Not a Russian Roulette, But a Dartboard: The Directions of Climate Change

By Chira Tudoran and Rosalie de Vries

All the evidence shows that God was actually quite a gambler, and the universe is a great casino, where dice are thrown, and roulette wheels spin on every occasion. – Stephen Hawking

Global warming is a major threat to humans and the natural world. The economic growth we have experienced from the dawn of the industrial revolution is producing unexpected and unwanted changes in the ecosystem of the planet. Hence, we ask ourselves what is global warming? The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as such “changes in the world’s weather, in particular the fact that it is believed to be getting warmer as a result of human activity increasing, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

Going further than that, the answer would be that it is a sequence of chain reactions in the climate of the planet. This sequence is then studied by various disciplines such as ecology, economics, domestic politics, and international relations. Nordhaus (2013) created this figure to succinctly explain the circular flow of global warming science, impacts, and policy.

So how does this affect Russia?

First of all, Russia stands apart from other countries due to its unique climate, size, and location (Markevich & Mikhailova, 2013). Russia takes up 11.5% of the world’s landmass, which makes it the largest country in the world. However, the majority of its territory is not inhabited, as 65% of Russian territory is exposed to continuous or sporadic permafrost (Osborne, 2019).

The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “an area of land that is permanently frozen below the surface”. Now, climate change is diminishing the permanently frozen ground across Siberia, disrupting everyday life in one of the coldest inhabited places on earth (MacFarquhar, 2019). The increase in temperature melts the permafrost, and the higher rate of precipitation has made the land wetter. These two factors cause the snow and rain to create a vicious circle, forming an insulating layer that speeds defrosting underground (MacFarquhar, 2019).

At the same time, the permafrost land is melting away, fire is scorching what is left. Northern parts of the Irkutsk region were hit by wildfires before its southern areas could recover from deadly floods which took 25 lives and displaced over 30,000 people this June (Ilyushina and Pleitgen, 2019). Climate change caused the area of Irkutsk to experience unprecedented floods in strength, as well as having these floods at odd times during the year (Ilyushina and Pleitgen, 2019). Researchers at Irkutsk State University said the flooding was caused by “anomalous atmospheric processes taking place amid global and regional climate change,” warning that Siberia is bound to experience even more weather extremes in the future (Ilyushina and Pleitgen, 2019).

People complained that “the government is also unable to do much about other environmental problems, including wildfires surging through millions of acres of remote forest across Yakutia and the rest of Siberia” (MacFaruhar, 2019). More specifically, “authorities here at first decided not to put the fires out unless they pose a direct threat to settlements as it would be economically unsound” (Ilyushina and Pleitgen, 2019). The efforts to help them would be too costly was cited as the main reason for not intervening. 

Leaving the north of Russia and looking at the south, “heavy rains and river flooding that threatened a dam in the Stavropol region led to the evacuation of a few thousand people in late May” (Davydova, 2017). Floodings of this extent cannot bring good news for the economy of Russia. Sergey Donskoy, Russia’s environment minister, has said that the negative effects of climate change are already costing the country 30 to 60 billion rubles ($530 million to $1 billion) yearly (Davydova, 2017).

Apart from the melting of permafrost and increase in forest fires, Russia is also expected to see stronger heatwaves and cold snaps, droughts in southern agricultural areas, the climatologists said (Davydova, 2017). “There will be more high waters, including floods, in the areas where we already have a lot of water, and there will be even less water in dry regions”, Mikhail Georgievsky, a researcher from the State Hydrological Institute, said at a Russian-British seminar on climate risks in March in Moscow (Davydova, 2017). 

No need to bluff

However, Russia has proven to be as structured and inventive as history has told us their work attic makes them. For instance, Russian law states their encouragement of energy efficiency, and seeks to limit GHG levels to 70-75% by 2030 (Federal law 261-F3, РОССИЙСКАЯ ФЕДЕРАЦИЯ, 2009). While Russia interprets climate change as an opportunity to take a leading position in this field, ten years later the Kremlin is also waving their pom-poms at the economic treasure that climate change can unlock. In 2019, a new national plan has been published, which emphasizes Russia’s intentions to adapt to the climate change and to “use the advantages ”from global climate change (Lustgarten, 2020; Devyatkin, 2020;  ПРАВИТЕЛЬСТВО РОССИЙСКОЙ ФЕДЕРАЦИИ – translates to ‘The national action plan of the first stage of adaptation to climate change for the period until 2022 was approved( 2020).

