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Planning Against Troubled Waters

St. Petersburg’s Climate Adaptation Strategy

St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city and a top tourist destination in Europe, is due to be hit hard by the effects of climate change. The city is already losing its shores, while rising sea and ground waters are posing a serious threat to its housing and transport infrastructure. The first Russian climate adaptation strategy is currently being drafted in the city with the aim of protecting existing infrastructure and changing future construction regulations, as well as strengthening the shores.

Russia doesn’t immediately come to mind as a country especially vulnerable to climate change. For years some scientists doubted the credibility of global warming, with local politicians making jokes about new opportunities opening for Russia –like growing bananas in the tundra or using the Northeast Passage. Yet recent years have brought along the first negative impacts.

From the forest fires and droughts of the summer of 2010 when more than 10 000 deaths were registered in Moscow due to air pollution, to a flood in the southern town of Krymsk, which killed 200 in the summer of 2012 – and which later research connected to the average temperature rise of the Black Sea. More recent stories include an outbreak of Siberian Anthrax on the Yamal peninsula this summer, causing more than 2500 reindeers to require extermination and significant losses of livelihood for indigenous communities, due to an unusually hot summer in Siberia and permafrost melting; a phenomenon which has also caused the forming of deep craters on the Yamal Peninsula.

Director of the Energy and Climate Program at WWF Russia, Alexey Kokorin calls for federal and regional climate adaptation strategies to be developed and implemented as well as for the impact of climate change to be taken into account in city and regional planning. “Russia’s Arctic regions, the Far East, the South and the city of St. Petersburg are due to be hit the hardest,” he warns.

St. Petersburg is a case in point – built from scratch 313 years ago in a swampy area lying almost at sea level – the city is particularly vulnerable. The historical part of the city is protected by a flood barrier, which was put into action in 2011. Yet an increasing sea level (1mm to 2mm per year), receding shorelines (0.5 meters per year on average), rising ground water, and more frequent and fiercer flooding pose a serious threat to the city’s ageing housing, transport and engineering infrastructure. The local Environmental Committee has been working on a Climate Adaptation Plan for the last three years to help the city, economy and residents.

“Together with our partners from Finland we have estimated and mapped climate change risks for the city and its residents, worked out a number of recommendations and are trying to integrate them into further city development strategy,” says Yulia Menshova, the head of the project. According to her estimations, the cost of introducing the ‘climate factor’ into the city development strategy is 27 times lower than that of covering further losses.

“We will have to re-develop our coastal areas, maybe even move some residential buildings. Coastal strengthening measures are also a must”, says one of the researchers behind the project, professor of the Russian State Hydrometeorological University Valery Malinin. This particularly concerns areas beyond the flood protection barrier (a mixture of new upmarket residential areas, traditional ‘dachas’, old Soviet-style public resorts and new luxury private hotels)- since the flood waves deflect off them and fall onto the shores, eroding the beaches. Residents are trying to protect themselves by building stone walls and fences, but these are easily crushed by waves, which can reach the coast more easily due to warmer winters and less ice forming in the Baltic Sea. Researchers from the Karpinsky Russian Geological Research Institute recommend bringing more sand back to the shores and further coastal protection methods, like storm-surge barriers.

The current version of the Climate Adaptation Plan includes a coastal protection program for these districts located outside the flood protection barrier.

By Angelina Davydova – Kommersant, Russia

Angelina Davydova
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