Members of public organisations from various parts of Russia took part in the meeting, including members of the Russian Geographical Society, the Organisation for Protecting Lake Uvilda, journalists’ associations involved in environmental protection, and Greenpeace Russia.
The meeting took place the day before the State Council Presidium is due to discuss environmental protection issues.
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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, it is a pleasure to see you all here. I hope we will have a frank and productive discussion today.
You represent various non-governmental environmental organisations, and, banal though it may sound, much depends on your work.
There are many who do not like you, especially state officials. They dislike you for obvious reasons, for the fact that you sometimes take a very firm and demanding stand. But environmental protection organisations are set up and work around the world precisely in order to stand up for people’s interests in the broad sense, defend the interests of those who want to live in normal, modern and at the same time environmentally clean surroundings and enjoy a good and healthy natural environment. The dialogue between the authorities and NGOs is therefore extremely important and essential.
We all see that Russia still has many environmental problems. This is in part simply because we have a very big country, and environmental issues were neglected for many years. Frankly, no one paid the environment much attention during the Soviet years. It is also because we are still in the process of developing our economy and industry, although, to be objective, I do think that the business community is starting to take a more responsible attitude now than it was a decade ago, say, and I not only follow developments in this area, but monitor the situation and make decisions in accordance with my constitutional powers.
Ten years ago, I was in business myself, and I remember that no matter where you went, Moscow, the Far East, or Siberia, you would always hear talk on the lines of, “What environment? We just need to survive, pay our workers. Just look at how many people are waiting at the gates, demanding money and normal working conditions.” But people from big business and medium-sized enterprises are more and more often starting to take the right line now. They say, “Yes, we realise that this is our responsibility. But just don’t put too much of a stranglehold on us, because we have our own programme for environmental monitoring, improving the situation at our production facilities and introducing modern technology, and we want to carry it out and use it to develop.” In other words, their position has become much more constructive now.
Small business finds itself in a difficult situation, however, because it is often required to make high payments, including for addressing various environmental issues, and it cannot handle this kind of financial burden and ends up being cut out of the whole development process.
Much depends on the state authorities themselves of course. To state the obvious again, it has been ten years now that we have a modern law on environmental protection in force, and we need to look at how it is being implemented in practice. It has some clear strong points, but some serious weak points too.
From time to time we hold meetings to examine the state of our environmental laws. I cannot say that all of the decisions taken at these meetings are carried out properly. The Minister [Natural Resources and Environment Minister Yury Trutnev] is here today. Mr Trutnev, I looked now and saw that in the year since the State Council met to discuss the environment a whole list of bylaws and regulations have been approved, which is your responsibility, but according to my information, not a single one of them has actually been passed and gone into force. This is a real disgrace! There is no point in saying you will make decisions that never end up seeing the light of day, and if decisions have been made and approved, then they need to be carried out. I hope we will discuss this issue too today, because the state authorities’ main task after all is to pass laws and ensure they are respected. I am not in favour of making all of the environmental laws as tough as possible. I think it is more important that they be realistic. They should take into account the current economic situation and should be realistic in their provisions so that business and ordinary people can follow them.
One final thing I want to say at the start of our discussion is how important it is to cultivate environmental awareness and care for nature at the individual level. These are simple things, but we all know the way many people here treat nature, and what amazement we feel when we enter a forest abroad, for example. I am sad to say how starkly the contrast always struck me just driving from Leningrad Region into Finland, say. It’s the same nature, a common history, common historical roots and many shared traditions, but on our side the forests are a mess, and on the Finnish side everything is clean and cared for down to the last twig. This is very sad to see because it reflects not just a lack of economic awareness among the authorities or insatiable businesspeople, but the fact that all of us need to learn to take greater care of our surroundings.
Let’s discuss these and other issues now.