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Measuring Sustainability in the Russian Arctic: An Interdisciplinary Study

by Votrin, Valery, PhD

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PoI Plan of Implementation
PPP Purchasing power parity
PSIR Pressure-State-Impact-Response
PSR Pressure-State-Response
PTS Persistent organic substance
RAIPON Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North
R&D Research & Development
RRFA Rate of renewal of fixed assets
SAO Senior Arctic Officials
SCP Sustainable Cities Programme
SDAP Sustainable development action plan
SDWG Sustainable Development Working Group
SEEA System of Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting
SNA System of National Accounts
SOx Sulphur oxide
SO2 Sulphur dioxide
SRW Solid radioactive waste
SSA Systemic Sustainability Analysis
SSM Soft systems method
TACIS Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States
TOPF Tropospheric Ozone Formation Potential
UN United Nations
UNCSD United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development
UNDP United Nations Development Programme
UNECE United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
UNICEF United Nations Children’s Fund
USFWS US Fish and Wildlife Service
USSR Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
WCED World Commission on Environment and Development
WEF World Economic Forum
WHO World Health Organisation
WSSD World Summit on Sustainable Development
WWF World Wildlife Fund
YOLL Years of life lost

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You will not grasp her with your mind
Or cover with a common label,
For Russia is one of a kind –
Believe in her, if you are able...
Fedor Tyutchev, 1866
Translated by Anatoly Liberman, 1991

1.1 Introduction and Problem Statement
Russia is unique and unconceivable. The country’s special position somewhere in
between east and west has deep symbolic meaning in terms of the geopolitical paradigm and
cultural and spiritual mix. Russia has a special messianic mission as a successor to the great
Rome and Byzantium, and its faith is a unique and the only true religion (pravoslavie). In fact,
Moscow is the third Rome, and there will never be the fourth.
The great empire. The true religion. The culture incomprehensible for others.
These ideas emerged long before the Russian 19th century poet Fedor Tyutchev had
engraved them into his poem which has become very popular in today’s Russia and a slogan
for those who insist on Russia walking her mysterious ways. This implies in fact that Russia is
not a European country, its values are different from western ones and on the whole, citing the
well-known saying, ‘what is good for the Russian is death for the German’.
This might be fine as a theoretical basis for reconciling with Russia’s troubled past and
finding new insights for national identity. Yet when it comes to managing environmental issues
in Russia, Tyutchev’s statement that no common measure (translated above as “common label’)
can be found for Russia is potentially damaging. It highlights another myth about Russian
national character that Russians especially like – our much-talked-about dislike for
measurements, inventories, pragmatic decisions, and everything that leads to order or correct
state of things. Perhaps we like to quote Tyutchev because the country is big, the efforts to
measure things are tiresome and seemingly useless, and the ideas about sustainable
development or limits to growth sound too western to be naturally accepted. In the meanwhile,
the economy is becoming increasingly dependent on natural resources, the environment is
deteriorating, and human conditions in some parts have become miserable.
Those parts include also the Russian Arctic. The region is not only the land of vast
natural resources and the centre of Russian oil and gas production. It preserved unique pristine
territories, boreal forests and vast tracts of tundra; the culture of northern indigenous peoples;
and historic monuments, some of them being a part of world cultural heritage. The region’s
social and environmental challenges include the immense differences in living standards,
ruthless exploitation of forests for short-term profits destroying animal and bird life, and
extraction of gas and oil causing large amounts of air and water pollution.


