Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D
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ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS AND PROJECTIONS IN RUSSIA

Dr. Alexey Yablokov

Address to the All-Russian Special Conference for the Protection of Human Rights
January 21, 2001, Moscow


The Presidential Decree # 867 dated May 17, 2000 drastically restructured Russian government agencies involved in environmental protection. That is the reason why we had to call this conference. For many environmentalists, the environmental science community and environmental NGOs these changes occurred quite unexpectedly, and people are still trying to grasp the idea underlying these changes. It seems the new structure has created more problems rather than resolving them. So, we have gathered in this conference room to discuss these issues and develop an action plan.

However, it is impossible to discuss all environmental problems in Russia within the format of a one-day conference. First, I am going to enumerate them briefly and later I will discuss them in more detail, including the issues of federal regulation. After that I am going to speak about the role of NGOs in this new situation, and in conclusion I will discuss our specific proposals.


1. Environmental Problems in Russia

Despite slumping production and the implementation of several environmental protection programs the ecological situation in Russia still remains serious, while environmental pollution is still high. Those environmental ills have been developing for years and years and have been further exacerbated with the problems of the past few years.

In dozens of Russian cities the average level of annual pollution exceeds sanitary standards. In most reservoirs the quality of potable water does not meet regulatory requirements. Soil productivity is falling while soil erosion is growing throughout the country. Forest strips that protect fields and streams are diminishing, and rare species are becoming extinct.

Insufficient regulation of the use of natural resources leads to the degradation of entire natural parks and sanctuaries. Environmental problems in the urban areas are also getting worse. Growing deforestation is caused by forest fires and industrial pollution.

As a result of Chernobyl disaster and other leaks of radioactive materials numerous Russian areas suffer from a dangerous level of contamination. Decommissioned nuclear submarines, missile systems and missile fuel, chemical arsenals and chemical weapons manufacturing facilities pose an unacceptable risk for people and environmental systems.

The problem of waste treatment still remains unsolved. We are aware of the import of hazardous waste from foreign countries to Russia (including fissile materials). Russia also imports low quality food and goods and purchases polluting technologies from other countries.

Since 1986 Russia's life expectancy has been declining and at least 30% of this decline can be accounted for by environmental causes. Russia is paying a costly price for her environmental ills: annually hundreds of thousands of Russians die an early death (specialists estimate that 350 thousand of such deaths occur annually). Thousands and thousands of Russians suffer from cancer and asthma and other diseases, while children are born with birth defects and are diagnosed with impaired intellectual development and other diseases associated with exposure to environmental pollution. Judging by the country's demographic statistics Russia has approached a dangerous line and if she crosses the line it will lead to the demise and extinction of her people and the collapse of the state.

With the loss of their independence most mass media also lost interest in environmental problems: rather than providing ample and objective environmental information Russian newspapers, magazines and television are trying to conceal the facts. Environmental problems have lost their priority in the minds of huge sections of the population.

The status of environmental safety has become a more meaningful component of national security than military security.


2.   State Administration and Management of Environmental Protection 
      and the Use of Natural Resources

There is a consensus in the country that the current system of administration and management of natural resources is far from being perfect. However, the attempts of restructuring this system have never been discussed publicly, and nobody ever consulted regional governments before these changes were made. As a result, these attempts have been unsuccessful.

Starting from 1995 Russia has seen some trends in administration and management that only endanger protection of natural resources. Here are the following facts:

  • The State Atomic Inspection has lost much of its mandate;

  • The Ministry of Environmental Protection was demoted to a status of a state committee;

  • The State Sanitary and Epidemic Inspection (that is in fact a committee on human habitat) was demoted to a status of a department within the Ministry of Health;

  • The Department of Environmental Protection and the Use of Natural Resources within the Administration has been formally abolished;

  • The Security Council Interagency Commission on Environmental Safety is almost nonexistent;

  • The Governmental Commission on Resolving the Problem of Radioactive Waste has been formally abolished (while the problems are only getting worse);

  • The Governmental Commission on Environmental Protection has been dissolved (though six months ago it was reestablished but since then it met only once).

