You don’t hear much talk about it, but countries that are cold right now could see very real benefits from a few extra degrees. Consider the Northern Sea shipping route, which runs through the Arctic waters north of Europe and Asia. It’s a faster and cheaper way to ship oil from Russia and Norway to markets around the world, but it’s currently too icy to navigate for much of the year. Climate change could open the route earlier and keep it clear later. It may also allow companies to extract new oil and mineral wealth from beneath the sea.
Immigration patterns may shift as different areas become more comfortable. In his book “The World in 2050,” UCLA professor Laurence C. Smith notes that cold-weather Canada has the look of a future superpower. Over the next four decades, the country’s population growth rate will be among the highest in the developed world.
There’s also a potential farming benefit. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, global warming could improve agricultural productivity in northern Europe.
The region might see as much as a 30 percent increase in wheat production, for example, by 2080. Some countries will become hospitable to foods they can’t grow in 2012. There may be a 50 percent increase in the areas of Sweden and Finland that are suitable for growing corn.
“There’s a perception that Norway will be a climate-change winner, and some have even talked about growing wine grapes,” says Karen O’Brien, a professor of sociology and human geography at the University of Oslo who has written about the winners and losers in the future world of climate change.
She cautions Norwegian policymakers against irrational climate-change exuberance, though. “Once you go above [an increase of] three or four degrees Celsius [about five to seven degrees Fahrenheit], it’s hard to imagine anyone benefitting. Changes in precipitation patterns and volume could undermine the temperature benefits, and the warmer winters could open the area to new pests and invasive species.”
When you talk to climate scientists about winners and losers, a few words come up over and over again: could, might, maybe. According to University of Arizona environmental economist Derek Lemoine, local climate-change patterns are difficult to predict because uncertainties in the global model “are compounded when considering smaller scales.”
For this reason, it’s very hard to pin down climate scientists on local effects. Klaus Keller, an associate professor of geosciences at the Pennsylvania State University, is working to develop strategies to manage the effects of climate change. I posed a simple question to him: If the leaders of Russia or Norway asked whether their countries would be better off in 50 years if the temperature increased by a few degrees, what would you say?