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To ensure transition to sustainability, the Russian Arctic needs a sound and reliable
measurement framework involving a set of sustainability indicators that would show trends and
use a regional sustainable development strategy as guidelines. Such indicators at national level
have recently been developed in the UK, US and the Nordic countries and present good
instrument to assess transition to sustainable development.
Until recently, Russia had not used any sustainability indicators similar to those
introduced in Europe and the US to measure its progress towards sustainable development.
However, in June 2003 the situation changed and the pilot project to develop sustainability
indicators for the Voronezh and Tomsk Oblasts (regions) in Russia has been completed. The
project worked with the administration of those regions to develop a set of indicators for each
region. The indicator sets were designed to reflect the development priorities and the main
social, environmental and economic issues facing policy makers and population in these
regions. The indicators were also designed to be understood by a broad audience outside
government. The indicator lists developed for each region include several themes for issues
which are common to both regions, and which are likely to be important in other Russian
However, some problems with developing the regional sustainability indicators for
Russia were reported. There was no effective public outreach campaign before the project
commenced and virtually no public consultation at the stage of the indicator development.
Regional administrations influenced the process considerably which in reality meant that
sensitive issues, e.g. nuclear installations in Tomsk Oblast were avoided and nuclear-related
indicators including nuclear safety, radioactive waste, etc. not included into the set. In addition,
good governance and civil society issues were set aside as well.
These valuable lessons from the experience of designing regional sustainability indicator
sets in Russia were taken into consideration when developing the indicators for the Russian
The present study is the first comprehensive assessment of socio-economic and
environmental situation in the Russian Arctic using the set of socially construed Arctic-specific
sustainability indicators as an assessment framework. The progress towards sustainable
development has been assessed for the six regions: Murmansk Oblast, Nenets Autonomous
Okrug, Sakha-Yakutia Republic, Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Taimyr, and Chukotka (see
Figure 2.3). The regional experience in developing sustainability indicators in Russia was
considered in identifying which indicators are most suitable for use in the specific conditions of
the Arctic. For the first time, nuclear-related indicators and indicators on public involvement and
indigenous issues were included into the regional sustainability assessment framework in
In addition, this study was meant to prove that a common measure and common label
could be found for Russia. Old myths die hard. While it is still important to believe in Russia, it is


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time to start looking for ways to gauging progress towards sustainable development in the
Russian North for the sake of future generations.
1.2 Research Objectives
The study’s main objective was to attempt to capture the complex socio-economic and
environmental situation in the Russian Arctic through sustainability assessment and to provide a
backbone for other Russian Northern regions in developing their own core sustainability
indicator sets. Given the current lack of international consensus on the indicator sets, the study
attempted to provide a common ground for the indicator establishment in Russia using
interactive approach and public consultations. Based on the study’s results, the implications for
further policy actions both for Russia and the European Union are highlighted.
Another goal was to analyse public attitudes and opinions in relation to the sustainability
indicator set suggested and to measure the level of public interest in the sustainability issues.
The multiple dimensions of the Arctic, including the region’s specific environmental and
economic aspects, are taken into account. Given the region’s long and poor environmental
record, it was the primary objective to look into the problem in an interdisciplinary way, based on
the perception of the arctic environment as a unique ecosystem, a natural resource base and
the global common.

1.3 Scientific Significance of the Study
In the general context of on-going sustainability process in the Arctic, the need for Arcticspecific
sustainability indicator framework has long matured. The Russian Arctic is the most
densely populated and industrially developed circumpolar area with high levels of anthropogenic
pollution and nuclear facilities, including two operating nuclear power plants. Consequently, it is
particularly important for the regional sustainability indicator set to take into consideration
nuclear issues and the problem of hazardous waste. The need was also identified to incorporate
climate warming issues and to ascertain arctic surrogate species to effectively monitor change
in biodiversity in the region.
Community involvement is a crucial element of any indicator development process.
Given the vastness of the area under study, online interactive methods seem to be the useful
tool to overcome the distance and to hear the opinions of people living in the region. They
provide also a convenient means of measuring the level of interest in a certain aspect of
sustainability and in environmental issues in general. Based on those opinions and the key
findings, policy options need to be determined for the integration of sustainability plans into the
regional agendas.


