Fast paced and ever evolving world
In today's fast paced and ever evolving world, very few countries have incurred changes as substantial and turbulent as Russia. After the Soviet Union's decline Russia has come a long way and in the span of just 15 years it has made leaps and bounds towards modernization quickly becoming an avid member of the global world. On paper, Russia's advancement is significant however one must keep in mind that it is largely a relative measure. When looking at the countries progress we must be vigilant to the fact that rising from a Soviet past is tricky business and cannot happen without marring certain arenas of a countries workings. The impact is most notably seen in social, economic, political, demographic and environmental areas. These problems not only plague the country itself but also have a significant impact on the workings on the wider international community. In the course of this paper I will select one such policy area and elaborate on that. It will be the environmental concerns in Russia. I believe that the root cause of the environmental concerns in Russia today is a direct result of its soviet past. The Soviet Union leaders had no foresight and little care for the long term future and this is evident in the multi faceted deterioration Russia is undergoing now. The leaders wrecked havoc on Russian natural resources which are a prime mode of revenue generation. The high levels of depletion have spurred an array of problems, the most notable being economic and environmental. The two are closely linked as they are the result of mistreatment of the oil and gas sites as well as the waste of money earned from them. The structure of my essay will be to first examine the basic environmental concerns Russia faces today and how these are largely a legacy to the countries soviet past. I will then highlight some instances where effort has been made by Russia (while it was communist, after the breakup of the Soviet Union and currently) to rectify these problems. I will follow that by attempting to analyze the strength and weaknesses of these efforts and to what extent they either succeeded to fell short. Possible solutions will also be proposed at regular intervals, keeping Russia's fragile condition in mind. Throughout this paper, I plan to maintain a steady undercurrent that Russia is suffering today because of a lack of prioritizing and foresight during its communist past which has kicked off a domino effect of many more problems.
It is difficult to hold one party responsible for the environmental devastation caused by the Soviet Union as the sites that were most heavily impacted became parts of independent countries after the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. Although the extent of the damage and its locations are fragmented, some incidents still stand out. During the Soviet Union two notable incidents took place, the Chernobyl nuclear power station explosion in Ukraine and the Aral Sea disaster between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
The Chernobyl power plant disaster in April 1986 was devastating in it's impact. The website for World Nuclear Association describes it as being the result of “flawed Soviet reactor design coupled with serious mistakes made by the plant operatorsb. It was a direct consequence of Cold War isolation and the resulting lack of any safety culture.”
The Aral Sea Disaster has been dubbed what could perhaps be the world's worse environmental disaster. In a nutshell, what happened here was that in the 1950's cotton production was making China and the United States very rich and the Soviets wanted to be a part of it. They had it all, a large work force and a warm climate, the only thing missing was an irrigation scheme and the solution to that was using the two great rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya. By 1980 84% of the water extracted was for irrigation of which only 38% ever returned to these rivers. (1) With the mass shrinkage of the Sea the environment has inevitably suffered. An article by P.P Micklin describes the environmental impacts as the following: ‘Bottom exposure and salt and dust storms', ‘loss of biological productivity', ‘deterioration of deltaic ecosystems', ‘climate changes', ‘ground water depression' and ‘water supply and health concerns.'
The post soviet era also saw its fair share of disasters. From the Dnepropetrovsk-Donets and Kuznets coal mining and metallurgical centers which lead to extreme water and air pollution to the Urals industrial region's radioactive contamination. From the Kola Peninsula's air pollution to Kalmykia's defective agricultural habits that fuelled erosion and desertification to Moscow's ineffective disposal of nuclear waste (2). As is apparent none of russias natural zones are free of ruin.
Water pollution can be largely attributed to nuclear chemicals wastes imporper disposal which has stemmed further problems such as numerous health threats, diseased drinking water which leads to epidemics as well as increased costs of importing water. The home to 60 million the Volga Basin is full of water that is no longer deemed suffiencent for use as it is heavily polluted (3). Lake Baikal in Siberia too is under nuclear stress credited to the former Soviets misdemeneaour and although efforts were made during the soviet era as well as after it to restore the lake to its previous glory, they have all more or less fallen short of yeliding any positive results (3). Averyanov a Security Council official was asked about the impact of climate change on water pollution and said, “The climate change may lead to improvement of water provision for the population on the whole. But in certain densely populated regions of the Central Federal District (Belgorod, Voronezh, Kursk, Lipets, Orlov and Tambov Oblasts), the Southern Federal District (Kalmykiya, Krasnodar and Stavropol Krays, Rostov Oblast) and the southwestern part of the Siberian Federal District (Altay Kray, Kemerovo, Novosibirsk, Omsk and Tomsk Oblasts), where the situation with water is bad today, in the next decades we should expect their further deterioration.” Averynovs mixed resposnse doesn't give us much reason to be optimistic about russias ability to amend the situation any time soon.