For example in Syberia, the cloak of white snowflakes is melting away. It is estimated  that the permafrost will melt from 65 to 40% coverage in the 2080s (Osborne, 2019, para. 6). The earth’s skin is revealing itself underneath, posing new habitable land in our overcrowded sphere, which might prove itself useful as future climate refugees are expected to search for a future and a job in more resourceful areas (Osborne, 2020, Lustgarten, 2020). The new areas that appear also provide Russia with new land to plough and sow (Osborne, 2020; Agence France-presse, 2020). Russia can use this soil to increase the variety of agricultural products, as well as simply increase its quantity. Further glorifying this new opportunity, other areas, like Europe and Africa, are experiencing more difficulty in their food production, making Russia a more influential and relevant producer. The King of the Arctics is already marking its territory: Russia is planning flags and developing grain productions (Lustgarten, 2020).

Moreover, new waters are developing to investigate, both for science and trade: the Arctic Ocean (Agence France-presse, 2020). The Arctic Ocean is melting rapidly, in the last 30 years, its frozen area has almost halved. As a result, frozen remains of animals who walked the earth millions of years ago are being discovered, and with these remains comes priceless information for the scientific community. Most importantly, though, the Northern Sea Route is appearing, and Russia is planning to invest billions on its further development. Right now, trade has to go through the Suez Canal. The newer Northern Sea Route can decrease travelling time by weeks! This gives Russia a more advanced geological and powerful political location, especially when trade between Asia and Europe might use this new waterway. Furthermore, the Arctic area is open for exploration, and expectations are that there are still energy reserves to be both dis- and uncovered (Moscow & Yakutsk, 2019). 

The temperature rise in Russia also boosts existing sources of income. Where normally industries such as mining, construction and transport recognise the lands of always winter and permafrost as a stop sign, climate change will diminish this reputation. Work can continue more often (Russia to reap, 2017), meaning there is more money to be made. Noted should be that in comparison to already warmer areas, Russia’s wealth increase is even larger because, in warmer countries, sectors like agriculture and tourism will become more difficult. These include European and Asian countries (Russia to reap, 2017), as well as the United States of America (the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2017), which are Russia’s largest rivals in development and world influence. This means that Russia is getting both richer, but also more powerful at the negotiating table. After all, the player with the best cards is the winner at the poker table. And Russia will most likely not need to bluff. These climate change advantages are expected to increase Russia’s GDP per Capita, by 0.83 percent per increased degree Celsius (Russia to reap, 2017, para. 4). It’s not a bad hand.

Affecting world politics

Therefore Russia experiences both positive and negative effects resulting from climate change. Do the benefits outweigh the costs, or should Russia campaign for global CO2 emissions reduction? It depends on how climate change affects its own geopolitical power. If Russia loses a bit while its neighbours and rivals lose almost everything, then campaigning for a reduction in CO2 emissions does not sound so profitable.

Subsequently, climate change positively affects Russia’s eternal accessibility problem. As explained by Markevich and Mihailova (2013), Russia currently is encountering an accessibility problem regarding trade routes. This causes expensive transport, downsizing Russia’s attractiveness as an international trade partner. However, since the Arctic Ocean is revealing a new potential trade route (Agence France-presse, 2020; Moscow & Yakutsk, 2019), Russia might become a more preferred trading partner. If Russia plays its cards correctly, its position in international relations will be strengthened. The answer for Russia is clear, the benefits far outweigh the costs. 

As for Russia’s economic standing, climate change has favourable effects on the trade market. The rule of supply-demand, as described by the Encyclopedia Britannica (2013), in short works as follows: When a price goes up, less people are willing to pay for something. But when a price goes down, less suppliers are willing to produce a good. Hence, the equilibrium price is the balance that results from this. From here we can deduce that the scarcer something is, the more valuable it becomes. Partly so because the supplier has a bigger influence on the final pricing of a product.