In the past three years there have been two attempts to abolish both the Russian Land Committee and the State North Affairs Committee that have been actively involved in environmental protection. The Russian Meteorological Committee, the State Standard Committee and the Russian Cartography were also abolished and revived later, however they were made to suffer great losses as a result. 

The funding for environmental protection is constantly downsized, currently, it accounts for the mere 0.3% of the state budget. In contrast, 30 years ago Japan had to spend 5 % of the country's budget to overcome her disastrous environmental problems. Other countries spend 2-3 % of their budgets to keep up the acceptable level of environmental quality.

Federally targeted environmental programs have been funded very poorly; the systems of the state environmental, sanitary and epidemic, and radiology control and monitoring are loosing their ground.

The adoption of the state strategy of sustainable development has been delayed without giving any excuses, the Administration has never been able to draft and adopt a clearly formulated environmental policy.

The country's law enforcement agencies do very little to enforce environmental laws and protect the citizens' environmental rights. This trend can be easily observed if one takes a look at the recent decision of the Ministry of the Interior that prohibited the operations of the City Environmental Police in Moscow.

The system of environmental education is not getting the required governmental support. Currently, by the decision taken in the Ministry of Education a course in ecology has been demoted to an optional status in the middle and high school curricula.

Let us consider the situation since the Executive Decree dated May 17, 2000.

Rather than resolving the situation the Decree only exacerbates the organizational chaos that is characteristic of government administration and management in the area of environmental laws and the use of natural resources.

First, I would like to discuss the management of natural resources and the problems of the Russian Forestry Service.

Article 71 of the Russian Constitution says, "the setting up of a system... establishing federal administration agencies, laying foundations for federal policy... in the area of environmental development of the Russian Federation" is within the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation, that is the President.

However, Article 72 of the Russian Constitution says "The issues of ownership, use and management of land, mineral, water and other types of resources"; also "the use of nature, protection of the environment and ensuring a safe environment and the existence of natural parks" are within the joint management and administration of the Russian Federation and its regions.

When the President took his decision in relation to restructuring environmental agencies he never consulted the regions of the Russian Federation. That is why the Council of the Federation appealed to the President, requesting him to reconsider his decision related to the abolition of the State Environmental Committee and the Russian Forestry Service. Numerous resolutions passed by regional legislatures and many gubernatorial appeals contain a similar request.

The management of natural resources could not be handled by the Ministry of Natural Resources unless the following two requirements are met:  First, all natural resources should be included; Second, the rank of the head of this full-fledged ministry should be no lower than the vice-premier.

Only then it will be possible to reach the required level of management of natural resources, as these resources constitute the basis for the people's survival and functioning, as provided in Article 9 of the Russian Constitution.

Only the format a full-fledged ministry of natural resources could embrace various departments that could function as independent legal entities within the jurisdiction of a department of all natural resources. It is impossible to achieve this level of administration and management within the format of an "ordinary" ministry that is far from being an "elite guard" type of a full-fledged ministry of natural resources.

Consider the following paradox in the governmental organizational structure: vice-premiers head the industries that are not even mentioned in the Constitution, while "the foundation for the people's survival and functioning" has found no representation at a governmental level.

If we do not restructure our government drastically, the only possible solution will be the administration and management of each type of natural resources at a federal level (forestry; biological resources (fishery and hunting); land; water and mineral resources).


Now a few words on environmental protection and the abolition of the State Environmental Committee.

Despite its serious inefficiencies the former system of government administration and management was based on a modern principle of separation of the function of state control and the function of use and management of natural resources.

Let me remind you that the State Environmental Protection Committee exercised the four state environmental functions that went beyond the agency functions:

environmental control;
environmental expertise;
environmental monitoring;
environmental standards, rules and regulations.

By the Executive Decree all these functions have been assigned to the Ministry of Natural Resources. However, the Ministry of Natural Resources is unable to fully implement all these functions. Indeed, how can an agency involved in the use of natural resources also exercise the type of control and provide expertise that goes beyond its functions?

Environmental monitoring and issuing rules and regulations also goes beyond the functions of the Ministry of Natural Resources.