Land pollution is also following the same trends as water pollution. Soil erosion and the destruction of forests is also largely engineered due to the bad state of the enviroement. Soil erosion leads to dried up forest land which when paired with the frequent instances of nuclear contamination results in forest fires. Why is Russia incapable of disposing off the waste effectively, is a question that comes to mind. Afterall, with the impact it's having on the environment, even a country with bad habits is bound to learn. Perhaps the answer here doesn't lie far from home. My assumption that Russia is guilty of playing the blame game, where problems can be attributed as being too deep rooted to rectify and instead they attempt to make preventative measures as opposed to restorative ones. The problem with doing this is that in order to restore a falling situation one must first trace its root cause and fix that. According to the National Intelligence Councils report, “Radioactive materials from Russia's nuclear weapons complexes at Chelyabinsk, Tomsk, and Krasnoyarsk-26 have contaminated the nearby region for decades. Other sites of concern are the home ports of the Northern and Pacific Fleets, where thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel assemblies, solid and liquid radioactive wastes, and reactor compartments have accumulated, both as a result of regular naval fleet operations and programs to dismantle and scrap some submarines.” Already a trend is emerging when it comes to the more obvious problems, and that is that most can be traced back to mistakes made in the Soviet past.
The problems that existed in the Soviet are apparent even today, such as; water pollution (shrinking volumes of water and heavy pollution), air pollution (mainly in the cities due to intense industrial activity and a high rate of traffic leading to vehicles on the road) and land pollution (due to improper disposal of nuclear wastes as well as a high usage of toxic fertilizers)* (pg16) The reason why they have managed to trickle down is embedded in the legacy the Soviet Union has left Russia with. In a nutshell these can be classified as the following. Leaders of the Soviet Union were extremely preoccupied with building a mass industrial economy, because of which huge plants and industries were established during that era. Almost 20 years after the end of the Soviet and we can still see equipment that was used then becoming increasingly redundant and polluting. Now, this equipment needs to be deemed obsoclete and replaced, however the government insists to use it for as long as it can still do a fraction of it's job with little regard to the environmental havoc it is wrecking. Linked with the former point, the Soviets aim to become an industrial economy meant they rellied heavily on Russuas abundant natural rescources. What they did not take in to account was the fact that this supply is not infinite and extraction was having on amazingly high and increasingly irresponsible levels. As a result what we see now are extraction sites which are quickly depleting but as mentioned above, lacking modern infrastructure and technology Russia is incapable of moving to other, newer, more fertile sites and begin excavation there. Due its turbulent existence, the Soviet era heavily emphasized the importance of its defence industries. Holding the defence industry in such a high regard meant that this too was a more essential priority, over taking the environment resulting in the disposal of toxic waste in landfills and waterways relatively close to the populated areas. This has left Russia with polluted and radioactive bodies of water and land which is in essence inhabitable. With land soon running out and people's discomfort growing; Stalin introduced the collectivization of farms. This was done to the food and raw material supply as well as the rate of exports. Again, 2 out of 3 were economic motivators in this scheme. As a result of this collectivization the use of extremely chemically toxic fertilizers increased and fertile land rapidly decreased. *(pg18) As is apparent by now, all the factors are interconnected making it difficult for present day Russia to break free of this vicious cycle.