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1.4 Limitations of the Study
The limitations of this study include low level of public involvement and community
participation and the consequent validity of the results. There were only nine external
participants in the survey. Most of the participants reside in Moscow and St Petersburg, i.e. the
regions having good access to the Internet. No indigenous respondents participated in the
Another limitation was an apparent unwillingness of Russian authorities to co-operate,
especially when it came to obtaining the information on nuclear issues. Thus, data quality and
availability were the major limitation for the study that was significantly affected by the lack of
official statistical data for some indicators.
Four of the 6 regions under study are the autonomous okrugs (districts) which are parts
of the larger regions in which they are located. Since 2003, Russia started the process of
merging the okrugs into their main regions to reduce the number of the Russian federal
subjects. Following a referendum on this issue held in 2005, the autonomous okrugs of Taimyr
and Evenkia will merge into Krasnoyarsk Krai, their main region, on 1 January 2007.
Arkhangelsk Oblast and Nenets Autonomous Okrug are currently in the process of setting up
the date for a merger referendum (the proposed date is December 2007 or earlier). Other
okrugs are likely to follow which may affect the regional data coverage. This study was
commenced in 2003 before the mergers and used, where available, the data for okrugs.

1.5 Structure of the Thesis
The study includes the introduction, literature review on sustainability policies worldwide
and in Russia (Chapter 2), research methods, including methodology sheets for each indicator
(Chapter 3), the core set of the Russian Arctic sustainability indicators with graphic
representation and discussion by each dimension (economic, social, environmental and Arcticspecific)
(Chapter 4), conclusions with key findings and avenues for further research (Chapter
5), list of references, and an appendix with the initial long list of the indicators.
The study was financially supported by the Free University of Brussels (VUB), with a
one-week trip to Russia for data collection and discussion with the experts. It also used the
results of, and effectively contributed to, the project entitled “The review of environmental futurerelated
studies and analyses of uncertainties in the pan-European region” under the work
programme of European Environment Agency (EEA) on environmental futures for which the
author of this study was subcontracted by EEA as a part of expert team at Milieu Environmental
Law and Policy Consultancy in Brussels. Two international expert workshops, “GEO-4 scenarios
for Europe and their energy policy implications in relation to environment” on 20-21 February
2006, and “Pan-European future uncertainties in transport and energy and relations to
environmental impacts” on 20-21 March 2006, held in Copenhagen at the premises of EEA,
were the significant contribution to the study.

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2.1 Sustainability and Indicators
2.1.1 Sustainable Development
With its notorious vagueness, the concept of sustainable development has nevertheless
gained much recognition in recent decades. Clearly, nobody wants the current destructive
patterns of production and consumption to continue and to cause further depletion of natural
resources, environmental deterioration and worsening of human conditions. Hence quite a
unanimous view worldwide that the only alternative to sustainability is unsustainability (Bossel,
1999; Glasby, 2002), and it is inadmissible.
In the absence of any other alternative, great efforts have been made since the
emergence of the concept in the 1980s to define sustainable development. Its classic definition
was coined in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in its
report “Our common future” (also known as the Brundtland Report) saying that sustainable
development is:

“Development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the
ability of future generations to meet their needs and aspirations.” (Brundtland, 1987)

Seven critical actions focusing on achieving good quality of life for people worldwide
have been recommended by the WCED:
revive growth;
change the quality of growth;
meet essential needs and aspirations for jobs, food, energy, water and sanitation;
ensure a sustainable level of population;
conserve and enhance the resource base;
reorient technology and manage risk; and
include and combine environment and economic considerations in decisionmaking
(Brundtland, 1987).
The concept’s earlier formulation presented in 1980 in the World Conservation Strategy,

a joint product of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Wildlife Fund
(WWF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN),
had already pointed out at the three pillars of sustainability – environmental, economic and
social and sustainable development is meant to be an interface between the three, seeking to
avoid irreversible changes or losses (Bramwell, 1994). It is a multidimensional, fuzzy concept
which can be described “as a state of dynamic equilibrium between societal demand for a


