Nature 431, 739 (14 October 2004) | doi:10.1038/431739b; Published online 13 October 2004

Climate: Russians face another disappointment

David S. Reay1

  1. Institute of Atmospheric and Environmental Science, School of GeoSciences, Darwin Building, University of Edinburgh, Mayfield Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JU, UK


In the News Feature "Crunch time for Kyoto" (Nature 431, 12–13; 2004) you mention the lack of public pressure on Russian president Vladimir Putin to begin tackling climate change and ratify the Kyoto treaty. There seems to be a widespread belief in Russia that climate change is a peripheral issue, unrelated to the supply of jobs, to putting a roof over your family's head or food on your table. Add to this the belief that a warmer climate would be an improvement — taking some of the chill out of winter and maybe increasing harvests — and it's little wonder that climate change isn't on the lips of every Russian voter.

However, the reality of climate change for Russia, and boreal Asia as a whole, is unlikely to be the balmy-weathered, bumper-harvest future some expect. Although increasing temperatures may well allow extended growing seasons and a northward shift in crop zones, increased damage from pests, drought and severe weather could lead to a 30% cut in cereal production by 2050 across the region, with Siberia seeing a decrease of up to 20% in agricultural output (see Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK; 2001).

Even if the net effect is an increase in food production, it is likely to come at a price. Industries such as mining and construction face soaring costs as a result of melting permafrost, increased flooding and building subsidence. The health and transport sectors could come under huge additional pressure, and international tensions are likely to be inflamed by water shortages, famine and mass migration in other parts of Asia.

For our Russian voter then, living through Russia's already painful social and economic post-Soviet transition, climate change threatens to make life more painful still.