This economical reality brings insight to the situation in Russia. The closed-off economy distinct to Soviet times has been clearly left behind: Russia is currently number 13 of Exporting countries and occupies the 22nd place in Imports (The Observatory of Economic Complexity, 2019). As mentioned before, more areas will be liberated and have the potential for agricultural use. Conveniently, wheat being Russia’s 5th most exported product. So Russia’s agricultural production will increase, while other areas will be having a harder time in productions. Thus, Russia will own in the future a higher percentage of agricultural production. So while agricultural production will become scarcer for other countries, Russia will enjoy being one of the suppliers that have a surplus. This will only add to Russia’s GDP and geopolitical power.

To glorify this even more: the importing countries of wheat are mainly Turkey, Nigeria, Vietnam, and Sudan. Warm countries, for which an increase in temperature of a few degrees will disrupt and gravely affect their lands and agricultural production. Moreover, a warmer temperature will mean warmer waters. This means more access to the Arctic Sea, as mentioned previously. As you can see in the image below, the new Arctic Sea route would pass alongside the other wheat supplier countries (Nigeria is the exception to the rule here) in a directer way than through the original sea routes (OEC, 2019; Global Security, 2019). At this poker table of suppliers, Russia stands to win with a royal flush.

Image: The alternative Northern Sea Route (Blue line) as compared to the usual (Red line). The NSR passes more directly along Africa and Asia before passing through Europe. Image comes from Global Security [

Besides the new agricultural possibilities and sea route, Russia also might find new gas reserves. However, the market for gas is a bit different. Top exporters include only a few: Russia, the US, Qatar, Australia and Norway (Chandra, n.d.). A small number of suppliers, in economic terms, is called an Oligarchy. The implication is that these suppliers have more influence on the price than in a free market (Corporate Finance Institute, 2015-2021). In the energy supply field of the globalized world, contracts are already becoming more flexible (Chandra, n.d.), meaning more short-term based and thus susceptible to price changes. Thus, Russia’s potential findings have a twofold result: diminishing its dependency on the world market, as well as having a larger market share. This could provide the Kremlin with even more influence over the price, adding to Russia’s GDP as well.

A different but just as well an important effect is Russia’s population density, or rather said: scarcity. Russia has seen a population decline: young Russias emigrate to Europe when possible, the Russian fertility rate stocks at 1.57 – lower than the 2.1 necessary to replace a generation with a new one, and ranks 7th in global death rates. The numbers have been compensated with immigration, where Russia ranks 2nd worldwide. Expected is that in 2035 death rate will exceed the birth rate and Russia will still depend on immigrants to make up for that (Foltynova, 2020). With this in mind, the Russian government has accepted the dual-nationality law in 2020, which weakens the requirements to gain Russian citizenship. Russia is expected to gain about 10 million immigrants as a result (Russia Passes Dual, 2020). Brown (2008) explains the prediction that globally, between 25 million and 1 billion will be displaced due to climate change. Russia could use the predicted climate refugee crisis to fill up their population crisis.

In conclusion, climate change makes Russia richer in several ways: newly accessible land that can be used for agricultural production, while other countries will struggle to keep theirs. This will make Russia’s export more valuable as it is scarcer. Furthermore, the potential energy reserves will provide Russia with trading opportunities as well as influence on this trading field. Moreover, the Northern Sea Route will boost the speed of Russia’s delivery, increasing the attractiveness of having Russia as a business partner. Another problem that Russia can solve due to climate change is its declining population, through attracting climate refugees. Climate change, while being the iron fist for other countries, proves to be a velvet glove to Russia. Moreover, Russia is already adapting, by sowing in the Arctic now it will reap the benefits later.

Edited by Gunvir Paintal

Artwork by Chira Tudoran


Lustrgarten, A. (2020, December 16). How Russia wins the climate crisis. The New York Times. 

ПРАВИТЕЛЬСТВО РОССИЙСКОЙ ФЕДЕРАЦИИ [translates to ‘The national action plan of the first stage of adaption to climate change for the period until 2022 was approved], (2020).

MacFarquhar, N. (2019, August 4). Russian Land of Permafrost and Mammoths Is Thawing. The New York Times.

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