Measuring Sustainability in the Russian Arctic: An Interdisciplinary Study
environmental charges. As a result, the quality of environmental controls has become poorer
and the resource companies seem to have more opportunities today to slip away from paying
for environmental damage than before.
Krasnoyarsk Krai is the second largest producer of hazardous waste in Russia, and
overall generation of hazardous waste in the Russian Arctic is growing rapidly. Pollution
intensity due to increasing waste generation is also growing due to reduced environmental
inspections and maintenance of structures such as pipelines. In contrast, handling of hazardous
waste is lagging far behind the generation. But the main problem with hazardous waste in the
Russian Arctic is the management of the existing stock. Lack of funding and of adequate
handling facilities is the main reason reported, in view of moderate success in St Petersburg
where the authorities managed to reduce the generation of hazardous waste through
environmental investments for waste treatment facilities.
As for the whole Russia and in the light of recent developments such as a newly adopted
law putting more state pressure on Russian NGOs, the issues of civil society and public
involvement in environmental decision-making become more and more important for the
Russian Arctic. Overall democratic deficit, “de-ecologisation” of policies, and the implementation
gap all contribute to the situation when citizen’s voice concerning many acute environmental
issues, including new development projects, pollution compensations and general violations of
environmental rights goes unheard. Today, the Russian Internet is becoming a means of
expressing one’s view with regard to important issues, including environmental ones, and
making it sure that one’s opinion is taken into consideration. Given that the majority of Russian
private users access the Internet via low-quality municipal telephone lines, this unquenchable
public interest in those matters in Russia is admirable. In case of the Russian Arctic, those
15,000 hits the Russian Arctic project website received from 2004 to 2005 can be viewed as a
demonstration of vivid and lasting interest in the sustainability issues in Russia. An additional
proof to that is growing number of registered NGOs in the Russian Arctic. Although it would be
interesting to analyse NGO issues in Russia after 2003, the Russian northern environmental
NGOs and in particular local indigenous NGOs proved to be well capable of influencing
environmental management decision-making.
The issues of operational safety of nuclear power plants and storage and handling of
radioactive waste are of paramount importance for sustainable development in the Russian
Arctic. Although the existing plants in the region are aged, both achieved 15-year operational
extensions for their reactors. For Kola NPP, the extension of a licence was accompanied with
the court scandal when the regional court ruled out that the extension licence has been issued
illegally and the reactor should be shut down immediately. The director of the plant refused to
subordinate to the court decision and was actively supported by FSETAN. This highlights the
official position on promoting economic benefits from environmental harmful and, in case of the
outdated NPPs in the Arctic, potentially dangerous operations posing regional and
transboundary health and environmental threats. Although the recent report concluded that the
consequences of serious nuclear accidents for the Russian Arctic are likely to be much less
than previously expected and the number of INES incidents fell significantly at both plants, the
safety of the Russian Arctic NPPs continues to remain one of the most serious environmental
concerns in the region.
The amount of solid radioactive waste in the Russian Arctic is growing due to the lack of
processing facilities. In particular, Murmansk Oblast houses currently more radioactive waste
than any other region in the world. The overall situation with the waste storage in Murmansk is
critical. The storage facilities are full and the conditions under which the waste is stored are
extremely poor. There is no reliable information as to the amounts of generation and handling of
radioactive waste, and the data on the amount of waste stored are scarce.
As became widely known, for the last 40 years arctic temperatures increased, with a
steep increase after 1960s when a warming rate of 0.4 ºC per decade was observed. The
Russian Arctic generally followed this trend. Since 1994, mean surface air temperature in the
region has increased by approximately 1.5 centigrade per decade. The projections show that
the region is expected to experience additional increases in mean annual temperature up to 5ºC
by the late 21st century. While climate change is not the only factor affecting the region’s
inhabitants, it is the most important factor of overall environmental change and thus an
important element of the region’s transition to sustainable development to be captured by any
future regional sustainability assessment.
The number of domestic reindeer in Russia has recently stabilised. However, the sector
is currently in deep crisis. Change in ownership and decline of the collective reindeer husbandry
as well as continuing loss of reindeer pastures due to the economic and mining activities are
accountable for the decrease. In particular, oil exploration and development activities in
traditional reindeer areas like Yamal Peninsula delivered a massive blow to reindeer husbandry
in the region. The indigenous population is the first who suffers from deteriorating social and
environmental conditions and the loss of traditional lifestyle.
Despite the extremely poor data on polar bear populations in the Russian Arctic, their
estimated number seems to be increasing slowly. A reliable population estimate for all four polar
bear populations in Russia does not exist. There are anecdotal reports about illegal hunting in
Chukotka but in view of the lack of reliable population data these are hard to check. It is certain,
however, that polar bear in Russia is protected adequately only in one zapovednik, Wrangel
Island, which is very hard to reach for poachers due to its location. Other Russian protected
areas often lack personnel and transportation. Outside protected areas, the risk to polar bears is
even higher since federal and regional law enforcement is poor. Polar bear populations are
threatened also by oil and gas development and marine pollution as well as continuing Arctic
5.2 Recommendations and Policy Options
Natural resources seem to be good for the population of the Russian Arctic. The region’s
vast energy sector and other resource-orientated industries provide stable income and
employment, support housing and education, and address key poverty issues. Essentially, the
region’s population depends upon regional natural resources for their prosperity. In the era of
high oil prices and huge demand for hydrocarbons in industrialised countries, Russia has
chosen to make profits from its enormous natural wealth by exporting it to the west, and those
profits are colossal. GRP per head in the Russian Arctic has doubled between 1997 and 2002.
