• Much of Siberia enjoyed an unseasonably warm winter, with heatwaves taking temperatures in some places 10 degrees above average.
  • In contrast, there have been snowstorms and tornadoes in June.
  • The weather is causing the permafrost layer to melt, leading to a massive oil spill and the spread of wildfires.

One minute it’s T-shirts, the next it’s snow boots. Siberia is experiencing some wild weather swings in 2020.

Russia’s coldest region has just experienced a winter heatwave, with an early start to summer seeing temperatures hit 35°C. Much of Siberia experienced temperatures well above average for the period from June 2019 to May 2020, with some parts 10°C above the average temperatures seen between 1981 and 2010.

But June has brought snow, tornadoes and flooding to the region, with a state of emergency declared in some parts. Villages have been deluged, houses destroyed and bridges washed away.

siberia environment renewable solar energy change transition friendly environment carbon footprint carbon emissions reduction change natural climate change global warming air pollution clean energy power renewables plastic plastics Weather extreme storm hurricane typhoon flooding flood floods danger rain wind windy rainy flash floods Agriculture pollen insects bugs bees honeybees bumblebees farming farms crops crop stable
Boreal Spring March 2020 to May 2020.
Image: Copernicus

Oil leaks, wildfires and floods

While locals have been enjoying the sunbathing, early-blooming flowers and harvests, the effects of the temperature fluctuations have had more concerning consequences for the environment.

Back in December, Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged the potential severe impact the heatwave could have if it triggered thawing of the permafrost layer on which a number of cities are built.

The melting permafrost led to what environmentalists say is the worst oil spill of its kind in the Russian Arctic. In May, diesel oil started to leak from a storage tank near Norilsk because melting permafrost weakened its supports. Thousands of tonnes of oil have contaminated the nearby Ambarnaya river and surrounding subsoil, and have put other parts of the region at risk.

A satellite image shows Ambarnaya River after a diesel spill following an accident at a power plant outside Norilsk, in Krasnoyarsk region, Russia June 4, 2020. Picture taken June 4, 2020. Russian space agency Roscosmos/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. PICTURE WATERMARKED AT SOURCE. - RC2Y2H9URY1W
A satellite image from 4 June 2020 shows the Ambarnaya River after the oil spill
Image: via REUTERS

Meanwhile, ice on a number of rivers has been melting and breaking up earlier than usual, putting some towns on watch for flooding. And there have been extreme wildfires which have been exacerbated by drier conditions.

The global picture

The warmer temperatures in Siberia have contributed to May being the warmest on record globally, 0.63°C warmer than the average May from 1981-2010, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service from the EU.

environment renewable solar energy change transition friendly environment carbon footprint carbon emissions reduction change natural climate change global warming air pollution clean energy power renewables plastic plastics Weather extreme storm hurricane typhoon flooding flood floods danger rain wind windy rainy flash floods Agriculture pollen insects bugs bees honeybees bumblebees farming farms crops crop stable
European surface air temperature anomaly for spring.
Image: Copernicus

There are concerns that the coronavirus pandemic has pushed climate change further down the list of concerns for governments. And although globally greenhouse gas emissions plummeted during the early months of 2020, when many nations were on strict lockdown, they have started to climb again in some places. According to figures from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, air pollution in China rebounded in May – overshooting concentrations seen during the same period last year.

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In the past, countries have relied on highly polluting industries such as manufacturing and construction to help lift them out of a downturn. But the figures from the CREA underline the need for governments to focus on clean and environmentally friendly economic recoveries as lockdowns ease.