This surprisingly positive prediction will focus on Russian geopolitics as it relates to climate change between the years 2040 and 2050. As you read on, you’ll see a Russia that’s disproportionately benefited by a warming climate—taking advantage of its geography to shield the European and Asian continents from the absolute starvation, and to regain its position as a world superpower in the process.
But before we begin, let’s be clear on a few things. This snapshot—this geopolitical future of Russia—wasn’t pulled out of thin air. Everything you’re about to read is based on the work of publicly available government forecasts from both the United States and the United Kingdom, a series of private and government-affiliated think tanks, as well as the work of journalists like Gwynne Dyer, a leading writer in this field. Links to most of the sources used are listed at the end.
On top of that, this snapshot is also based on the following assumptions:
Government investments to seriously and sizably limit or reverse climate change will remain moderate to practically non-existent.
By 2040 to 2050, climate change will have progressed to a stage where greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in our atmosphere exceed 450 parts per million. In this scenario, the world is now at least two degrees Celsius warmer, probably more.
You read our intro to climate change and the not-so-nice effects it‘ll have on our drinking water, agriculture, coastal cities, and plant and animal species, if no action is taken against it.
Now, let’s get right into it.
Russia on the rise
Unlike most of the world, climate change will make Russia a net winner during the late 2040s. That’s because what is a vast frigid tundra today will one day transform into the world’s largest expanse of arable land, thanks to a newly moderated climate that will defrost much of the country.
Russia already enjoys some of the world’s richest stores of fresh water, and with climate change, it will enjoy even more rainfall than it’s ever recorded. All this water—in addition to the fact that its farming days can last up to sixteen hours or more at higher latitudes—means Russia will enjoy a food harvest bonanza.
In fairness, Canada and the Scandinavian countries will also enjoy similar farming gains. But with Canada’s bounty being indirectly under American control and the Scandinavian countries struggling not to drown from high sea level rises, only Russia will have the autonomy, military might, and geopolitical maneuverability to use its food surplus to truly increase its power on the world stage.
By the late 2040s, much of Southern Europe, all of the Middle East, and large swaths of China will see their most productive farmlands dry up into worthless semi-arid deserts. There will be attempts to grow food in massive vertical and indoor farms, as well as to engineer heat and drought resistant crops, but there’s no guarantee these innovations will pan out to make up for global food production losses.
Enter Russia. Just as it currently uses its reserves of natural gas to fund its national budget and maintain a level of influence over its European neighbors, the country will also use its vast future food surpluses to the same effect. The reason being that there will be a variety of alternatives to natural gas over the coming decades, but there won’t be many alternatives to industrial scale farming that requires large expanses of arable land.
All this won’t happen overnight, of couse—especially after the power vacuum left behind by Putin’s fall in the early 2020s—but as farming conditions begin to worsen during the mid-to-late 2020s, what is left of the new Russia will slowly sell or lease off large swaths of undeveloped land to international farming corporations (Big Agri). The goal of this sell-off will be to attract billions of dollars of international investment to build out its agricultural infrastructure, thereby increasing Russia’s food surpluses and bargaining power over its neighbors for the coming decades.
By the late 2040s, this plan will reap dividends. With so few countries exporting food, Russia will have near monopoly pricing power over the international food commodity markets. Russia will then use this newfound food export wealth to quickly modernize both its infrastructure and military, to guarantee loyalty from its former Soviet satellites, and to buy up depressed national assets from its regional neighbors. In doing so, Russia will regain its superpower status and ensure long-term political dominance over Europe and the Middle East, pushing the US to the geopolitical sidelines. However, Russia will continue to face a geopolitical challenge to the east.
Silk Road allies
To the west, Russia will have a number of loyal, former Soviet satellite states to act as buffers against European and North African climate refugees. To the south, Russia will enjoy even more buffers, including large natural barriers like the Caucasus Mountains, more former Soviet states (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan), as well as a neutral-to-loyal ally in Mongolia. To the east, however, Russia shares a massive border with China, one that's completely unimpeded by any natural barrier.
This border could pose a serious threat since China has never fully recognized Russia’s claims over its former historical borders. And by the 2040s, China’s population will grow to over 1.4 billion people (a sizeable percentage of whom will be nearing retirement), while also dealing with a climate change-induced squeeze on the country’s farming capacity. Faced with a growing and hungry population, China will naturally turn an envious eye towards Russia’s vast eastern farming lands to avoid further protests and riots that could threaten the government’s power.
In this scenario, Russia will have two options: Amass its military along the Russian-Chinese border and potentially spark an armed conflict with one of the world’s top five militaries and nuclear powers, or it can work with the Chinese diplomatically by leasing them a portion of Russian territory.
Russia will likely choose the latter option for a number of reasons. First, an alliance with China will work as a counterweight against US geopolitical dominance, further strengthening its newfound superpower status. Additionally, Russia could benefit from China’s expertise in building large-scale infrastructure projects, especially given that aging infrastructure has always been one of Russia’s major weaknesses.
And finally, Russia’s population is currently in freefall. Even with millions of ethnically Russian immigrants moving back into the country from the former Soviet states, by the 2040s it will still need millions more to populate its enormous landmass and build a stable economy. Therefore, by allowing Chinese climate refugees to immigrate and settle into Russia’s sparsely populated eastern provinces, the country would not only gain a large source of labor for its agricultural sector, but also address its long-term population concerns—especially if it succeeds in turning them into permanent and loyal Russian citizens.
The long view
As much as Russia will totally abuse its newfound power, the food it exports will be vital to the European, Middle East, and Asian populations at risk of starvation. Russia will suck up money like a vacuum, but its presence will be one of the few stabilizing forces that prevent a complete collapse of states across continents. That said, its neighbors will have to exert what little pressure they have to warn Russia against meddling with future international climate rehabilitation initiatives—as Russia will have every reason to keep the world as warm as possible.
Reasons for hope
First, remember that what you’ve just read is only a prediction, not a fact. It’s also a prediction that’s written in 2015. A lot can and will happen between now and the 2040s to address the effects of climate change (many of which will be outlined in the series conclusion). And most important, the predictions outlined above are largely preventable using today’s technology and today’s generation.
To learn more about how climate change may affect other regions of the world or to learn about what can be done to slow and eventually reverse climate change, read our series on climate change via the links below:
WWIII Climate Wars series links
WWIII CLIMATE WARS: NARRATIVES
Southeast Asia, Drowning in your Past: WWIII Climate Wars P9
South America, Revolution: WWIII Climate Wars P11