On the 29th of May, 20,000 tonnes of diesel were spilled into the Ambarnaya river near the city of Norsilk in Russia. The oil drifted 12 km and contaminated an estimated 350 square km of the surrounding ecosystem. While environmental organisations and news agencies were quick to report the spill, the international community has remained relatively quiet about this environmental catastrophe, inadvertently and mistakenly considering it a domestic issue.
Russia cited deteriorating ground subsidence due to melting permafrost as the reason for the collapse of the fuel tank, declaring a State of Emergency in an attempt to give the incident priority in necessary resources and attention. In addition, Russia’s chief prosecutor has ordered further checks in the hope of preventing future catastrophes. As 55% of Russia’s territory is covered in permafrost and home to most of its oil and gas fields, their lack of strategy mirrors the lack of international preparation in combatting climate change.
The Paris climate agreement was an unprecedented example of global cooperation to formulate an international response to climate change. Despite the agreement being ratified by 189 countries, Russia’s oil spill has not been addressed officially or through social media by any heads of state, with the exception of Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who offered the assistance and expertise of the United States.
While the international community is preoccupied with tackling other issues such as coronavirus and protests, this is not just a Russian problem. It is estimated that ¼ of the Northern hemisphere is permafrost, a number which is quickly decreasing and this issue must be addressed. If the international community fails to learn from Russia’s incident and prepare an international response to the issue, this will not be the last of environmental disasters we see at the hands of an unprepared government.