Will President Putin bring about a ‘greener’ Russia?
The Hague, 7 May 2012
Dr. W.Th. Douma
On 30 April 2012, outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev approved the "Principles of State policy in the area of environmental development of the Russian Federation for the period up to the year 2030”. The document was published on the Kremlin website in Russian language only. We prepared an English translation. Does the policy offer any prospects for a change to the better in Russia under President Putin, who resumed the office of Russia’s President today?
Interesting in the light of the Russia’s refusal to commit to new obligations in international climate negotiations is that the document admits that “global environmental problems associated with climate change, biodiversity loss, desertification and other negative environmental processes” have an impact on Russia and its citizens (point 1). Noteworthy as well are references to the facts that a large percentage of Russia’s urban population is faced with high and even very high air pollution, and that some 100 million hectares are threatened by desertification (point 3). Industrial pollution is to be reduced to a level similar to that “in economically developed countries” (point 13.c).
In 2010, President’s Medvedev had called for an improved, consolidated environmental policy. This is reflected in the new Environmental Policy where it calls for the establishment of an integrated and coherent system of environmental laws (point 11.b). Medvedev had pointed out correctly that Russia’s environmental laws are isolated and at times contradictory. Another problem is that fines for violation of environmental laws and permit conditions are too low, and enforcement is frequently flawed. Medvedev called for ensuring that observance of environmental protection legislation becomes a standard practice – implying that this is not the case so far. The new policy document stresses that liability for violations of environmental legislation are to be increased and punishment for environmental crimes is to become inevitable (point 11.d).
The Moscow Times reported that environmentalists applauded the new policy, but warned that it offers little detail on how to fulfil its promises. The director of Greenpeace Russia's energy program, Vladimir Chuprov, was quoted saying that he welcomed any documents that help to create a system to support the environment, but regretted that the document is lacking concrete steps outlined on how to achieve the goals. He was also disappointed that despite references to environmentally friendly growth, the new policy does not mention transitioning to a low-carbon economy, or more details about the creation of institutions to properly regulate environmental affairs.
Indeed, much will depend on whether concrete steps will be taken that would actually deal with the issues outlined by former President Medvedev. The EU has been instrumental in analysing where improvements to aspects of Russia’s environmental law system are possible, notably through the Harmonisation of environmental standards projects that were convened between 2003 and 2009. Not much was done with the recommendations formulated by Russian and EU experts in those projects, however. The new Environmental Policy could be a step in the right direction, but only if President Putin is willing and able to seriously improve his environmental record.
- Our own English translation of the Environmental Policy, 7 May 2012
- Medvedev signs off on ecology policy, The Moscow Times, 3 May 2010
- OECD report on Environmental Policy and Regulation in Russia (2006)
- President Medvedev: Consolidated state policy is needed to address environmental problems (27 May 2010)
- Harmonisation of Russia’s environmental standards, phase I (TACIS project)
- EU-Russia Environmental cooperation
- Political, legal and institutional overview of EU-Russia relationship
- Communication from the Commission on relations with Russia,COM (2004) 106 of 9 February 2004. The Communication proposes measures to improve the effectiveness of EU-Russia relations, in particular in light of increased EU and Russian interdependence, the EU's historic enlargement on 1 May and the unresolved conflicts in the Newly Independent States (NIS). It underlines that the EU and Russia should be ready, as strategic partners, to discuss frankly all issues of concern, including human rights, media freedom and events in Chechnya in addition to strengthening co-operation on concrete issues, on the basis of common interests.