As the mean surface temperature gradually increases, Russia faces a higher risk of forest fires, the consequences of which were already seen in 2019, when over six billion hectares of forest area were burned in the Far Eastern federal district alone. In this region, more than half of the population was exposed to high and very high air pollution levels in 2018. While the mining sector was the leading air pollutant emittant in Russia in 2018, air quality had also deteriorated due to emissions from automobile vehicles and use of ozone depleting substances. By 2050, the average annual temperature in the capital Moscow was forecasted to increase by three degrees Celsius compared to 2019.
Another effect of climate change that directly affects Russia is ice melting. The Arctic region, where the extent of sea ice significantly receded over the past four decades, accounts for one fifth of the country's territory and is home to 2.4 million citizens, or two percent of the Russian population. Permafrost thaw in this area, which is rich in natural resources and is particularly relevant for the national mining industry and the extraction of oil and gas, would imply high economic costs for the country.
At the same time, Russia could benefit from climate change, as the temperature increase in the Arctic would enable the Northern Sea Route. Saving up to 14 days compared to the route over the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean, this pathway was estimated to transport 80 to 95 million metric tons of cargo by 2024, mostly liquefied natural gas. However, foreign companies like the French shipping and transportation company CMA CGM Group publicly refused to use the route due to concerns over the Arctic's environment.
Within the country, opinions are split on climate change, with approximately one quarter of the population considering the rhetoric about it fabricated. Even though the first eco-protests were organized in 2019, general awareness about climate activism among Russians is rather low. Among residents who were informed about the work of Greta Thunberg and her supporters, nearly three quarters were pessimistic about its success in making an actual ecological impact.
The environmental future of Russia highly depends on political decisions. On the one hand, the national government set the development of the Arctic region as a priority for the 21st century, increasing investment in the Northern Sea Route and thereby putting national security and economy before sustainable global thinking. At the same time, Russia was expected to reduce the volume of coal in its total primary energy supply by 2060, gradually increasing consumption of renewable energy sources. Thus, the country's climate strategy is based upon maintaining its natural resources located in the permafrost region while using the advantage of the new shipping route.