Personal income is rising rapidly, together with investments in resource sectors. The region’s
fuel producing and other resource-orientated industries continue to attract skilled workers who
enjoy a number of benefits in relation to the work under harsh northern conditions, and
unemployment rate in the region is one of the lowest in Russia.
Yet this is only in the short term. In longer term, the country’s economic development
dependent overwhelmingly on resource sector looks less convincing. Short strategic planning
horizon (maximum 3 years) and lack of long-term scenarios of macroeconomic development
and sustainable energy strategies make Russia’s never-ending economic reforms unsound.
According to the official forecasts, commercial oil reserves will run out by 2015. Some of those
reserves lie in the Russian Arctic. In the absence of a sound long-term development strategy
and in case of the drop in world oil prices, the depletion of oil resources will entail grave socioeconomic
consequences for the region and, since it is Russia’s main energy exporter, for the
In today’s Russia, a strange situation can be found: there are a good number of regional
Agendas 21 and sustainability indicator initiatives; there is a theoretical basis for national
sustainable development strategy; and there is willingness of some regional administrations to
urgently deal with sustainability issues. Yet at federal level, Russia lacks the most important
thing: a national sustainable development strategy that would outline the country’s socioeconomic
priorities in the context of transition to sustainability. Federal authorities in Russia
seem reluctant to embark on a national sustainable development strategy, although important
legislation was adopted and the draft strategy has long been pending in State Duma. Ironically,
Russia lacks also a long-term development strategy, since several important strategies are
limited to 2007.
The need for it has long matured. However, this development strategy should be first
and foremost a sustainable development strategy combining the improvements of quality of life
with transition to knowledge-based economy and the shift away from the current inefficient,
resource-depleting economic structure.
In the absence of such strategy, regional administrations and the legislature in Russia
should incorporate sustainability issues into their agendas. When the central authorities are too
busy to deal with deteriorating health, growing pollution, mounting waste, and vanishing
biodiversity, regional authorities should care about future generations themselves.
Despite the problems with data availability, public participation, and the Internet in
Russia, the Russian Arctic sustainability indicator set has addressed many issues that were not
adequately addressed by the federal set and the regional sets for Tomsk and Voronezh
Oblasts. In particular, the indicators for public participation and nuclear issues were
incorporated into the Russian Arctic set. The study also proved the importance of the role of
scientists who can act also as catalysers of the indicator process and initiate the debate about
the sustainability indicators.
The following issues were identified to be addressed:
• Regional administrations of the five Russian Arctic regions should adopt regional
Agendas 21 and SDAPs similar to those developed by Murmansk Oblast and
Altai Republic and link them with the relevant socio-economic development
programmes to ensure the transition to knowledge-based innovative economies
to be based on the region’s well developed system of higher education
institutions and research centres inherited from the Soviet times;
• Murmansk Oblast should continue its efforts to implement energy efficiency
programmes, promote sustainable development in coastal zones, improve
handling of radioactive waste, etc.;
• All protected areas to be established and those areas identified as important for
local biodiversity, including tundra-side forests and polar bear denning sites,
should be given an official federal or regional protected area status to ensure the
principles of conservation and protection of biodiversity;
• An inventory of persistent organic pollutants at federal and regional level should
be urgently established;
• There is an urgent need for public monitoring of hazardous waste and nuclear
issues, including operational safety of nuclear power plants and radioactive
waste problem. The data on toxic and radioactive waste should be published to
allow for an open and fair debate as to how to handle this issue. Further research
is required to collect adequate nuclear-related data, extend time series, and
expand the scope of the indicator for generation and handling of solid radioactive
waste to include all types of radioactive waste;
• Public participation and community involvement should be actively promoted at
regional level. All major groups concerned with socio-economic and
environmental issues, including Russian Orthodox Church and indigenous
communities should be involved in the sustainability debate and given their role
in elaborating local sustainable development action plans;
Arctic-specific socio-economic measures other than human development index
should be elaborated to address some existing gaps in knowledge concerning
human development in the Arctic;
Inadequate statistical registration, underreporting and lack of data hinder the
reporting abilities of alcoholism incidence as a useful alcoholism indicator in
Russia and particularly in the Russian Arctic. Other indicators such as per capita
alcohol consumption are needed to monitor at national level the country’s difficult
Reindeer husbandry should be promoted and supported by regional
administrations as an important component of traditional lifestyles and
preservation of world cultural heritage;
Active research on polar bears and their Russian Arctic populations should be
started immediately. As an umbrella species, polar bear is extremely important
for the Arctic, and the dynamics of its population is crucial in understanding the
dynamics of other key species. The possibility of monitoring change in these
species through composite indices should be considered.
Finally, major gaps in environmental data such as energy intensity, forest area
change, forest fires, etc. should be addressed. This task should be taken over not
only by Rosstat but also by key international organisations like European
Environment Agency which should include the Russian Arctic into the scope of its
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