Analysis: Ahead of the 2018 World Cup, a peep into Russian deforestation

Amur or Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica); Bikin River, Maritime Territory (Primorye or Primorsky Krai), Siberia, Russian Federation

The Amur Tiger is threatened by deforestation in Russia. Photo credit: World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

By Anders Lorenzen

You’re undoubtedly excited about the football World Cup which starts in Russia tomorrow. Wherever you live, it is one of those sporting events which unite countries and the world alike.

However, this year´s host country is a host like no other. And at the moment Russia is arguably more controversial than ever before. This is due to human rights abuses, geopolitical tensions, environmental crimes and so on. You’re not likely to be hearing anything about this, in the no doubt heavy propaganda-style PR messages being pumped out by the Russian government during the tournament.

Russia has an enormous land area, the largest landmass on Earth, and a lot of it is forests. When we talk about deforestation, we’re used to hearing about places like Brazil, Indonesia, Congo and so on, e.g. tropical deforestation. But we are less used to hearing about Russia in this context. But in fact, Russia has a massive deforestation problem.

Russia’s deforestation problems

Last year the BBC travel TV presenter, Simon Reeve. shed a light on Russia’s deforestation problems in a three-part documentary series about Russia. As he passed through the Taiga Boreal Forest, which is one of the lungs of the planet and home to the Amur Tiger, he learned that Russia is said to have the largest hidden, even, secretive deforestation activity in the world.

And there might be something to it. According to the Center for Russian Environmental Policy, the country loses 16 million hectares of forest a year. Some of that loss is due to wildfire and pollution. However, the Russian government hasn’t been massively keen on putting in place robust forest policies, nor have they fostered conservation or reforestation projects to protect Russia’s vast forests. And as a result, the large swathes of illegal logging taking place has mostly been ignored.

In 2015, Think Progress reported that for three years in a row Russia lost forest cover equal to the size of Switzerland.

Policymakers ignoring the plight of Russia’s forests

And the lack of focus on the critical role which Russia’s forests play to ensure a stable climate was demonstrated during the 2015 climate negotiations. A staggering 19% of the world’s forest reserves are in Russia. But experts say that when world leaders drafted the 2015 UN climate deal, the Paris Agreement, the issue of Russia’s forests was ignored. The focus was instead on tropical forests or rainforests if you like, ignoring boreal forests which are found in the high northern latitudes of Eurasia and North America. Each year, boreal forests sequester more than 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), with Russian forests accounting for between 300 and 600 million tonnes of that.

So when you settle down for the World Cup and enjoy a Russian promotional video about how they take care of their pristine environment, you might want to think again.


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