If someone thinks that we are going to attract investment through lifting environmental restrictions and requirements they are terribly mistaken. One cannot solve an economic crisis by replacing it with environmental devastation!

Foreign markets will not favor contaminated products and those goods and products that have been manufactured in violation of environmental rules and regulations. Those who are still not aware of it should read about the scandal associated with the devastation of old age forests in Karelia caused by the Finnish companies.

We reject the statement that "environmental problems should be solved after we resolve economic problems". One cannot create a healthy society without a healthy environment.

The abolition of the State Environmental Committee only creates a risk of worsening environmental situation. Environmental control that has never been too strict is getting lax, and that creates more opportunities for prosperity of "wild capitalists" and the implementation of new dangerous "projects of the century" that benefit only small groups of entrepreneurs.

The abolition of independent environmental agencies is pushing Russia to a situation when most Russian territories might suffer from pollution. It is worth mentioning that currently they constitute only 14% of Russia's land. In that case we will not only lose hope for economic development, we are going to face an actual threat to national security.

When Russia officially abolished her environmental agencies the news was met with sharp criticism throughout the world (this event became front-page news published by many leading newspapers), however, this decision also has its economic implications. The June issue of the Economist, one of the leading economic magazines, carried an article depicting the abolition of the State Environmental Committee, and I think articles like that will not help us attract more investors.



3.  The Goals of Environmental NGOs in the New Situation.


In conditions of weakening government administration and management and lesser amount of available environmental information, in conditions when mass media are trying to conceal rather then disseminate this information, environmental NGOs should revive the mechanism of public control and participation in the decision making process in the area of environmental protection. They should also try to develop this mechanism even further. We already have initial legislation for that.

In these conditions environmental NGOs should pay more attention to conducting public hearings and discussions of most environmentally hazardous projects, organizing public environmental expertise and seeking the participation of their representatives in the state panels of experts. In addition, they should never forget such a powerful mechanism as initiating referenda.

The British often say, "The good should be aggressive to fight the evil". With sufficient support environmentalists will be able to make the governments reject their hazardous and adventurous environmental policy and become much "greener". The preparations for the All-Russian referendum are a wonderful opportunity to try to win the people's support.

Environmental non-governmental movement has always been the leading force in creating Russian civil society. Today this movement should act in cooperation with women's and youth organizations and also human rights organizations, consumer groups and organizations for protecting the Chernobyl victims.

All the things that I mentioned above when I spoke on the NGOs' lobbying the government also include establishment of constructive relations between the green parties and the legislative and executive branches. NGOs should do their best to help the authorities when they implement their beneficial and positive programs and warn them against taking environmentally hazardous solutions that nobody needs. The Saratov Conference has demonstrated huge possibilities of cooperation and partnership between the green parties and the government.

 

4.   Proposals for the President and the Government


We should fight the dangerous trend of demoting ecological issues in the government administration and management and support a trend that is more focused on environmental issues. In order to do so we should
develop and adopt the fundamental principles of the federal environmental policy.

The cornerstones of this policy should be the following:

1. Ensuring Russia's environmental safety in taking decisions related to domestic and foreign policy;

2. Constructive dialogue between the authorities and all the sectors of society on the issues of ensuring Russia's environmental safety and protection of citizens' rights to a healthy environment;

3. Improving the structure of government administration and management on the principles of separation of the state control from the functions of the use and management of natural resources; distinct separation of powers among the federal, regional and local authorities;

4. Governmental support of those businesses that are environmentally friendly and efficient, and contribute to the efficient use of energy and other resources.


If the government acts more aggressively and becomes a more efficient owner of all basic natural resources it will help create a stable financial basis. Currently, the federal government does not claim the bulk of revenues from the use of federal natural resources. Lower prices of natural resources that do not reflect their actual environmental and economic cost are beneficial only for those numerous companies and businesses that are involved in the sales of natural resources and generate huge profits that almost never find their way to public funds.

To implement this policy and protect the country's environment Russia needs an independent federal environmental protection agency that is not associated with the use and management of natural resources.

