St. Petersburg ranks as one of Russia’s most polluted cities

Publish date: June 26, 2008

MOSCOW – The results of the first independent environmental ratings of Russian cities conducted earlier this month revealed St. Petersburg – Russia’s window on Europe – to be in 85th place among cities studied in this notoriously polluted country, making it one of the more polluted cities on the planet.

The basement rating of the city comes as something of a surprise given the amount of attention lavished on it during the rule of former President Vladimir Putin, a native of the city, who pumped federal funding into reviving the city’s historic districts.

The city rated among the lowest in Russia in terms of average indicies relative to the state of the local environment and measures being taken to protect it.

The ratings were compiled and released by the International Social Environmental Union (MSoES in its Russia abbreviation) and the NERA independent environmental rating agency, which released their findings at a press conference in Moscow that coincided with International Environment Day earlier this month.

What environmentalists say
The integral system for rating Russia’s environmental scene was developed by the NERA group and zeroed in on two ratings for each city studied – the rate at which local populations were impacting the environment, and the level at which natural defence legislation and measures were in place in given municipalities.

“While establishing ratings we took into account the level of man-made environmental impact in the form of waste and pollution in the atmosphere, the content of pollution in water reservoirs, accrued toxic waste, the level of destruction of natural growth, and the depletion of fauna,” said Alexander Martinov, NERA’s director.

The level of environmental defence activity in different regions was compared to the break down of polluting emissions in the atmosphere and water bodies, the ecological transparency of local businesses, the number of specially environmentally protected areas in a given territory, and the professionalism of local media in illuminating environmental issues.

And the winners are…
Based on these quantitative factors, the groups analyzed Russian regions and rated them from best to worst. The highest marks went to the Kamchatka Region in the Russia Far East, Adygeya, Tyva Buryatiya and the Irkustsk Region.

St. Petersburg fell to the bottom of the group because of its high levels of air pollution and its poor abilities to maintain fragile ecosystems.

Kamchatka, according to the study, has clean water, and a large number of protected natural territories – a paradise for ecological tourism. But there are concerns in the area that business is less than transparent, and it has its pollution problems – to a degree that could threaten it’s first place position in future surveys, NERA said.

The situation in Sakhalin and the Khabarovsk Region, also in the Far East, surpasses the situation in the Amur Region in that they have more well preserved ecosystems and fauna. But they lose ground because of water and air pollution. Adygeya has large expanses of protected lands, lowering discharges of pollution and a low level of accrued waste.

At the bottom of the list with St. Petersburg were the Stavropolsky Region, the Tula Region, the Orenburg Region and the Penzena Region.

The dirtiest air in Russia continues to be breathed by Muscovites – putting Moscow in 89th position relative to air quality. But Moscow received an over better general score of 61st place for its activities to preserve native ecosystems, its relatively low quantity of accrued waste, and the measures, albeit ineffective thus far, that Moscow has taken to reduce its air pollution.

Ecological health as a way to rate local government

“The issues of environmental protection have been mentioned by the current president (Dmitry Medvedev) and former president (Putin) as on of the priority issues of the next period,” the groups noted at the Moscow press conference.

At the beginning of June, the presidency one again put the environmental question on the front burner. High-level meetings at Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry took place on June 2nd and on June 3rd an expert group convened with President Medvedev to discuss ecological issues.

“Both (Natural Resources Minister Yury) Truntyev and Medvedev noted that one of the most important factors disturbing the adoption of a correct administrative solution is the subjectivity of their adoption,” said Svyatoslav Zabelin, an expert with the MSoES and a representative of the NERA coordinating committee.

“For example, the utmost allowable emissions are defined by a dialog between the director of the environmental service and the bureaucrats responsible for environmental preservation in the regions. No kind of objective rationale emerges from this. It’s an arrangement. Of course, nothing good comes from it,” he said

At the meeting at the Natural Resources Ministry, both environmentalists and officials promised that the maximum allowable concentration of dangerous emissions would be shifted to a defined gross volume of waste produced by industry.

“We will stick to this initiative – it is precisely this that we have been studying for the past five years, constituting an objective environmental rating of industries and regions,” said NERA director Martinov.

Environmental downturn over last 15 years
According to environmentalists, the environmental situation has only gotten worse over the past 15 years, an opinion shared by Russia’s regional officials.

“We have already past that moment when the situation started to get better little by little in connection with the economic crisis. Now all manner of emissions are seriously on the rise,” said Zabelin.

“It is necessary to take measures, because this is a direct path of economic losses.”

Truntyev presented figures for these losses – as a result of emergency situations in 2007 alone, losses as confirmed by government methodology, reached 56 billion roubles ($19 million) – nearly a quarter of Russia’s annual state budget.

Will officialdom stick to its word?
Environmentalists are hoping that this time around they have the government’s full attention, which will lead to real action. But the concerns of the previous administration – which hand picked its successor – lay far from the ecological forum.

Almost a year ago, former President Putin signed an order identifying 43 criteria defining the effectiveness of regional governors. In this wide-ranging list, no ecological factors were considered.

The first item on the list was the output of a region’s gross output. The last on the list was satisfaction of the local population with a given regional administration – including issues of availability and openness of information. The single point in Putin’s list that bore any relation to the environment was point 26 – the obligation to provide populated regions with adequate drinking water. People’s health was far from a prominent point in the document.

Environmentalists say that their suggestion to assess the environmental health of an area could be used as an additional touchstone to evaluate effective governance.

“(Regional) governors in truth, have still not sensed that how they are evaluated in environmental rations has an influence on the investment climate of their regions – but we look toward the future optimistically,” said Zabelin.

High ecological marks lead to more investments
Environmentalists say that by using the ratings, investors can evaluate the ecological benefits or insufficiencies not only of specific companies but entire regions, which should reflect how attractive or risky they are for investment.

Before signing checks toward a new industry in a region where the environment is under stress, it is necessary for investors to achieve from regional governments profound improvements in the environmental improvement infrastructure.

Victoria Kopeikina wrote from Moscow and Charles Digges transated and edited from Oslo.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get our latest news

Stay informed