The climate crisis is gradually becoming a reality. Huge tracts of land around the world are getting dry, the population is migrating, whole species are dying out and extreme natural phenomena are becoming more common. Scientists and politicians are deeply concerned about the threat to the survival of life on Earth. Others, however, see the developments differently. Every crisis is an opportunity, and for Russia the climate crisis is a golden opportunity.
A decade ago, geologists estimated that 30 percent of the world's natural gas reserves and 13 percent of oil reserves, along with rare minerals and other valuable resources, were trapped beneath the ice floes of the Arctic Circle. As rising temperatures melt icebergs, not only will these resources become available, but also, as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in May, "a steady reduction in sea ice opens up new passages and new trade opportunities. This could reduce the travel time between Asia and the West by up to 20 days. Arctic sea routes could become the Suez and Panama channels of the 21
A report by a UN committee in 2014 showed that around 80 percent of world trade is handled by maritime shipping and the Suez Canal remains the most important commercial sea route between Europe and East Asia. However, the widespread use of the Arctic Ocean northeast route for shipping will reduce the distance between Europe and the Far East by one-third. In addition, the Arctic Ocean northwest route will cut the distance between Asia and North America by nearly 20 percent, creating an alternative to the Panama Canal. The main beneficiaries of these developments will be the countries with ports on the North and Baltic Seas, in particular Russia.
A study explored an extreme scenario: Arctic sea routes that operate all year round. It has been predicted that about two-thirds of the trade that flows through the Suez Canal would be diverted to the new shipping routes. In any case, the melting of Arctic icebergs will increasingly open trade routes from Russia's north coast to East Asia, which has a huge impact on world trade. It is easy to imagine that a large part of Chinese exports to Europe will be shipped via Russia. This would also make it easier for Russia to ship its own goods, giving Moscow an advantage over Western competitors.
A blessing for China
The icebergs are actually melting. Last May, temperatures of 29 degrees Celsius were measured in the Arctic Ocean, 17 degrees more than the summer average in this region. June 2019 was the hottest month since temperature recording began in 1880, before July broke this record. The trend is clear: Earth's climate is changing at the fastest pace since the beginning of humanity. Even if every country in the world switched completely to renewable energy, there would still be a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees. In light of this, many researchers believe that reducing the amount of ice in the Arctic Ocean by 2024 will allow the free movement of vessels carrying only light icebreaker equipment.
It is not surprising that in May in Finland, at a meeting of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental panel from eight countries, Pompeo described the looming environmental disaster near the North Pole as an "arena of global power and competition". on extensive resources such as natural gas, oil, minerals and fish. It looks like everyone is looking at the disappearing ocean of ice with covetous looks. Along with the increasing military presence of the United States, Canada and France in the region, even the Chinese hope to get a foot in the Arctic while they have sighted their contemporary Silk Road, their belt and road initiative and their ships creating in the region.
"We have seen ice melt in the Arctic Circle and merchant shipping is already using the northeastern passage," says Arne Bardalen of the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomic Research, expert in agriculture. Food security and climate change, which acts as a special adviser to various governmental committees.
"As climate change advances," Bardalen notes, "it is estimated that there will be more and more times when commercial shipping can go through this passage, and China, for example, is very interested in these opportunities I think it will have serious consequences for world trade, reducing transport costs and increasing the availability – and hence competitiveness – of products from China, for example. "
This development will "of course have geopolitical implications, as more and more countries will be involved in the Arctic, which the members of the Arctic Council are following closely."
Russia is working with the North Pole in the background to implement such a global trade scenario alongside the Chinese, and in some cases in cooperation with them. In 2017, for the first time, a Russian tanker without an icebreaker sailed through the Arctic Ocean. Russia has already strengthened its civilian presence in the region, and its military presence has reached a level unseen since the Cold War. Army bases abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union were renovated and re-occupied; According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, 475 new military installations have been built in the region since 2012. Recently, a new Polar Brigade was built, and in April last year, the Izvestia newspaper reported that by the end of 2020, Russia's most advanced air defense system, the S-400 missile system, will be deployed both on the shores of the Arctic Ocean and on a number of islands in the region ,
In April, a month before the Arctic Council meeting, the International Arctic Forum, a Russia-dominated body of representatives of various governments, scientists, business people and international groups, met with the Prime Ministers of Sweden and Norway in St. Petersburg as well as the present Presidents of Finland and Iceland. At the event, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a new strategy for the development of the region. Already this year, he announced the use of three atomic icebreakers. According to official sources in Moscow, those who invest in the area are offered a tax credit. In the vicinity of the gas terminal in Sabetta, on the Russian coast of the Arctic Ocean, a new port is being built, which is connected by a railway line to the port.
All this is part of a larger Russian plan designed to challenge the global trading map as it is drawn over Western policy decisions led by the United States. Putin does not have the resources his superpower neighbor has in the East, but the rabbit in his hat is warming himself globally. In addition to the new trade routes that could open, Russia will benefit in other ways from the warming of the planet: access to land for agricultural production.
According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in 2018, agricultural production in Western Europe is expected to decline 2.9 percent by 2050 and 2.6 percent in India compared with 2018. At the same time, the rise in temperature is expected to increase agricultural production in Russia by 0.9 percent.
George Rapsominikis of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and one of the authors of the report writes: "In temperate countries such as Russia and the regions where most developed countries are located, warmer weather can have a positive impact on crop yields , "
Sixty percent of the world's food energy comes from one of three grains – corn, wheat and rice (which are also the three most widely grown crops) – while a quarter, soy, is the source of protein for about 65 percent of all Farm animals on the planet, explains Rapsominikis. As agricultural production is expected to increase in relatively "cool" countries like Russia, the centralization of commodity trading is likely to intensify. "We would expect countries hard hit by climate change to increase their imports and this could affect their economies," he adds.
