Comment: Climate change has led to emergency situations in Norilsk | Comments from > Reviewers and Guest Contributors | >

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In Russia – an ecological catastrophe. In Norilsk, in the north of the Krasnoyarsk Territory, a fuel tank burst, a large amount of oil products got into the river and now can cause enormous damage to the sensitive ecosystem of the Taimyr Peninsula and the Arctic in general.

The seriousness of what is happening is evidenced by the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin found it necessary to convene a special video conference on June 3 and declare the incident a federal emergency. In other words, a nationwide disaster.

The meeting with Putin stated “subsidence of piles “

Now it is important to realize what exactly it is. The phrase “fuel spill in Norilsk”, actively used by the Russian media, describes an immediate threat to the environment. However, such a wording may create the erroneous impression that the essence of the problem lies in a leaky reservoir, contamination of a certain area and the negligence of local bosses, who, moreover, tried to conceal the emergency for several days. And this can happen anywhere.

Andrey Gurkov

In fact, the “Emergency Situations in Norilsk” testifies and warns of a much larger disaster. This misfortune is specifically Siberian, but at the same time it is all-Russian, moreover, it is worldwide. Her name: melting permafrost due to global warming.

After all, why was the river in the tundra flooded with diesel? “According to preliminary information, due to the subsidence of the foundation piles, the reservoir was depressurized,” the head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations (EMERCOM) Yevgeny Zinichev reported at a meeting with the President, but neither he nor other participants in the meeting will delve into the reasons for this “subsidence of the piles” judging by the transcript on the Kremlin’s website, they did not.

Which is partly understandable: at the moment, the primary task is to stop the further spreading of 20 thousand tons of oil products, localize them, pump them out, and dispose of them. And yet: without a serious, federal, like the emergency itself, talk about the root cause of the disaster, all this will be like treating the symptoms of the disease, and not the disease itself.

Half of Russia’s territory is in the permafrost zone

And it is very dangerous and, possibly, neglected. Scientists from different countries have already pointed to it for a long time, including on the > website. Under the heading “The rate of melting of permafrost is underestimated in Russia,” our editorial staff published in December 2018 an interview with Mathias Ulrich, a researcher at the Institute of Geography at Leipzig University, who has been studying the degradation of permafrost in Yakutia for many years.

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He said at the time that its melting was “radically accelerated” due to the global warming, recalled that over half of Russia’s territory is located in the permafrost zone, and drew attention to the possible consequences: “Now, imagine that the soil on which houses stand and factories, roads and railways, pipelines have been laid, each year subsides by several centimeters. “

And so the soil under a specific Norilsk fuel tank sagged so much that the piles, on which all the structures in those parts are located, could not stand it. If at the meeting with Vladimir Putin they did not speak about climate change as the root cause of the “fuel spill”, then the interlocutors of some Russian media directly point to this relationship.

Several years of abnormally high temperatures

Thus, the operating director of the Norilsk Nickel company, Sergei Dyachenko, says that “because of the abnormally mild summer temperatures that lasted for several years, thawing of the permafrost and partial subsidence of the supports on which the platform stands could have occurred.”

“In Norilsk, everything stands on frozen ground, and if you look at the statistics of recent years, the temperature was above normal. It was a very warm summer,” Olga Plyamina, director of the Institute of Ecology Problems, said in an interview with TASS. The agency also cites Nikolai Doronin, a board member of the Ecological Fund of the Siberian Federal University, who notes that the thawing of permafrost and subsidence of objects are recorded not only in Norilsk, but also in other northern cities.

Of course, the references of the Norilsk and Krasnoyarsk bosses to the melting of the permafrost could be perceived now as an attempt to absolve themselves of responsibility for what happened, blaming it on global warming. Which of them and to what extent is to blame specifically for the current “depressurization of the reservoir”, built three decades ago, is to be clarified by the investigation and, possibly, decided by the court.

Russians prefer to mock Greta Thunberg

But the political guilt of Siberian politicians and top managers of large Siberian companies is already obvious. Why did they not start tirelessly ringing all the bells, observing for several years in a row “abnormally mild temperatures” and the growing climatic and economic problem throughout the Russian North? After all, Russia already now, according to official data, is losing from 50 to 150 billion rubles annually due to the melting of permafrost!

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Were you afraid to constantly annoy the big bosses in distant Moscow with unpleasant news? Didn’t you want to go against public opinion? Indeed, many in Russia (and judging by social networks, the absolute majority of Russians are so simple) do not want to hear anything about the global climate change, preferring to mock Greta Thunberg precisely because she is just sounding the alarm.

The Russian Arctic urgently needs modernization

Maybe now, looking at the footage of the Arctic river reddened by diesel, Russian society will finally see a federal-scale problem in the melting of permafrost, realize its connection with global warming and recognize the need, if not to fight against global climate change (to this, Russia is a hydrocarbon the state is clearly not ready yet), then at least adapt to it?

Urgently tackling, for example, the large-scale strengthening or renewal of piles driven into the now not eternal ice back in Soviet times, and in general for the modernization of infrastructure in their Arctic regions. It is quite alarming that the “fuel spill in Norilsk” happened not at the end, but at the very beginning of the summer. And it, judging by the forecasts of meteorologists, may once again turn out to be abnormally warm.

Posted by Andrey Gurkov, economic commentator for Deutsche Welle

The commentary expresses the personal opinion of the author. It may not coincide with the opinion of the Russian editorial staff and Deutsche Welle in general.

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