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preferred development path and the supply of environmental and economic goods and services
to meet this demand” (Briassoulis, 2001).
With the plethora of other definitions and discussions revolving around theoretical
interpretation of sustainable development, there have been also initiatives to develop ways and
methods as to implementing sustainable development and setting up action plans. One of the
most famous documents of this kind is Agenda 21 (UN, 1992), a global plan of action adopted in
1992 in Rio de Janeiro during the United Nations (UN) Conference on Environment and
Development, or more informally the Earth Summit. Agenda 21 is aimed at delivering a more
sustainable pattern of development and contains recommendations that all countries that have
endorsed it should produce National Sustainable Development Strategies (NSDSs).
Apart from Agenda 21, representatives of about 180 countries who gathered at the Earth
Summit also endorsed the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development which sets out 27
principles supporting sustainable development and signed several important multilateral
environmental agreements, including the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the
Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Forest Principles that also reflect several crucial
sustainable development legal principles, e.g. polluter pays principle, prior informed consent
and the precautionary principle.
While being the most prominent and influential instrument in the environment and
development field and a guiding document for sustainable development in most regions of the
world, Agenda 21 has no binding power and thus the main task of developing and implementing
NSDSs lies on national governments. International initiatives on NSDSs have been based
largely on international institutions’ ideas of the agenda and methods to be applied, tempered
by political constraint, rather than on locally proven practice (Dalal-Clayton and Bass, 2002).
The sustainability agenda was moved further by the World Summit on Sustainable
Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in September 2002. For the first time, sustainable
development was the central topic of such global event which attracted leaders and
representatives from 183 countries. The Johannesburg Summit broadened the understanding of
sustainable development emphasising crucial linkages between poverty, the environment and
the use of natural resources and established it as a widely accepted goal for policy makers
(WSSD, 2002; Azapagic et al, 2004).
Owing to the Johannesburg Summit and other similar events, the principle of sustainable
development and many of its objectives have been widely adopted and incorporated into
national strategies, and the agenda has moved from the question of “What is sustainable
development?” on to the question of “How do we measure our progress towards sustainable
development?” Unlike rapid development of the sustainable development theory, its
implementation has been slow (Azapagic et al, 2004). Since sustainable development is a
practical goal, one needs to be informed whether the system is still unsustainable or whether
the goal of achieving sustainability has been reached (Bell and Morse, 1999). Indicators of


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sustainable development are needed to guide policies and decisions at all levels of society:
village, town, city, county, state, region, nation, continent and world (Bossel, 1999).
2.1.2 Sustainability Indicators
A sustainability indicator is a deceptively simple policy tool designed to capture and
measure a particular aspect of sustainability policy in an easily communicated form (Rydin et al,
2003). More than a mere description of current conditions or trends, indicators create
understanding and insights about how systems operate, suggesting the nature and intensity of
linkages among different components of systems and providing decision-makers with
opportunities to think at larger scales (McCool and Stankey, 2004). Sustainability indicator sets
are required to provide a picture about the current state and corresponding viability of the
system and about the system’s contribution to the performance of other systems that depend on
them. Thus, indicator sets are determined by the system itself and the interests, needs, or
objectives of the system(s) depending on them (Bossel, 1999). The indicators are not intended
to be snapshots of the environmental situation, but to be normative to show how far the situation
is from a desirable norm or from a reference situation (Bramwell, 1994).
Pastille Consortium (2002b) defines a sustainability indicator as “a policy-relevant
variable that is specified and defined in such a way as to be measurable over time and/or
space”. The indicators

“can help to identify relevant elements of sustainable development, promote
understanding and determine and indicate the state of local sustainability. Showing
the relation between the values of two indicators or the development over time of a
certain indicator helps people understand what sustainable development is about.”
(Pastille Consortium, 2002a)

