Russia, in some ways, could benefit from climate change because warmer weather creates fertile new territory and opens the once frozen Arctic Ocean to increased trade and resource extraction. But the country is also particularly vulnerable, with two-thirds of its territory made up of permafrost, which deforms land, breaks roads and undermines buildings as it thaws.
For years, President Vladimir V. Putin has rejected the fact that humans bear responsibility for global warming. But last month, he launched a new message on his annual broadcast with Russian audiences, warning that thawing permafrost could have “very serious social and economic consequences” for the country.
“Many believe, and rightly so, that this is mainly related to human activity, to the emission of pollutants into the atmosphere,” Mr Putin told viewers. “Global warming is happening in our country even faster than in many other parts of the world. “
Mr Putin this month signed a law requiring companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions, paving the way for carbon regulation in Russia, the world’s fourth-largest polluter. Russia this week hosted John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy, for talks in Moscow, signaling that it is ready to work with Washington to tackle global warming despite confrontation on other issues.
Yet Russia’s struggle comes up against familiar scourges: a strictly centralized government, a sprawling law enforcement apparatus, and distrust of the state. As the forest fires spread through June, prosecutors opened criminal investigations against local authorities for allegedly failing to fight the fires.