As Bardalen notes, the risk of agricultural concentration is that large exporters can use food and agriculture as a political and strategic tool in political conflicts and trade wars.
Conquest by crops
In the meantime, Moscow is actively preparing the ground for the future. According to Stephen Wegren, an expert on Russian agriculture who teaches in the Department of Political Science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, the Russians are currently at a "critical point". Their leadership claims that they have achieved "food security and self-sufficiency: they do not produce every food they consume, but they consume more of their own food than ever before. Now, its policy has evolved to include food exports. You want to become one of the most important food exporters in the world, an agricultural superpower. "
Allegedly, Russia with more than 1.2 million square kilometers of farmland should indeed be an "agricultural superpower". So it was at the beginning of the 20th century, the world's largest wheat exporter. However, attempts by several Soviet leaders to introduce widespread collective agriculture proved inefficient. The Soviet Union was proud of its nutritional independence, which was achieved despite low agricultural production and very low nutritional diversity for the population. In the 1970s, agricultural failures forced the Soviet Union to import grain.
"In the late 1980s, I started going to the Soviet Union," recalls Prof. Wegren. They minimized trade with the West, but that did not mean they were completely self-sufficient. However, the poor performance of the agricultural sector made it necessary to buy Western corn and maize. "
After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the agricultural area of Russia sank from 900,000 square kilometers to just over 730,000 square kilometers. The country's new entrepreneurs preferred to invest their time and money in oil and gas wells. Soviet state farms were cut down and few private landowners had enough capital to buy modern equipment to compete on the open market. Instead, many of them emigrated to Moscow and other cities to find new jobs and a new way of life.
"It must be pointed out that no other country in the world at the same time tried to democratize and install capitalism. Russia has tried something very unique, and we can say that they may not have been very successful, "says Wegren.
"Then Putin came on stage. From the year 2000, he has re-centralized the power of the federal and state governments. Oil prices started to rise so that he had money to do things like offer subsidies and create a financial revitalization program that wrote off debts and penalties for farms, which took a huge load off them. He created an agricultural bank, a credit system. He wrote laws about land pledging – as a means of raising capital – so that he had a fundamentally different economic environment in which to work. "
Despite government support, Russian farmers initially had difficulty meeting the new requirements, and the post-Crimean economic embargo continued to drive up local inflation. But now Putin's game seemed to have paid off. Although the Russian economy fell into recession two years after the sanctions were imposed, the government cut food imports by 40 percent between 2013 and 2015.
Just last month, Putin proudly stated at the Russia-Africa Economic Forum in Sochi that his country is exporting to Africa "more food than weapons" The production generated $ 9 billion in revenue. In 2018, according to the president, agricultural exports amounted to $ 20 billion and this year to $ 25 billion.
"Putin has tasked the agricultural sector to raise $ 45 billion in food exports by 2024. If they do, they will be among the world's top ten exporters," says Wegren. But even then, he notes, the gap between Russia and the United States, which is high on the list, would remain considerable. He agrees, however, that it is important to consider the type of crop. In fact, grain – especially wheat – accounts for 60 percent of Russia's agricultural export earnings. In 2017, Russia overtook the US and became the world's largest exporter of wheat. Russia also retained this title last year.
In the meantime there is no indication that the Russians want to rest on their laurels. This year, Moscow provided agriculture with around 300 billion rubles (US $ 4.74 billion) of state funds, of which 40 billion was spent on the development of export markets. From 2019 to 2024, between 300 and 350 billion rubles will be allocated to projects promoting such exports. As Russian agriculture continues to rise, the fear of the effects increases more and more. Wegren notes, "There is no question that with increasing agricultural production and increasing status as an exporter, Russia tends to use food as a foreign policy tool, which means it is trying to force other states to bid. "
According to official Russian data, in 2017 the state exported food and agricultural products to more than 159 countries around the world. In particular, Moscow is targeting markets in East Asia and the Middle East. Farms increased soybean production from 650,000 tonnes in 2007 to 3.6 million tonnes a year later. Agricultural trade agreements have been concluded in recent years not only with China, but also with countries such as Japan, Vietnam and Mongolia. The latter import more than 95 million tonnes of soy a year. More than a third of this was accounted for by the United States, before a recent trade war broke out between the two countries. Moscow can not fully deliver this amount, but is happy to help fill the vacuum and even leases vast agricultural land to Chinese companies.
It's not all about roses. Russia, which only accepted the conditions of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the end of September, is getting warmer than the world average 2.5 times faster – which of course causes many disadvantages. A 2018 report by the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment stated that the country faces an "environmental apocalypse". In many parts of the country, there has been an increase in the number of fires, storms, droughts and floods.
"The opening of Arctic sea routes could have short-term benefits. However, if you travel more frequently through these oceans, the water heats up and the passing ships create gas emissions – shipping is a huge source of emissions – causing a lot of air pollution, "says Elisa Lanzi of the OECD headquarters in Paris. Lanzi, a senior economist in the organization with over ten years of experience in his environmental department, adds that while Russia will have more land for agriculture, "the fact that there will be no snow on the ground can also mean that certain [previously frozen] Viruses could spread again. Not everything that seems positive in the short term is actually the case. "
But even in the opinion of Lanzi and her OECD colleagues, we can not ignore that global warming will lead to many changes in world trade. And as it stands now, it is very likely that Putin will be able to turn Russia back into a superpower by selling only wheat without even having to use military force.