Indicators have been long used by biologists and naturalists to measure ecosystem
health. However, with thousands of elements an ecosystem comprises, one cannot possibly
measure everything, and biologists measure only key components and interactions that
represent a system as a whole (Bell and Morse, 1999).
Therefore, it was a logical choice to utilise indicators to operationalise sustainability. Yet
the three pillars of sustainability indicated above require an indicator set to be more holistic and
broader than just the one used to measure biodiversity. All multiple dimensions of sustainability
need to be covered, and a number of indicators are clearly needed. This need is emphasised in
Chapter 40 of Agenda 21, and the most important aspects of developing sustainability indicators
are reflected in the Bellagio Principles, a result of a meeting of scientists and decision makers
held in November 1996 in Bellagio, Italy:


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“These principles serve as guidelines for the whole of the assessment process
including the choice and design of indicators, their interpretation and communication
of the result. They are interrelated and should be applied as a complete set” (Hardi
and Zdan, 1997).

Some of the principles reflect similar calls for clear definition of sustainability and a
holistic approach made in Agenda 21, and others lay out how the indicators should be
developed and used. Below is the summary of the ten Bellagio Principles:
1. Assessment of progress toward sustainable development should be guided by a

clear vision of sustainable development and goals that define that vision;
2. Sustainability should be viewed in a holistic perspective, including social, ecological,

and economic aspects;
3. Notions of equity and disparity should be considered in any perspective of

sustainable development, including resource use, over-consumption and poverty,
human rights, access to services, and other non-market activities that contribute to
human/social well-being;
4. Time horizon should be long enough to capture both human and ecosystem time

scales, and the space of study should include not only local but also long distance
impacts on people and ecosystems;
5. Assessment of progress toward sustainable development should be based on a

limited number of indicators or indicator combinations based on standardised
6. Assessment of progress toward sustainable development should make the methods

and data that are used accessible to all;
7. Progress should be effectively communicated to all;
8. Broad participation is essential;
9. A capacity should be developed for repeated measurement to determine trends;
10. Institutional capacity for monitoring progress toward sustainable development needs

to be assured (Hardi and Zdan, 1997; Bell and Morse, 1999).
2.1.3 Models and Approaches in Designing Sustainability Indicators
Just how many and which indicators should be used is a vital question directly referring
to Principle 5 of the Bellagio Principles. There are two main types of sustainability indicator
frameworks: economic and physical environmental ones. The economic frameworks (e.g. the
System of Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting, SEEA) favour “weak
sustainability” (i.e. where manufactured capital can take the place of natural capital), and the
physical environmental frameworks tend towards “strong sustainability,” where spent natural
capital cannot be replaced (Walmsley, 2002).


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Among the latter is the Pressure-State-Response (PSR) framework developed by the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and used by the UN in
selecting their sustainability indicators (Figure 2.1) while using the term “driving force” instead of
“pressure” as a synonym (the Driving Forces-Pressure-State-Impact-Response framework,
DPSIR). Here pressures on the consumption of resources, pollution and so on are caused by
human activities, thus altering the state of a system. This requires a response in form of policy
measures to overcome the situation. In this context, some see driving forces a new dimension
rather than a synonym because driving forces generate pressures, and some prefer adding the
term “impact” to this framework (PSIR).

Figure 2.1. Traditional pressure-state-response model

Source: Eurostat (2001)
Being a rather general model, the PSR framework lacks precision and needs to be
adapted. The environment-health relationship is better described by the DPSEEA (Driving
Forces-Pressures-State-Exposure-Effects-Actions) model developed by the WHO (1999) to
identify the elements of environmental exposure to elicit health effects. “The DPSEEA model
distinguishes between external (environmental, e.g. emission values in the air one breathes)
and internal (in the body, e.g. concentrations of cadmium in the kidney) exposure values” (Hens
and De Wit, 2003).
Bossel (1999) proposes an indicator framework based on a basic orientors concept and
a systems approach and derives “six fundamental environmental properties” called
“environment-determined basic orientors (existence, effectiveness, freedom of action, security,


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