Tatiana Kondratenko & Jonas Jordan

Silent Killer

Due to the climate change St. Petersburg is one of the most endangered ones in the Southern Baltic Sea
How big will Saint Petersburg be in 2100? Due to the climate change the city is one of the most endangered ones in the Southern Baltic Sea. Warmer temperatures, rising sea level and flooding are growing risks. As one of the first cities in Russia Saint Petersburg developed a strategy, how to fight climate change and global warming. But still many people do not realize, what could happen to their city. Dry winter, burning forests, flooded streets - what else can the climate change prepare for "the Venice of the North"?

Starting from Zero

bi"You can already see the consequences of the climate change in Saint Petersburg - floods, coastal abrasion and warmer temperatures," says 28-year old Yulia Menshova. She works for the City Environmental Committee, which developed the plan "On ecological policy of Saint Petersburg" in 2013. Her first education was in ecological genetics. Yulia was dreaming about working at the stem stell bank. Suddenly she changed her mind.

Yulia's motivation to deal with the topic can be described as idealistic. She participated in a lot of science conferences and started hear about climate change. As soon as she has started working at the committee, her big aim was to develop the plan. Yulia believes it will convince the government how serious this problem is. Then – step by step – the public's consciousness on climate change will be also changing.
"Talking about rising numbers of floods, you can look at Kurortny District, that located along the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland, people there face the problem of floods more and more often," she pauses and adds anxiously.

For Yulia it is very important to fight against climate change and its effects. Why? Because in a pessimistic scenario it could have disastrous consequences for the Russia's cultural capital in the upcoming century: "In a pessimistic scenario the temperature will rise for four degrees. Due to climate change the Baltic Sea level will rise by 40 to 100 centimeters by 2100. It will affect the infrastructure, mostly underground pipelines, sewer pipes and old buildings."

Yulia Menshova, specialist of St. Petersburg Natural Resources Committee: "In a pessimistic scenario the temperature will rise for 4 degrees. Due to climate change the Baltic Sea level will rise by 40 to 100 centimeters by 2100. These are terrifying numbers"
Flood was always a "headache" for the city. World's famous Russian author Alexander Puschkin already referred to flooding streets in the centre of Saint Petersburg in his famous poem "The Bronze Horseman". The poem was written after the great flooding of 1824, when the water level in the city was 4.21 meters above normal. St. Petersburg have been washed away the storm. Around five thousand people died that year.

The masterpiece deals with the eternal fight between nature and humans, an antithesis of water and stone which gives Saint Petersburg a kind of distinction. Still the danger exists that the grand flooding of 1824 could happen again.

And this danger is real.

The number of floods has risen in the past years. It has been three times higher than when the city was founded. Every year the sea takes more than half a meter of land and it's getting more and more, scientists claim. That is mean co-called 'window on the Baltic' (as Tsar Peter the Great called Saint Petersburg) needs strategies to deal with the effects of the climate change.
Aleksandr Pushkin, The Bronze Horseman
Neva – more swelling and more brutal,
Like in a kettle boiled and steamed,
And then, as a wild creature seemed,
Jumped on the city. And before it,
All ran away from its strait path,
And all got emptied there; at once.
The waters flew into the cellars,
And raised up to the fence of canals –
And, like Triton, Petropol sails
Sunk in the water till his waist.

One of the strategies was to build a dam. It should save the city from floods. So the city department decided to build this dam in 1978. After long discussions between scientists, environmental activists and governmental organizations the dam was finally opened in 2011.

The length of the St. Petersburg floods protection facility complex is about 25 km. The Dam consists of 11 dams, two water-locks, almost two km long underwater tunnel and two km long bridge. The complex is intended to protect Saint-Petersburg from storm surges by separating the Neva Bay from the western part of the Gulf of Finland. Historically, the storm winds from the gulf had caused over 300 floods in the city, several of which had a massive devastating effect. The dam has the capability to protect the city from water rising up to 6 meters.

"In 2008 Saint Petersburg celebrated its 308 birthday. Almost every year the city was at risk to face a flood. Since 2011, the floods protection facility complex protected Saint Petersburg from eight floods and two of them were stopped last January," claims a spokesperson of The Saint Petersburg Flood Prevention Facility Complex Aleksander Polozov.

Polozov says that nowadays due to the accurate weather forecast, the dam is ready to meet the elements a few days before it comes to the Finland gulf.

Currently the dam has the capability to protect the city from water rising up to six meters.But the barrier may be too little too late. The floods are getting more regular. What would happen if because of climate change the sea level will keep rising?

"The climate change as an aspect was not include when specialists have been discussing how to build the floods protection facility complex", answeres Polozov. - "Scientists are still arguing whether the climate change really affects the sea level. If the specialists from the dam receive a special order to reconstruct the floods protection complex it will probably happen".
Inside the St. Petersburg dam which protects the city from the floods
The complex is intended to protect Saint Petersburg from storm surges by separating the Neva Bay from the rest of the Gulf of Finland.
The dam spans the Gulf of Finland, with the island of Kotlin (Kronstadt) at its centre. It extends for 25.4 km and stands 8 m above sea level.

Сhanging Сonsciousness

But what kind of further actions can be done in Saint Petersburg to prevent the effects of climate change? How can the city work together with other regions around the Baltic Sea?

First of all, inform people, especially young generation. That is what one of the NGOs does in Saint Petersburg.

"In our international spare project youngsters from eleven countries work together. Schoolchildren play a role as promoters of climate friendly solutions and simple energy improvements which help to reduce green house gas emission. So youngsters can change their lifestyle according the climate change global challenge", explains Olga Senova. Senova is the chairperson of the NGO "Friends of the Baltic Sea" and head of the climate secretariat of the Russian Social Ecological Union.

In her eyes the Russian government does not show enough awareness according to climate change: "In Russia we have very low awareness of authorities on the climate change actions. Russia climate doctrine and a complex plan for its implementation, but our survey in 2014 has shown that in less than 15 regions out of 83 the governors understand, what they should do for climate adaption and mitigations. According to the Russian history and practice, we need a command from the top, that every region must have a climate action plan, combining both adaption and mitigation measures for all spheres of our life."
In 1703-1732 there were 20 floods registered in Saint Petersburg. Between 1981 and 2001 the amount three times rised by 60 floods
Senova praises the decree of the government of Saint Petersburg: "The city is one of the advanced regions, making a climate strategy." Also Yulia Menshova says: "Saint Petersburg now is the first city in Russia that announced a plan for climate change adaption. It is quite difficult to receive a funding from the city budget. That is, why we mostly rely on the international research programs and different climate change projects."
Olga Senova, the Chairperson of Friends of the Baltic NGO
"The city is one of the advanced regions, making a climate strategy."
At the moment many people in Russia do not really care about climate change, others doubt that climate change exists.

A statement which is in a kind typical for many people from Saint Petersburg. Therefore it is a hard struggle to deal with the topic. "If we have even a little chance to slow down climate change, we must do our best for securing sustainable life for the future generation. Climate friendly actions mean not only large-scale solutions, but also little actions on a local level can help to slow down the climate change", says Olga Senova.

Otherwise climate change will remain as a silent danger.

Photos: Direction of The St. Petersburg floods protection facility complex

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