Dmitry Medvedev chaired a meeting of the State Council Presidium in Dzerzhinsk, Nizhny Novgorod Region, devoted to environmental safety and the elimination of accumulated environmental damage.
Before the meeting, the President visited a number of environmentally unfriendly industrial facilities in Dzerzhinsk.
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Opening remarks at the State Council Presidium meeting
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon,
Today our agenda focuses on environmental issues. These matters are difficult in our country, as they are in many other countries: we are not unique in this. But Russia’s environmental problems are exacerbated by its vast territory and a whole range of industries that were built in the past and never modernised, and which cause damage to the environment.
We have discussed these issues on numerous occasions, including at the State Council Presidium meeting held in May last year. Following that meeting, I issued instruction No. 1640, which was aimed at improving state regulation in the environment sphere. I looked into this matter yesterday, during my meeting with heads of environmental NGOs, examined the data, and I realised that the state regulation is virtually derailed because most of the regulatory material which was to be drafted has not been prepared. I believe it is the Government’s responsibility for not bringing a series of documents to their conclusion so that as a result they were not submitted to the State Duma, as well as some organisations that were in charge of drafting these documents. Today I want you to tell me exactly when this work will be finished. I spoke with Mr Trutnev [Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection] yesterday, and after that issued instructions to the Presidential Executive Office, and part of the documents are presently in the State Duma. There is every opportunity to accelerate this effort.
”Reversing the accumulated ecological damage is a vast and complex task that requires significant investment, not only from the state but also private enterprises, as well as the introduction of new technologies for processing and safe disposal of waste.“
As you know, there are numerous environmental problems, both new and older ones that we have inherited from the past. To be perfectly frank, the inherited problems far outnumber the new ones. The location of this meeting is a landmark in this sense: Dzerzhinsk is a city that has always been known for its chemical industry. I saw as I flew over it by helicopter the impressive scope of production that was set up in Soviet times, but the extent of neglect and, in fact, the ecological disaster connected with it is equally striking.
To date, the country has accumulated more than 30 billion tons of hazardous waste. Most of that represent industrial by-products. Reversing the accumulated ecological damage is a vast and complex task that requires significant investment, not only from the state but also private enterprises, as well as the introduction of new technologies for processing and safe disposal of waste. We must have a legal framework in place for control mechanisms and state involvement, as I said earlier.
Today we will discuss specific mechanisms and relevant draft laws that either have been drafted already or will be ready very soon. On the whole, there are draft laws for us to work with, for example, we have looked at ways to reclaim one of the environmentally hazardous sites here in Dzerzhinsk. All this is done in other countries, and successfully so. But it is essential to allocate sufficient funds and encourage all those who are responsible for this area. There must be incentives not only for government agencies that oversee these activities but, most importantly, for businesses, which must realise that it is not such an enormous burden and in some cases may even be beneficial.
”Protecting ecology and the environment is not just a challenge for us, it is not only our national task as no state can address it in isolation, so we must work more closely with our neighbours. We have a great deal to learn from them.“
With regard to ecological security measures, special attention should be paid to the fuel and energy complex, because it is a major sector that often creates the worst problems. Everyone remembers the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This disaster forces us to take great care when implementing projects of this kind and to develop a comprehensive approach to ensuring their safety.
We have submitted our proposals to our international partners and they are now being considered. Exploration and development of oil and gas deposits on the continental shelf, the construction of offshore platforms, oil terminals and tanker fleet inevitably entail a significant increase in the anthropogenic burden on the unique natural resources in the Arctic and the Far East, and we have no right to forget about it.
Protecting ecology and the environment is not just a challenge for us, it is not only our national task as no state can address it in isolation, so we must work more closely with our neighbours. We have a great deal to learn from them because they started focusing on environmental investments much earlier and became involved in the so-called green growth. They are more prepared for this and we must find viable ways to cooperate with our closest neighbours in this sector. There are also those among them who create problems for us, and we must work with them to agree on how to minimise such damage. Regular training is also vitally important, for example, on preventing oil spills, and we must perfect joint action mechanisms for emergency situations.