The above mentioned problems have paved the way for some post soviet issues in this regard too. Such as the government's habit of keeping the public unaware of the threats they are under, to give a false impression of peace, calm and over all control. Economical survival takes the drivers seat when it comes to the publics motivation and overshadows the concern towards the environment, unless that too has a more short term impact. A deficit in the revenue paired with the fact that the environment was not a top priority means very little funds could be given to it. Although certain government bodies and state legislations did exist, they were largely just put in to effect de jure and not de facto. * (pg16)
As mentioned earlier the Soviet Union is to be held largely accountable for the sorry state Russia is in today. The military tested its nuclear weapons on the Novaya Zemlya and Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan. The wastes were then dumped in many seas, including the East Sea up until after the fall of the Soviet Union. Another problem which started in the Soviet era and made its way to present day Russia is the disposal of nuclear submarines which too has proved to be more than a hindrance (5). This does not come as much of a surprise because it seems the Russian state has successfully differentiated between what is its responsibility and what it can successfully push to the background by blaming it on the Soviet Union and washing their hands clean of any responsibility. Rising from the ashes of the former Soviet Republic was not an easy task for the newly formed and independent Russia. Economic and political problems were on it's forefront and these then tied in with various environmental issues. The transition from a rigid control economy towards a free market economy took its toll on the environment. As a new economy, Russia faced a lot of competition and did what any new economy in its place would do: capitalize on its assets. By producing resource intensive goods they managed to maintain a high level of exports of commodities like oil, gas and metals and although this helped keep the export revenue high but this was not without its toll on the environment. The extraction, production and exporting of these goods is extremely pollution intensive. So in the early post communist era although a relative decline in the industrial production level was seen, but this was not mirrored in the levels of pollution. This could be due to the dishonest reporting of GHG emission to cut costs. When underreporting the exten of emissions, firms can save money in capital investment and maintenance but this also leads to a long term problems to increase, such as a rise of accidents in the industries such as oilspills which then hurt the environment (- also figures). As a post soviet state the emphasis was on the Russian economy to become more market oriented, this gave rise to consumerism which lead to a horde of problems. High levels consumer goods being produced lead to an increase in the level of waste, at the time of production as well as after use as the recycling systems weren't up to par. Additionally this change in the economy lead to rapid urbanization subject to which traffic and congestion also rose. (http://www.dni.gov/nic/special_russianoutlook.html). These are few of the problems the new soviet-free state had to deal with. As I have mentioned before, and will show through out this paper, environmental concerns are not just solely that, they are closely tied to other problems, which are then linked to others. The difficulty the young Russia had then and present day Russia has now are quite similar simply because they are all part of a cycle that stems from the same root cause.
Currently a controversial bill concerning the high levels of nuclear waste is under much heated debate in the Russian parliament. It has become a matter of environmentalist's verses the state as the former insist that it only looks out for the benefit of the states nuclear agency the Rosatom and neglects the common folks rights. The latter however maintains that there is nothing wrong with the bill as it is in complete accord with the United Nations Convention which looks after the effective disposal of nuclear waste(6). According to an article, the conflicted issue “ allows liquid nuclear waste to be pumped underground, the construction of radioactive waste dumps even if there is objection from local people, and the use of taxpayers' money on nuclear waste programmes.” It seems like Russia is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The state is attempting to set right problems which are clearly taking the country towards a downward spiral but every time the try to make a step in a positive direction they are held back. I feel the environmentalists are doing more than just adhering to their civic duty, and that they may actually be on to something here. Sure, at first glance it seems like they are holding Russia back from fixing some of it's deep rooted problems, however Russias method of doing this almost mirroring the Soviet Union. It seems like the bill does not take in to consideration the future impacts of doing what it claims to. For the time being they will successfully decrease the rates of harmful nuclear waste out in the open, but is hiding it really the correct way of dealing with it? Neither of the claims it is making seem very fruitful in the long term as pumping the waste underground only puts the problem to sleep and does not fix it permanently.
Like the bill mentioned above, Russia is without doubt, developing an environmental conscious. It has been a member of the Climate Convention since 1994 and then part of the Kyoto Protocol since 2004. The Kyoto Protocol's main aim according to the UNFCCC website is to set “binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing green house gas emissions.” Whether Russia is a part of this convention because being the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases and is expected to be seen in the public spot light making positive advancements towards a healthier and more environmentally friendly country or if it genuinely wants to make things better is a confusing topic. CO2 emissions can be held as accountable to Russia's deteriorating environment as the impact of the Soviets carelessness. International agencies like WWF are making leaps in bounds when it comes to controlling GHG emissions coming from mass industrial producers like Russia. They are doing this by “By issuing special ecoregional «climate passports» WWF contributes to making expert decisions on nature conservation, sustainable use of natural resources and stable economic growth in the regions. WWF has already provided the Altai-Sayan and Chukotka ecoregions, the Kola and Taiymyr ecoregions peninsulas with «climate passports»” Part of the recommendations made by the WWF are that Russia maintain a healthy level of global warming at precisely 2 degrees celcius above the pre-industrial level. In order to do this Russis must quickly retract it's steps and make some significant and complicated chages to it's industrial processes. This will prove to be a little tricky as it is infact first and foremost an industrial country and makes most of it's revenues are generated this way. Will Russia be able to cut down on gas emissions and maintain a level thats suitable to the environment aswell as the community while still being able to generate revenues that will ensure that the standard of living of the common Russian doesn't get impacted too strongly?
