President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon colleagues,
Our meeting today is about the key aspects of guaranteeing Russia’s environmental security. This is a crucial issue that involves many different aspects.
Russia has immense and varied natural potential and resources. Our country is home to unique ecosystems that affect environmental sustainability around the entire planet, and we have a duty to preserve this wealth, keep the environment in balance, and thus raise the quality of life in our country.
We should admit frankly that environmental security issues were on the sidelines of state attention for a long time. So-called ‘dirty’ technology dominated in many industry sectors, and this is often still the case today. Insufficient funding was made available for re-cultivating land, restoring forests, and building treatment facilities and landfills for waste management.
Lately, we have gradually started changing this situation around. Let me remind you that 2013 was declared Year of the Environment in Russia. This was done in order to focus attention on environmental issues and make society more aware of them.
Over the last ten years, the amount of specially protected territory has increased by nearly 3 million hectares, we have launched a project to clean up the Arctic and a programme to build up populations of rare wildlife species has been running since 2008.
Big infrastructure projects are being implemented in compliance with modern environmental safety standards. They include the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean Oil Pipeline, the Bureiskaya Hydropower Station and the facilities built for the APEC summit in Vladivostok. The Olympic construction in Sochi is also proceeding in line with the strictest norms and standards. Indeed, the environmental programme that is being carried out there will be an important part of Russia’s Olympic heritage.
A programme is underway at the Sochi National Park, for example, to restore the Persian leopard populations in the Caucasus, from where they had disappeared back in the 1950s. I remind you also that at its meeting on April 11, the State Council Presidium examined the main issues and took decisions on improving Russia’s forest management. We discussed on that occasion additional measures to protect and regenerate forests and prevent forest fires, and took decisions on developing a better and more effective system for making use of forest resources. Today, I want to come back to this issue and look at how these instructions are being carried out.
At the same time, we are very much aware that just taking decisions in particular sectors is far from enough. The industrial impact on the environment continues to grow. Expert assessments suggest that at least 15 percent of Russia’s territory is in unsatisfactory environmental condition.
To be honest, we spend relatively little money as a share of GDP on all of these activities. The Minister will maybe give the exact figure in his speech. I can tell you that it is only 0.8 percent. This is nothing compared with countries with developed economies.
I remind you that we adopted the Economic Doctrine for the country back in 2002. But since then we have still not put in place the legislative base needed for effective environmental management. We still do not have a full-fledged mechanism of environmental fees from business and other organisations for the use of natural resources. The entire civilised world is taking this road and using these payments as a source of funding for protecting and regenerating the environment.
I think that we should move swiftly to draft and adopt the National Environmental Security Strategy. It should assess the external and internal threats in this area and set the threshold security indicators.
I mentioned the question of fees. The issue is not so simple. It is difficult in that it increases the burden on business, and so we must be very careful in our decisions so as not to overburden the economy with these demands. But at the same time, we all know that if we do nothing, if we do not take this road, we will have nothing left, despite our vast territory.
Coming back to the National Environmental Security Strategy, I want to say that this document should set our work on a systemic foundation. Needless to say, we must consolidate the efforts of the state authorities and society to achieve our environmental protection objectives.
There are several points I want to note in this respect.
First, we must make state environmental control and monitoring more effective, and we also need to restore companies’ internal environmental control systems. The main objective here is to minimise the risk of environmental emergencies arising that would cause environmental pollution and material damage.
Colleagues, I would like to hear your views today on the priority steps we should take in this area. However, let me stress that what we need is real control, the real thing, and not just inspections for their own sake, which only add an extra administrative and bureaucratic burden on business in general.
Second, state environmental expert reports must be of a higher quality. I stress that such reports must be carried out for all big infrastructure projects. We must be more active in bringing in independent experts to assess these projects’ environmental security, and we should organise broad public discussion in particularly important cases that are in the public eye. No matter how much dread this might rouse, and what the specialists, our colleagues, say about the deadlines and costs, this is something we cannot do without.
Third, we need to pay serious attention to cleaning up Lake Baikal and the water resources of Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega. They are our biggest freshwater reserves. All the decisions on cleaning up the Baikal area have been taken, but their implementation has been too slow. I want to hear today about what specific circumstances are causing the delay.
I note that the worsening water quality in Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega could create problems for supplying drinking water in Russia’s entire Northwest region. This issue requires specific attention at both federal and regional level.
Fourth, environmental security in the Russian Arctic zone requires a separate set of measures. We are starting to actively develop this territory. At the same time, we must respect all environmental demands, including our international commitments. This was something we discussed in detail two months ago at the meeting on issues related to the Yamal LNG project and the construction of the Arctic seaport of Sabetta, and also at the International Arctic Forum.
Fifth, we must take fundamental and practical research in ecology and environmental protection to a new level. We need to know how the climate is going to change and what risks are involved. We need scientifically based forecasts of the state of our natural resources and development outlook for our country’s environmental situation and the likely transformations to ecosystems as a result of natural and manmade influences. These forecasts must be made for periods of at least 10 to 15 years. It would be better to have even longer-term forecasts as much as possible, given the state of research today and the resources of Russian scientists and their colleagues abroad. Without this kind of information it is hard to evaluate real threats to environmental security and draw up long-term measures to neutralise them.
The sixth and final point I want to make is the need to develop international cooperation in the environment area. Russia is a party to most of the international environmental protection conventions drafted under the United Nations Environment Programme. But our accession to some major agreements has been delayed, and I think delayed without justification. For example, we have not adopted the Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and a number of other documents.
I note that in 2011, Russia ratified the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. But I draw your attention to the fact that we still do not have a system of state regulation in this area and nor do we have a national action plan for implementing the Convention.
Let me say again that we must make effective use of international cooperation mechanisms in environmental protection, especially in cases when environmental problems are cross-border in nature, such as the situation with the Amur and Irtysh River basins and pollution of the marine environment.
I ask you to draft specific proposals on all these issues in quick time.