Russia risks Arctic species to exploit coal reserves
Russia’s Arctic has seen the number of threatened species rise as the Kremlin seeks to exploit melting ice by extracting more fossil fuels, which will, in turn, boost global warming.
Last year President Vladimir Putin issued a decree ordering Russian firms to increase cargo traffic on the Arctic’s northern sea route to an annual 80 million tonnes by 2024. Russia is the world’s third-largest coal exporter with 210 million tonnes in 2018, after Indonesia with 439 million tonnes and Australia at 382 million tonnes, according to the World Coal Association.
India signed an energy deal in Vladivostok during October, involving a large open-cast coal mine on the Taymyr peninsula in central Siberia which has high-quality coking coal, anthracite, which is used to make steel and aluminium.
The Indian steel minister, Dharmendra Pradhan, said he was confident imports of anthracite from Russia would rise in the new year, adding that Indian steelmakers had started testing samples of Russian coal.
India has been dependent on Australia to meet most of its coking needs but imports have fallen since 2016.
“Offtake of coal from the far east of Russia can grow as the coking coal … becomes more attractive from the point of view of price, ease of availability, connectivity to the ports and sea transport,” Pradhan said.
The country plans to increase annual crude steel production to 300 million tonnes by 2030 from the current 132 million tonnes, with steelmakers importing the bulk of their coal due to scarce domestic production.
Pradhan said: “We are the second-largest coal importer in the world, and we intend to achieve production of 3 million tonnes of steel per year by 2030, so we need to increase coal supplies.”
Taymyr is a haven for wildlife hosting the largest Russian nature reserve, Bolshoi Arkticheskiy, covering 4.2 million hectares.
The coal is due to be shipped through the Arctic.
Long shipping journeys to India will mean more greenhouse gases.
The Arctic is estimated to have 72 per cent of Russian gas reserves. Oil and gas mega-projects are more advanced in western Russia, notably on the Yamal Peninsula.
Taymyr is a nesting ground for migratory birds during the short Arctic summer.
Polar bears come ashore on the Taymyr peninsular and enormous vast reindeer herds roam and snowy owls hunt for lemmings.
Reindeer were seriously threatened by poaching and pollution, according to Alexey Knizhnikov of WWF Russia.
“Developing new projects in such an ecologically sensitive area is madness,” Knizhnikov told the BBC.
Picture credit: Wikimedia