Russia blocks poles of cold

During the voting at the meeting of the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, Russia has blocked the proposal to create the world's largest polar reserve.

Huge areas of ocean waters surrounding Antarctica could become the largest marine reserve in the world, if such a decision passed a vote of the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

The Commission, composed of 24 countries and the European Union, was to vote on the proposal to allocate 876,000 square miles around the frozen Ross Sea and 700,000 square miles around East Antarctica. This area is the habitat of emperor penguins, minke whales, rare cynomolgus and Chilean sea bass, the species that significantly lost in the numbers because of active commercial production. In case of consensus, this area would become a place open only for research, where any commercial harvesting is forbidden.

The vote on this issue was not the first one. Before, the parties failed to reach a consensus on this issue in October last year. This time, before a crucial vote, Russia literally tore the issue by introduction of the question, if the Commission has the legal authority to create a marine reserve.

Observers at international negotiations have still fresh memories of "the procedural blockade" by the Russian delegation at the UN climate talks in Bonn. Experts believe that the Russian "blockades" are caused not by concern for the environment, but by someone's interests.

The consumer approach of the Russian Federation to the high-latitude areas is clear: before the "blockade" of the reserve in Antarctica, Russia began making plans for the global development of the Arctic. The issues of defense and resource extraction are the main landmarks in the Strategy for development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation till 2020 that was recently signed by the President, although this document mentions the terms "sustainable development" and "climate change" as well. Another document, the draft law on the Arctic zone prepared by the Ministry of Regional Development, significantly reduces the possibility of using the "Arctic zone" term.

Meanwhile, the human-induced damage to the polar environment is already measured by colossal figures. Scientists note that the potential damage from melting permafrost only in the Arctic zone will reach 60 trillion US dollars, which is comparable to the volume of the entire world economy in 2012 (70 trillion US dollars). The total "cost" of climate change, as evidenced by the results of economic modeling, may be even higher.

Gail Whiteman, a professor of Erasmus University (the Netherlands), writes in Nature journal: “Warming of the northern territories is an economic time bomb.”

Scientists note that it is wrong to regard the process of temperature growth in the North as a favorable one, as some experts try to do. Indeed, sea ice and permafrost melting can make Arctic oil (13% of the world's undiscovered reserves) and gas (30%) more accessible, and increase the traffic along the Northern Sea Route. However, the losses caused by melting the Arctic permafrost can be huge, much greater than local benefits from extraction of minerals, as this region is the key to Earth's climate system.

Experts think that Russia needs to consider the issue of preservation of the polar areas more globally, taking into account not only short-term benefits, but the risks of possible negative consequences as well.