I’ll say a few words about the prospects of nuclear power; I spoke a lot about it last time, too. After the tragic events at the Fukushima 1 NPP, this has become a burning issue, and as you know, several states have made extremely tough decisions. In Germany, some people are flat-out calling for a Constitutional amendment banning the use of nuclear energy. I see this approach as an extreme one, because it is unlikely humanity will be able to live without nuclear energy in the foreseeable future. However, it’s true that making safety regulations more stringent should be a priority for the entire global community.
We have made significant progress in this regard following the Chernobyl accident. We have created a fairly strict system for safety monitoring and are actively using it in Russia as well as other nations that use our nuclear technologies. I also brought this topic up during the G8 summit in Deauville.
”We must not only improve our national regulatory framework, but also create new international conventions. These suggestions will be made by the Russian Federation within the framework of the IAEA and other forums that will look into these issues.“
We must not only improve our national regulatory framework, but also create new international conventions. These suggestions will be made by the Russian Federation within the framework of the IAEA and other forums that will look into these issues. Many conventions certainly need to be revised. As I already said, we have found ourselves better prepared in this regard – our reactors have been made safer since the Chernobyl disaster – so we are ready to share our experience with other states.
Another factor that creates significant pressure on the environment is transport infrastructure. Residents of large cities feel many problems in this regard. In the last ten years or so, since life has become somewhat more comfortable, car ownership rates have been increasing five times faster than the rates of road network development. And naturally, in addition to creating chronic traffic jams, causing problems for an enormous number of people and reducing transport speeds, which we could live with, this also pollutes the air. This, too, is a topic requiring our consolidated attention and actions within the framework of the decisions made concerning the regions.
And there is one last, but no less important matter that I want to address today. Whatever laws we may pass, they will not be effective if they clash with our careless attitudes toward the environment. Yesterday, I spoke about this with ecologists, and naturally, they fully agree. Quite honestly, this issue is not a priority for just about anyone in our nation. We all know this. It is, if you will, a remnant of previous approaches. People feel they will only begin to work on these matters when all other problems in our nation are resolved.
Everyone present here – ministers, governors, and especially business representatives – have spoken many times with their foreign partners. Nobody really likes to pay for the environment, but it’s on their agendas, whereas here, only the most mature entrepreneurs are concerned with it today.
”Our reactors have been made safer since the Chernobyl disaster – so we are ready to share our experience with other states.“
Yesterday, I was defending our entrepreneurs at a meeting with ecologists, saying that they have become much more mature in the last decade, particularly in light of the growth in personal income and opportunities, and they understand it is impossible not to invest in preserving the environment and use modern technologies, especially since these usually increase labour efficiency and create better productivity. Nevertheless, we need a consolidated understanding of our common responsibility in this area. The environment must become fashionable and prestigious not just for ecologists and schoolchildren who gather trash in the woods, but also for civil servants, businesspeople, and creative professionals.
How do we achieve this? We can only do it by way of a so-called environmental education – an education involving the study of Russia’s nature, but not in formal terms, as it was done before. Instead, we need to develop a taste for environmental culture from an early age, developing caring attitudes toward the environment. I also discussed this matter yesterday with the ecologists, and they were very critical of the Government and the Education Ministry, which they felt did not accept a whole set of documents. Today, I specifically verified. It turned out that certain decisions were reached, and new regulations have been included in the teaching standards, which should be passed very soon. But I have no doubt that this is the very last thing that was dealt with. This was after talking about the National Final School Exam, after talking about the classes we should have, how many hours should be devoted to mathematics and the Russian language. Of course, people barely remember ecology – again, in part because we simply do not have a common culture of talking about it. And naturally, we have a great deal of wealth. All the territories represented at this table are enormous, the equivalent of entire European nations, or even several European states. And like it or not, this also affects the way we think. It is precisely this kind of thinking that we must change.