Ever since Gorbechovs rule and his enforcement of his policy glasnost, or openness, the people have been more aware of the problems plaguing the USSR, including that of the environment. This policy not only showed trust and respect in the general public but in turn opened the door to listening to their opinion, this was seen as a positive direction towards democratization as the public enjoyed a certain level of inclusion. However as the public could now voice their opinions, what surveys and polls suggested was that they were much less concerned with issues of concerning the environment (20% of the population in 2007) and worried instead about economic problems such as the ever increasing gap between the rich and the poor (27% of the population) (6) (It has only increased by 3% from the year 2000 to the year 2007). What this translates in to is the public reflecting similar concerns as the government. Both prioritize economical success above environmental stability. This too, could be a negative legacy of the soviet past as people are afraid of losing access to things essential for day to day survival. With short term insecurity on everyone's mind, they can't help but push threats to the eco system to the background. This is evident in an extract from a website about Russian studies where it states that environmental issues were much less significant “especially in cases where the shutting of a polluting plant threatened the livelihood of a town or city.” (7)
Having said that it is difficult to deny the fact that some attempts to relieve the country of its dire environmental straits have taken place. They may not have been enough and many of them met a pessimistic fate, but they are certainly not absent. An article on the country studies website helped me put Russias environmental efforts in a time frame. The Green Movement on 1980 started off with intentions of working towards making the country more environmentally friendly but with the state and the common man butting heads over its agenda, it branched off in to other smaller institutions concerned with regional rights. Then in the elections in 1990 the post of an Environmental Advisor was introduced for the very first time and given to Yablokov. He used his power well and formed environmental commission all over the country. Another monumental incident was right around the corner, when in 1991 Yeltsin signed what would be Russia's first environmental law. This was extremely in depth and outlined how various levels of state as well as local institutions would have to behave and adhere to it. Two factors lead to its failure, one being the “The sheer inclusiveness of such provisions made practical enforcement impossible” and the other was the lack of the Russian judiciary which couldn't enforce its application as it “lacked experience in the area of environmental law.” This disappointment was soon eased in 1992 when Chernomyrdin, ex-Gazprom chairman, was appointed Prime Minister of Russia and due to his former ties to the Natural Gas Company Chernomyrdin made fuel industries a top priority. Followed shortly by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural resources employing 21,000 (7) people in each of the 89 sub national jurisdictions. Now while efforts are being made to establish state run organizations and ministries to look after the environmental concerns, what Russia lacked was a strong and disciplining body that would ensure that everyone was adhering by these laws. As stated earlier, at this time the judiciary was more or less just a rubber stamp body and lacked the authority and iron clad will to enforce the applications of rules and regulations. Those in impeachment of these rules knew that they were questionable to no one, and so although agencies prioritizing the protection of the environment were springing up, very little good was coming of them except maybe perhaps employment opportunities for the Russian people and a better image in the internationally. Danilov-Danulyan's report supports this statement as of 1995 he reported that only 22 had been brought forth against supposed water polluters. Knowing Russias history and the relatively new emergence of protection bodies, this number seems grossly understated. It's another debate altogether when one pays attention to the fact that these were just the number of allegations and not convictions*. In the same year, with the obvious failure of the state in lieu of their priorities to make much of a difference to the environmental concerns, a number of nongovernmental organizations started coming to the forefront and stepping in where the government couldn't, or wouldn't. A number of NGO's have become pretty prominent over the years, Norges Naturvenforbund which has been around since the late 80's, the Rusian Socio-Ecologican Union (RSEU) has been working towards better climate conditions since 2008, SPARE was brought to Russia in 1996 and has since then worked with RSEU since 2008 and DecomAtom is another corporation between many NGO's with the ultimate goal to decommission old nuclear reactors. *
