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Siberia’s warming shows climate change has no winners

Siberia's warming shows climate change has no winners

Melting permafrost offers opportunities but poses calamitous risks

TOKYO -- On Feb. 19, a Russian icebreaker that transports liquefied natural gas arrived at Sabetta, an LNG loading port in the far north of Siberia. The ship had sailed through the ice-covered Arctic Ocean on its way to and back from China's Jiangsu Province.

The journey is noteworthy because the Arctic Sea route that the ship took is usually only navigable from July to November, when the sea ice is thin.

It was the first time for a ship to successfully navigate the Arctic Sea route to Asia in the dead of winter.

Japanese companies took note. JGC Holdings has built an LNG plant near the port, to and from which Mitsui O.S.K. Lines partially handles transportation. Trading house Mitsui & Co. and other parties have invested in the second phase of the LNG project, which is to be completed around 2023. Once a year-round shipping route is established, transportation time between Russia and Japan will be greatly reduced.

Global warming is something of a boon for Russia, where 55% to 65% of the country is covered in permafrost. It is estimated that 60% of the country's oil and 90% of its natural gas, as well as deposits of nonferrous metals and gold, lie under this thawing part of the planet.

President Vladimir Putin once shrugged off the perils of global warming, saying, "an increase of two or three degrees wouldn't be so bad for a northern country like Russia. We could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up."

That was at least partially prophetic. According to Russia's Federal State Statistics Service, grain production in 2020 was up 9.7% from the previous year, the second highest level after 2017.

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