minimum temperature dropped to -10 and -12 degrees Celsius, thus breaking the previous record set in 1993 of -8 degrees Celsius. April 2021 became the coldest in the last 10 years for the Central region of Russia (Figure 2). Moreover, it was extremely rainy and very windy. The amount of precipitation also set a record – 17 mm. The previous extreme – 12 mm – was recorded a very long time ago, in 1891.
Figure 2. Russia’s cold regions in spring of 2021
Then, a cold April gave way to a very hot May as hot weather records were broken on the territory of Russia, from Karelia to the border with Kazakhstan. In Central Russia, the temperature reached +33 degrees Celsius, while in the Volga region it was +36 degrees Celsius. Summer in Russia was also very hot. The temperature in Siberia reached +28 degrees, which is ten degrees higher than the average long-term values. However, the abnormal heat did not mainly affect the permafrost zone (Figure 3).
Figure 3 Russia’s extremely hot summer of 2021
*Areas of the country in which the summer was very hot are marked in red
Hot weather contributed to the spread of forest fires and fire safety arrangements were introduced in 54 regions of the country. Yakutia, the Amur Region, the Trans-Baikal Territory, Altai, and the Komi Republic have all suffered from forest fires. In Siberia, the scale of forest fires turned out to be greater than in the rest of the world for the year 2021. The region was engulfed in more than 170 fires: the fire destroyed more than 20 thousand square kilometers of forest, which exceeded the damage from the Dixie fire in California by 10 times. The fires in Siberia in 2021 were stronger than the combined fires in Greece, Turkey, Italy, the United States, and Canada.
Even though the weather conditions in 2021 were abnormal, they were not new for Russia. Over the years, the population of the country has faced different weather manifestations, and the Russian authorities have already developed measures that are used annually to combat certain manifestations at regional and local levels.
In winter, central heating system helps people to cope with cold frosts by allowing them to maintain the temperatures in houses which is comfortable for life at affordable prices. Utility services in Russia are almost the cheapest in the world. All utility infrastructure is regularly exposed to additional inspections. To cope with abnormal precipitation, there are extensive sets of special equipment at the disposal of local authorities in Russian cities. Additionally, in times of cold frosts, regional authorities are able to cancel school lessons or allow them to be conducted virtually, if necessary.
Throughout Russia’s hot summer, local authorities can reduce the number of working hours to decrease the pressure on people’s health. To maintain comfortable living conditions in big cities, local authorities even cool the asphalt roads to avoid deformation of the road surface and reduce the number of harmful emissions.
Forest fires are still the most acute and unsolved problem for Russia. In this regard, 2021 was no exception. As previously mentioned, the scale of forest fires in 2021 was significant. Russia admits that it is not yet possible to completely cope with the problem. The main priority in the fight against fires is the preservation of residential, industrial, and transport infrastructure. This means that if a fire is burning far from where people live or important production facilities, the Russian authorities usually do not make enough effort to eliminate it. The reason for such a decision lies in the vast territory of the country, a significant part of which is covered with forest. In order to ensure constant control and preservation of forest tracts from fires, huge resources are required that the country simply does not have.
In Russia, the phenomenon of climate change and the need to adapt to new living conditions are recognized. However, the focus is still aimed at eliminating the consequences of weather anomalies, and not at creating conditions for the population that make it easier to endure sharp climatic manifestations. A complete overhaul and additional investment in the improvement of Russian cities are required. Most Russian cities today do not have a stormwater system or public spaces that provide shelters from the heat.
Current ability of the country to adapt to extreme weather conditions it faced in 2021:
Rating: ** Fair
Four Stars (****): Outstanding
Three stars (***): Good
Two stars (**): Fair
One star (*): Unprepared
The country is making much progress to ease the life of its citizens and make it more comfortable against the today’s background of a new climate reality. But the truth is that Russia has always existed with extreme weather conditions. The number one priority for the country is fighting forest wildfires. Until this problem is solved, we cannot say that Russia is handling climate change “like a house on fire”.
Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Mikhail Mishustin