Sustainable development is a global problem requiring cross-border solutions in order to make advancements toward a healthy environment, according to Vladimir Zakharov, Director, Institute for Sustainable Development, Russian Federation Public Chamber, at a 7 December 2010 Kennan Institute panel discussion. Sustainable development therefore demands not only inter-governmental efforts, but also networking and information sharing between environmentally-minded organizations at more informal levels.

Zakharov stressed the importance of forging such connections between U.S. and Russian organizations that want to work together. He further observed that Russian environmental groups play a critical role in framing the Russian national debate on the environment. These groups promote specific policies, such as energy efficiency mandates and the development of renewable energy. They also pursue strategic aims, such as building networks between NGOs, activists, and experts, and raising the awareness of the Earth Charter initiative.

Sergey Bobylev, Professor, Faculty of Economics, Moscow State University, provided an economic and environmental perspective on Russia's dependence on natural resource exports. Although a source of national wealth, Bobylev emphasized that long-term dependence on resource exploitation is dangerous for the health of the Russian economy. Yet the psychology of chasing short-term profits helps explain the difficulty of adjusting away from a resource-based economy. Bobylev criticized traditional economic indicators for failing to include the true cost of environmental damage and energy inefficiency, and advocated greater reliance on indicators such as energy intensity of economic output.

Alexander Adam, Head, Department of Natural Resources and Nature Protection, Tomsk Oblast Administration, reported that his region already uses alternative indicators to shape policy and to measure economic development in his region. According to his department's analysis of the region, there are three main barriers to achieving sustainable development: administrative inefficiency; inadequate incentives for innovation; and poor access to scientific information. The Tomsk administration is working on these problems; for example, it has implemented tax incentives for innovative companies to encourage them to move to Tomsk. Regional authorities also have constructed a business park to attract innovative companies to the region.

Vladimir Kuznetsov, Director, Center for Russian Environmental Policy, described efforts to decrease active pollution and to address longstanding environmental problems within Russia. Of approximately 2,000 polluted sites in the Blacksmith Institute's Global Inventory Project database, he reported that approximately 80 can be found on the territory of the Russian Federation. However, some experts estimate the number of polluted sites to be at least twice as many. Over the past five years, the Center for Russian Environmental Policy has cooperated with the Blacksmith Institute on twenty projects seeking to clean polluted sites and to reduce their negative effects on the population.

Natalia A. Sharova, head of the All-Russian Nongovernmental Organization Center for Environmental Policy and Culture, stressed that the recent environmental advancements are largely due to the efforts of civil society organizations. She noted that advocacy work by groups such as hers ultimately may result in the inclusion of environmental studies in the federal education program. Environmental groups further have raised awareness of the Earth Charter both at the federal and regional level within Russia. In closing, Sharova and Zakharov both viewed the United States as a positive example for sustainable development policies.

By Patrick Lang
Blair Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute

Speakers

  • Vladimir Zakharov

    Director, Institute for Sustainable Development, Russian Federation Public Chamber
  • Alexander Adam

    Head, Department of Natural Resources and Nature Protection, Tomsk Oblast Administration
  • Vladimir Kuznetsov

    Director, Center for Russian Environmental Policy
  • Natalia A. Sharova

    Head of the All-Russian Nongovernmental Organization Center for Environmental Policy and Culture