Putin’s signed climate pact, but is warming up to melting of Arctic
The world is seen to be divided between those who believe and those who don’t — in the dangers of climate change. At the one end, there are the climate change deniers, like Donald Trump, and at the other end, there are those like young Greta Thunberg who believe the end of the world is nigh.
Somewhere in between, a growing space is being carved out by those who see climate change not as a threat but as an opportunity. Vladimir Putin, for instance, has graduated from dismissing climate change as a hoax to making it work to Russia’s advantage. “The issue,” he has said, “is not stopping it because that’s impossible, since it could be tied to some global cycles on Earth or of planetary significance. … The issue is to somehow adapt to it.”
The so-called pragmatists who occupy the ‘ middle ground’ are guided in their approach by two important principles — of adaptation and mitigation. Away from the noise and drama that was generated this week at the UNGA, is a real-world effort to exploit unexpected opportunities that climate change may be throwing up.
Putin signed the Paris Accord on climate change this year. But as the Barents Sea and the Arctic thaws faster than anticipated, Russia is gearing up to monetise the potentially lucrative Northern Sea Route (NSR), which could make connectivity between Europe and Asia 40% faster, cheaper, more fuel efficient, and greener. Russia will lose land as the permafrost thaws, but it may gain nearly 1.2m sqkm in its continental shelf, which means it will have rights to extract under-sea minerals and energy resources.
As the ice caps melt and the Arctic becomes economically viable to navigate, Russia is militarising rapidly to protect its huge investments in the region. It now has seven bases along the shipping route, the latest being Northern Clover on Kotelny Island, deep inside the Arctic.
Denmark is also hoping to exploit the faster-than-expected warming of its own northernmost territory, Greenland. Fish catch has improved as Greenland gets access to more fresh water. But more significantly, as the ice cap melts, Greenland is finding that its territory holds huge amounts of uranium and likely
A key shipping lane is the Northern Sea Route (NSR), which runs from the Barents Sea, near Russia’s border with Norway, to the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska
Experts say the NSR could reduce the travel distance from east Asia to Europe from the 21,000 kilometres it takes to go via the Suez Canal, to 12,800 kilometres, cutting
No. of vessels passing through the NSR
the world’s second-largest stock of rare earth elements, used for manufacturing all modern gadgets.
C Raja Mohan, director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, told TOI, “As the world struggles to develop collective action against climate change within the strategy laid out by UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, there is inevitable adaptation to the consequences. Some are looking at ambitious geoengineering projects to limit solar energy radiation on the earth. Where the impact of climate change is evident, as in the Arctic, countries are jockeying for advantage. When collective solutions can’t be agreed upon, all major countries will begin to play for themselves. The consequences could be unpredictable.”
Singapore is looking at $100 billion in investments to fight climate change — one consequence of which will be rising sea levels — including building flood-resilient systems. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is of the same mind as India inaugurated a multilateral effort to build disaster-resilient infrastructure in New York this week; it could not only benefit islands like Maldives and Mauritius, which face submersion, but also generate economic benefits for others. Namibia is the hub for south African countries trying to apply climate-resilient solutions to city-level problems. All of these have economic and commercial spinoffs. New financial tools, like “sovereign parametric insurance”, are being developed to help countries rebuild after climate disasters, like Hurricane Dorian that swept through the Bahamas showed.
At the UN climate summit this week, Modi, who has positioned himself as a climate warrior, took a proactive tone. “Science tells us that on our current path, we face at least 3°C of global heating by the end of the century. The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but can win,” he said.
The ‘pragmatists’, though, are probably more interested in winning the race to exploit the opportunities arising out of climate change.