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Russia Signs Climate Accords & Putin Responds to Climate Change, but There’s a Catch

Russia's Fossil Fuel Infrastructure vs. Permafrost (Credit: cleantechnica.com) Click to Enlarge.

Why is [permafrost] an issue to Russia?  Well it does have some people living in those areas that depend on the permafrost for purposes like natural year round refrigeration of goods, but that is not a priority for Russia.  The biggest problem is that the permafrost that used to stay frozen is turning into a swamp, and that has a dire consequence.  The foundation for all infrastructure is built atop the solid permafrost that never melted.  Now that it is melting for the first time, every manmade structure is at risk of collapse.  Now while that is life threatening to a lot of people, it also threatens Russia’s main source of income. Oil and gas fields are located under the permafrost and a lot of the pipes are also built on top of permafrost.  If the fossil fuel infrastructure collapses as well as the pipes, then that is a financial disaster for it, as well as a potential environmental disaster.  Even if the country wanted to keep earning money on the world’s slow demise and eventually slowly switch to renewables, it now suddenly needs to do something immediately to prevent a loss of income and energy generation capacity.  As some research notes, the production capacity of all existing facilities has already declined because the foundation can no longer bear the load.  Some have declined as little as 2% and some have declined by more than 20% since the 1990s.  This also puts at risk all current development plans and facilities that are currently under construction that is supposed to supply oil and gas to China.

First and foremost, Russia envisions coal, oil, and especially gas as the future of developing African and Asian countries, as well as China and Japan.  As Putin said, Russia is working on turning fossil fuels into hydrogen fuels.  When most people think of hydrogen fuel, they might think of electrolysis, which is an energy intensive process that creates hydrogen fuel without any emissions that can then be combusted to release only water as a byproduct rather than CO2.  However, most hydrogen is currently made from fossil fuels, using a process called steam-methane reforming that effectively makes hydrogen but also creates CO2 as a byproduct.  This is not an issue if that CO2 is immediately captured rather than released, and there might be methods to eliminate that byproduct altogether.  To further corroborate these plans, one must only look at what oil and gas pipelines Russia is currently constructing or planning to construct as shown on the map above.  They lead to China as well as Japan, along with lots of other developing Asian countries, and the remaining question is how or if it plans to get its fossil fuels to Africa like China is currently doing.  Another issue that was totally not addressed is how many greenhouse gases get released by drilling and all the pipelines, and if that is a problem that can even be solved.
Using renewables such as solar and wind is already cheaper in many cases and the price will continue to fall, but the world is so big and the time left to solve the climate crisis is so small.  It’s not impossible that Russia might get its way and find a market for this.  Right now it’s unclear if it will be feasible for Russia to actually do this.  Once again it is also a big question if Russia can make sure that none of the greenhouse gases leak into the air because that is what the world will demand.  Considering politicians’ current appalling attitudes towards climate change, it is hard to predict what their stance will be on this “clean gas” turned into hydrogen, as only time will tell.  One thing is for sure, I prefer true renewables and electric cars, and that is a movement that will be hard to stop as long as the sun keeps shining.