In recent times Russia is seen as making some advancements towards securing a brighter environmental future for the state. According to an article printed in ROAR (http://rt.com/Politics/2010-03-18/russia-climate-change-strategy.html) although Russia's participation in the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference did not really yield the desired results, Russia is instead focusing on developing its own unique strategy to counter the effects of climate change. President Medvedev did stress on the fact that Moscow will take part in international negotiations on the subject of a global climate agreement but even if this agreement didn't take place Russia would still continue its efforts to cut down it's GHG emissions. By approving the Climate Doctrine last year the country is already decreasing the level of environmental concern and plans to further implement policies on other industries too. This plan is going to be multi fasceted with the inclusion of preventative and adaptive measures. Just like the plan has two aspects, as does the potential changes the economy could incur. Trutney says that hydroelectric engineering could increase with an increase in water recourses but on the other hand natural disasters that can result as climate change may have a negative impact on the economy. President Medvedev believes that the cure to all these problems, or atleast the first step towards finding the cure lies in intense research and development to identify the root cause of the problem. He stresses on the need for meteorological study of the arctic region and claims "absolutely crucial for understanding the causes and consequences of climate change." The government should propose steps "for the development of the Arktika multipurpose space system and establishing meteorological and climate monitoring subsystems," Medvedev said. President Medvedev has recently been an active participator in environmental debates, but one wonders whether his goals of battleing the environmental disaster are perhaps too idealistic. According to a Russian Climate Policy fact sheet (http://naturvernforbundet.no/getfile.php/Dokumenter/rapporter/2009/Fact-Sheet-Russia.pdf) President Medvedev plans to improve the domestic economies energy efficiency by at least 40% in the next 10 years. On a more long term scale, in the G8 meeting in 2008 plans to successfully attain an 80% reduction by 2050 which, as President Medvedev specified meant Russia would have to have undergone a 50% reduction of GHG's compared to levels in 1990.
The environmental problems plaguing Russia don't paint a very optimistic picture but as mentioned earlier, steps in the right direction are being taken, albeit, baby steps. *However with a series of external and external factors Russia too can rise above the mess it is currently in. What I am going to propose in the following paragraphs leading to the conclusion is that the environment can be altered in the short term by focussing in certain external factors and in the long term by paying more attention to internal issues. When talking about external factors we mean factors which are linked to the international community. This would include international aid, international investment, using international management and expertise (along with their investment and construction of multinationals in Russia they bring in and teach the Russians a greener and more environmentally friendly way of carrying out production.) On the other hand a more long term improvement in the environmental spehere will come about if siginificant changes are made internally. The state must enforce it's reforms to ensure that the Russian economy inflates. Along side that the government has to under go some alterations and come more accountable for its actions to the general public. The authorities and significant branches of the state (like the judiciary for instance) must be further empowered so that in reality they have the authority to carry out the claims they make on paper, by doing so also having the power to bring those to justice who adhere to the environmental restrictions imposed (be it ordinary citizens or million dollar industries.) Additionally, Russia could benefit greatly by capitalizing on their current assets, like their highly skilled work force and natural raw materials as opposed to clinging to the notion of solely being an industrial power ((http://www.dni.gov/nic/special_globaltrends2010.html). President Medvedev has the same ideas, he wants the country to benefit from aspects which give Russia its strength, for instance the increasingly skilled workforce. He stresses on the importance of research and development and claims not enough of it is being done at the moment and that this should change. The world energy sector is not standing still. Technologies for extracting hydrocarbons which seemed completely exotic until recently are now starting to pay quite obvious economic dividends, perhaps to many people's surprise," he said. He referred in particular to new technologies for gas injection. "Our energy companies are now indeed starting to deal with these problems, but we should not just use other people's inventions in this area, or engage in licensed production of such resources. We should also try to achieve a leading position - especially as a significant proportion of these opportunities are concentrated in our country," he said.
I will, for the last time mention again a recurring theme in my paper, that of a cycle. For this next example, it is no longer a vicious cycle but one that could benefit Russia. If internal reforms are successfull, external assistance can be expected. With a lot of international aid and investment fleeing from Russia this would be a much appreciated change. For instance, if Moscow can gain control over it's monetary as well as fiscal policies and prove to be in command of it's own economy, foreign investors will return. With foreign investors coming back, an elevation in economic growth will occour which in turn will enevitably increase the public as well as private sector capacity and motivation to look more into the environmental issues. When the public is enjoying a higher standard of living, enjoying a better political culture and repeaing the benefits of these economic reforms, it will be more enthusiastic about a stronger and more elaborate environmental agenda much like that of it's economically advanced counterparts globally.