Trump Isn’t Russia’s Big Geopolitical play. It’s Climate Change.

Russia is the largest country in the world by far at 17,098,242 sq km. It is 7m sq km larger than the next largest country which is Canada. Of relevance, about 30 percent of it is in the Arctic circle and Russia’s coastline accounts for over 50 percent of Arctic Ocean coastline.

We’re probably about to see some majorly revealing glimpses into the machinations of geopolitics courtesy of Robert Mueller. And I’ve wondered for a while if one of Russia’s big plays is climate change and ensuring that there is an impotent response to this huge challenge from the G20 + NATO.

You see, global warming will affect Russia far less than other countries. In fact, there’s a strong chance it’s one of a small number of countries in the world where it will be advantageous due to melting ice on land and sea opening up natural resources (oil, gas, mineral) that were previously inaccessible. Some models project a +419% change on per capita GDP for Russia by 2100 due to climate change but a 36% decline for the US.

Imagine that.

US GDP per capita in 2017 was $59,792 compared to Russia’s per capita GDP of $10,995. But, if we adjust it based the above percentage changes then the figures become $38,266 and $57,064 respectively. Yes, Russia leapfrogs the US.

Some key facts for you:

  • The Arctic holds about 90 billion barrels of oil and 47 trillion cubic liters of natural gas and the Russian zone of the ocean has the largest share — its potential reserves amount to approximately 48 billion barrels of oil and 43 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.
  • This Arctic bounty accounts for between 16–26% of the Earth’s undiscovered hydrocarbon reserves
  • Putin has already publicly shown his aspirations in the area and the Russians are showing hostility to other countries’ presence Arctic waters. Of relevance, the Arctic north is all just frozen water (there is no land at the North Pole, unlike the South Pole) so claims to natural resources at the far north become even more hostile.
  • The US is already woefully behind Russia in hardware capability to explore the area’s waters (outside of any Exclusive Economic Zone boundaries, which typically determine the waters around a country’s coast as being theirs for resource exploration within 200 miles)
  • Russia’s mineral wealth in the area (within their land borders + EEZ) is projected to be $1.5 — $2 trillion.
  • For a brilliant infographic on all this see here.

Climate change will horribly impact most G20 and Nato countries (meaning a significant net benefit to Russia) in economic terms. The associated political / societal / humanitarian consequences that will bedevil more highly impacted countries will amplify that cost further still. This is particularly relevant to the US. In fact, the social cost in the US of climate change is projected to be the second most significant in the world.

Guess who, of all the world’s countries, benefits the most from climate change (if it’s not already obvious)? It’s Russia.

Imagine, as projected, that the US is not the world’s largest economy by 2032, then add to that it will bear the second greatest downside of climate change in the world (and Russia benefits the most of all countries). Finally, add a combustible mix of partisanship, self-serving climate change deniers etc and hey-presto, the 22nd century looks very different indeed.

So, if ‘facilitating’ any country (or group of countries) to inflict that fate upon itself is anyone’s aim then a few ingredients are required to prevent them coming to their senses. A broad decline in multilateralism is necessary to ensure preventive measures cannot be decided upon by a quorum of countries. So, how would you go about deliberately reducing cooperation and multilateralism?

It would mean, for example, that NATO would need to be disrupted, the G7 would need to be disrupted and critical, long-standing, global alliances frayed. It would mean having a strong preference for right leaning governments that sow division, discord and unilateralism vs progressive governments that strive for multilateralism.

Is this ringing any bells yet?

It seems to me to be a logical explanation for the GOP’s Paris withdrawal. The mystifying rhetoric targeting other NATO countries. The petulant attacks of the G7. And so, if these acts seal America’s future of being ravaged by climate change (and Russia’s ascendancy) then this is surely turkeys voting for Thanksgiving.

And so, I wonder if Russia’s long-play here really is climate change. Ensuring it happens, safe in the knowledge that it hurts others but benefits you. Trump isn’t the objective for Russia — he’s just one small play in ensuring a sufficient decline in multilateralism so climate change continues unabated. It’s a classic pick-pocketing move. We’re all watching something else (Trump, alt-right, Brexit) while the important events take place right under our noses.

If every country followed Russia’s Paris Agreement targets (which they never ratified so do not even need to meet) then we’re projected to have a 5.1c rise in global temperature by 2100. This is terrifying. A 4c rise in global temperatures by 2100 would see global GDP fall by 30%. But as we know, the US will be affected significantly more than others and Russia actually stands to gain. The environmental and humanitarian costs would be terrifying. All it takes to get there is inaction — or the prevention or action.

So, if global warming is good for Russia and it is a key part of Russia’s geopolitical ambitions then a sustained multilateral response to climate change is critical to the other developed countries’ defense strategy.

That bears repeating. The US’s (and plenty of other countries’) defense strategy becomes inextricably linked with its environmental strategy. For the first time. You see, if we find solutions to this century’s great environmental challenges then not only does the US (and elsewhere) protect its citizens, its economy and its global standing but it also protects a global order of which it is a critical participant and neuters Russia’s big-play in geopolitics this century.

More beatifically, there is already an organization in place that provides a multilateral framework to address the critical issues around climate change and the significant consequences to the world and the world order. It’s NATO. But wait, I hear you say, ‘NATO is for defense, not for addressing climate change’.

Well, what if they now mean the same thing..?