Russia’s leader Medvedev shows progressive “green” thinking, concrete measures yet to follow

Publish date: June 16, 2010

MURMANSK – The new list of ecological directives issued in late May by the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and recently made public by the Kremlin’s press service includes orders to develop a range of environmental protection laws, target programmes, and regulations, as well as solutions to improve funding for environmental protection and ecological education, among other items.

The directives were approved at a hearing of the Presidium of the State Council of the Russian Federation – a presidential advisory body – on May 27. At the meeting, Medvedev said unequivocally that Russia needed a uniform ecological policy to deal with the many issues it is facing in the sphere of environmental protection. Observing environmental laws, he also underscored, must become the accepted standard of conduct.

The list of environmental orders, to be implemented by the federal government – some, jointly with regional authorities in the constituent entities of the Russian Federation – was worked out at the hearing and made public a week and a half later.

The government was instructed to develop a legislative package and present it for the consideration of the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma. These initiatives are to strengthen the regulation of activities resulting in adverse environmental impact and to provide economic incentives in the field of waste management in order to reduce generation of waste and involve this sector into a broader economic spectrum. In other words, the state intends to encourage better recycling and recuperation of waste materials.  

To this end, a number of long-term target investment programmes will be developed to improve the management of solid domestic waste and oversee pilot waste recycling projects in Russia’s regions. Other measures introduced at the level of legislature suggest regulatory and economic mechanisms that will promote the adoption of green technologies.

One proposed step which is worth separate mention is a piece of legislation that will increase the efficiency of state ecological supervision. This will both expand the payroll of officials in federal services engaged in ecological oversight and give them a broader mandate to enforce regulations. In particular, ecological authorities will be able to issue stop-work injunctions to businesses violating the environmental legislation and also seek a halt on financing an offender’s operations from credit and financial organisations.

Another step undertaken by Medvedev – a proposal of extreme importance – is to put together a law that would finally determine the one federal authority which would be in charge of coordinating ecological supervision in the country. Russian environmentalists have clamoured for such a law since 2002, when the State Environmental Protection Committee was abolished and as many as three state agencies took over as a result: the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology, the Russian Federal Service for Natural Resources Management Oversight (Rosprirodnadzor), and the Russian Federal Service for Ecological, Industrial Production, and Atomic Supervision (Rostekhnadzor).

All the legislative initiatives proposed by Medvedev are to be presented for the parliamentaries’ consideration before December 1, 2010.

November 1, 2010, is the deadline for another set of initiatives, of which one is developing proposals that will ensure the obligatory status of state-mandated environmental impact assessment of project documentation pertaining to environmentally hazardous production sites. Federal and regional funds will also be set aside to finance activities enhancing environmental protection and advocating the use of “ecologically efficient technologies.”

The government is further to work out a system for introducing mechanisms of voluntary environmental liability for businesses partly owned by the state.

Those companies that are wholly state-owned will, furthermore, have to issue regular reports “on sustainable development and security of ecological indemnity.” This last proposal is a notably important one, since environmentalists have been holding an extensive list of grievances to present against the Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom, as well as to Olympstroi – the corporation responsible for the construction of the Olympic village in the 2012 winter games winner city Sochi and the development of this Black Sea resort as a mountain climate tourist destination.

Another much-discussed initiative put forward by Medvedev is the introduction of an ecology course as an obligatory subject in Russian schools. State educational standards and study and teaching guides will be developed in order to include the course into the school curriculum.

Renewable energy sources have also found their place on Medvedev’s list. State incentives are envisioned to artificially increase demand for renewable energy: As soon as by September 1, 2010, measures are to be worked out to enforce mandatory purchase of energy generated from renewable sources. A decision has also been made to include renewable energy into the future General Layout of Electrical Energy Generation Sites being at present hammered out by relevant government agencies.

Finally, the government has been instructed to develop before year’s end a project outlining the Russian Federation’s fundamental ecological policies for the period until the year 2030. “Interested non-governmental organisations” will be offered to participate.

In the past several weeks Medvedev has made a number of appearances stressing Russia’s environmental priorities. On June 5, the World Environment Day, the Russian president – whose penchant for the promotion and use of modern-day technologies, including web-based communications media, has set him off considerably from his more traditional predecessors – posted a video blog where he proposed creating a global insurance indemnity fund against environmental disasters. Considering the shocking oil spill that started in late April in the Mexican Gulf – efforts are still ongoing to vanquish what has probably become the worst ecological catastrophe in the United States to date – such a proposal seems to resonate with a special sense of urgency. Medvedev intends to share this idea with fellow members of the Group of Twenty at a summit in Canada at the end of June.

But first, all planned activities, measures, and initiatives need to bear forth some tangible results – these are the only merits to make a judgement on how serious and progressive these steps are. While the president’s agenda got a nod of approval from environmentalists, real changes and real shifts in environmental policy are what they are waiting for.

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