In a perfect world we would picture this agency as a body that exercises its functions of control and supervision and operates as an Agency within the Presidential Administration. However, if this agency has a state committee or a federal service status, we would welcome it much less, though we would not object to it.

We do not see any reason why we cannot revive such an independent agency even now when we are still in the process of restructuring our federal administration. The Executive Decree specifies that the process of restructuring will continue for another month and even longer.

If we see any serious obstacles hampering the implementation of this decision, then we will raise the issue of a temporary remedial measure, that is the full scale implementation of the four administration and management functions of the former State Environmental Committee: control, expertise, monitoring and issuing rules and regulations.

Boris Alexandrovich Yatskevich, Minister of Natural Resources, and Vladimir Alexandrovich Grachev, Chairman of the State Duma Committee, are here with us in the conference room and we greatly appreciate the fact that they were able to attend this meeting. Using this opportunity we suggest that we should discuss the option of assigning these four functions among the Ministry of Natural Resources and other federal agencies in order to separate them.

The Rosgidromet (Russian Meteorological Committee) could implement the environmental monitoring function, as it is already involved in monitoring environmental pollution.

The function of state environmental control is subdivided into federal and regional control. As environmental safety is one of the most important components of national security, the federal control function could be exercised by the State Environmental Inspection that is still to be established.

At the regional level environmental control is exercised by environmental inspections. In addition to environmental inspections the regions also have forestry inspections, fishery and hunting inspections, land inspections and water inspections. I think we all know how to solve this old age problem: the system of environmental protection inspections in the regions should not copy federal inspections to the letter (in the wooded areas forest rangers could implement additional environmental protection functions, while in the Volga delta the fishery inspectors could extend their jurisdiction and include hunting inspection, etc.) If we unite these poor services it would only make them more efficient.

The Minister of Natural Resources has already proposed that the functions of the state environmental expertise go to the Council of Experts affiliated to the Government. We are pleased that the Ministry of Natural Resources has acknowledged the fact that independent expertise cannot operate within the jurisdiction of an agency of natural resources. Let us discuss this and other interesting proposals, including other possible options for the state expertise to be independent.

Finally, the function of issuing environmental rules and regulations. Perhaps, this function could be assigned to the State Standard Committee as it has been involved in environmental standardization for a long time and has done a good job. This Committee could do this new job on condition that they hire some environmental specialists from the former State Environmental Committee.

Finally, we will be able to resolve an old problem of establishing a unified agency that would manage those areas that require special attention, that is national parks and sanctuaries. It would be a perfect solution if we could set up a small federal agency or service that would supervise national parks. Another less desirable option that will only solve part of the problem would be uniting the national park and sanctuary administrations into an independent department affiliated to the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Here is the list of other proposals that we would like to make:

Establishing a government commission on the use of natural resources and environmental protection with the involvement of science and research entities and environmental NGOs. This commission could become an effective tool for coordinating the operation of numerous agencies involved in the use of nature and environmental protection.


Establishing a Council on Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection operating under the President with wide representation of all branches of government and sectors of society. This council would keep the President informed of all the critical issues in this very important area.


In conclusion I will try to summarize briefly our ideas:

We agree that the governmental structure in environmental protection and the use of natural resources should be improved.
However, those reshuffles that have been made seem inconsistent and even dangerous.

We need a more thorough transformation of the entire government. 

The Ministry of Natural Resources will become an actual Ministry of Natural Resources when it manages ALL the resources and operates at the federal level of administration and management. This will only be possible if the Minister of Natural Resources is promoted to the rank of a vice-premier and the administration and management of all resources is implemented at the federal level. Specifically, it is important to manage our woods and forests at a federal level, we should not reject the old tradition that was initiated by Peter the Great 202 years ago.

Whichever option of government restructuring we select, we still need an independent and autonomous agency involved in environmental protection, it could be either within the Administration or within the Government.

We also need a Government Commission on Environmental Protection and the Use of Natural Resources.

We also need a Council on Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection operating under the President.

It may happen that both the President and the Government might ignore our concerns and our proposals. However, we are hopeful that they will listen to our proposals and share our deep concern over the existing situation.


Thank you for your attention!


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .