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Measuring Sustainability in the Russian Arctic: An Interdisciplinary Study

by Votrin, Valery, PhD

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result in September 1996 the Declaration of the Establishment of the Arctic Council (the Ottawa
Declaration) was signed. The Declaration proclaims the Council to be a broad forum designed
to “provide a means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic
states, with the involvement of the Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants
on common Arctic issues, in particular issues of sustainable development and environmental
protection in the Arctic” (Bloom, 1999).
The Council’s Permanent Members are Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the
Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United
States. Six international organisations representing interests of the indigenous peoples of the
Arctic have also the status of Permanent Members: Aleut International Association, Arctic
Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Russian
Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), and Saami Council helped by the
Indigenous Peoples Secretariat of the Arctic Council to work together. Observers to the Council
include European non-arctic countries, international organisations and NGOs.
Decisions within the Arctic Council are taken at meetings of foreign ministers or their
designates of the Member States and the political leaders of the Permanent Participants.
Ministerial meetings are held every two years. The chairmanship of the Council and
accompanying Secretariat rotates among member states. Between the ministerial meetings, the
operation of the Council is administered by the Committee of Senior Arctic Officials (SAOs),
composed of representatives of foreign ministries of the member states and representatives of
indigenous peoples as Permanent Participants’ of the Arctic Council. Its meetings are prepared
by the Arctic Council Chair and normally take place in the country of the Chair.
The five main working groups of the Council reflect the structure of the AEPS, with
addition of Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) that consists of the SAOs and
representatives of Permanent Participants who facilitate completion of work on the specific
projects and propose possible priority areas for the future.
Implemented in the framework of the EU’s agreements with the Baltic countries, Russia
and the European Economic Area regulations, the Northern Dimension programme of the
European Community covers the Arctic region, the Baltic Sea region and North-Western Russia.
The areas for co-operation under the Northern Dimension are the environment, nuclear safety,
energy and business co-operation, social development, etc. The programme is designed to
address the specific regional development challenges of northern Europe, including harsh
climatic conditions, long distances, particularly wide living standard disparities, environmental
challenges including problems with nuclear waste and waste water management, as well as
insufficient transport and border crossing facilities. The EU’s financial instruments available for
the region are Phare, TACIS and Interreg.


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2.2.3 Northern Experience of Developing Sustainability Indicators
In November 1998, the Nordic Prime Ministers and the political heads of the selfgoverning
areas adopted the Declaration on a sustainable Nordic Region. Four years later, the
Nordic Strategy for Sustainable Development has been developed on the instruction of the
Prime Ministers to the Nordic Council of Ministers to prepare an inter-sectoral strategy for the
Nordic Region.
The Strategy includes targets and measures for the period 2001-2004, and long-term
objectives for sustainable development in the Nordic Region before 2020. In continuation of the
overall and general objectives in the Prime Ministers’ Declaration, the Strategy includes targets
and measures for a number of prioritised sectors and action areas (Nordic Council of Ministers,
In particular, a common set of Nordic sustainability indicators has been designed, with
taking the experience of some countries of the region into consideration.
Finland was among the first European countries to turn sustainability from a theoretical
concept into a strategy. Between 1990 and 1995, the two fundamental policy papers have been
adopted, Sustainable Development and Finland and Finnish Action for Sustainable
Development. The current government programme on sustainable development was adopted in
June 1998 by the Finnish National Commission for Sustainable Development (FNCSD) created
in 1993, and is designed to promote ecological sustainability and the socio-economic and
cultural preconditions for achieving this objective. The programme sets a framework policy and
guides actors in planning, decision-making, and other activities within the scope of the strategic
objectives and key action for sustainable development. The stake of the Saami indigenous
people has also been taken into account.
Finland was an official test nation for UNSCD sustainability indicators. However, only
those indicators relevant to Finland (a total of 57, comprising 13 social, 14 economic and 30
environmental) were reported. The first national set of indicators was developed over 2 years
and published in April 2000. The main institution co-ordinating the developments was the
Finnish Ministry of the Environment, with other key ministries very much involved (EC, 2003).
The procedure was co-ordinated through a Working Group on Indicators. In choosing
sustainability indicators, comments and suggestions were requested from NGOs and experts as
well as the FNCSD. The main driver was the development of sustainability programme within
Finland. Thus, the indicators are very relevant to different policies set by the participating
ministries. In addition, efforts were made to make the sustainability indicators accessible to all
decision makers and the public (EC, 2003).
Currently, 85 indicators are in use. Major themes covered are:

Intergenerational equity;
Human health and well-being;
Distributional equity;

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Adapting to the future;
Global responsibility;
Environmental pressures;
Preserving natural resources; and
Eco-efficiency and community structure;
Unlike other Scandinavian countries, which place a strong emphasis on environmental

sustainability, the Finnish indicators place more of an emphasis on the socio-cultural dimension
of sustainability.
Sweden is often regarded as one of the forerunners in environmental policy. In terms of

implementing Local Agenda 21 it is perhaps the leading country in Europe: local sustainability
indicators are used in 42% of the 289 Swedish municipalities (Eckerberg and Mineur, 2003).
Unlike the most EU Member States, Sweden began to develop national sustainability

indicators before publishing a NSDS (published only in 2002). Since a notion of sustainability in
Sweden is intimately linked with ecological issues, the development of sustainability indicators
resulted in a set of 12 Green Headline Indicators published in 1999 by the Environmental
Advisory Council. This indicator system focused on environmental aspects and on the change
of behaviour among certain societal groups (Eckerberg and Mineur, 2003). The second set of
Swedish indicators (Statistics Sweden, 2001) consists of 30 existing measures which can be
broadly categorised into the 3 branches of SD such as 10 environmental, 12 economic and 8
social indicators. However, the indicators are structured along four themes of sustainability
rather than along these dimensions.
The themes represented are:

Efficiency (resource use from different perspectives);
Adaptability (actions today that will influence the situation in coming years);
Contribution and Equality (distributional aspects of development, in terms of

sharing both the burdens and benefits in different areas);
Values and resources for coming generations (economic, ecological and human

resources passed on to future generations).
Within these themes, the indicators encompass economic, environmental and social

dimensions. The approach considers how qualitative increases in the components of efficiency,
contribution and equality and adaptability strengthen the values for coming generations to
continue and expand sustainability. As the Swedish indicators have been developed without a
national SD Strategy and before the Gothenburg Summit, only climate change and public health
are covered relatively well of all agreed EU priorities. There is only one transport indicator and
the indicators for management of natural resources are not explicit enough (EC, 2003).
Canada’s NSDS arose from the Project de societé, the Canadian forum and a multistakeholder
process for planning the Canadian sustainable future (1992-1994). The main
instrument for formulating government sustainability policies in Canada is the National Round

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Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), an independent federal agency reporting
directly to the Prime Minister (Yanarella, 1999; Devuyst and Hens, 2000; Smith, 2002).
The NRTEE was the implementing agency for the development of the national set of

sustainability indicators. The Environment and Sustainable Development Indicators (ESDI)
project started in September 2000 and, apart from creating the national indicator set, included
developing a comprehensive Canadian Information System on the Environment (CISE)
designed to serve as a database for the indicators. The project lasted three years and was
completed in March 2003, with the release of the final report with the set of indicators, analysis
and recommendations (NRTEE, 2003).
The initiative’s goal was to develop a small set of indicators reflecting the most important

aspects of environmental and economic situation and easily understood by broad Canadian
public, using the views of a broad range of stakeholders and experts. The indicators which were
finally agreed upon are:
1. Natural capital indicators:

Air Quality Trend Indicator: a population-weighted measure of exposure to

ground-level ozone;
Freshwater Quality Indicator: a national sample of the state of water quality;
Greenhouse as Emissions Indicator: the national total of annual emissions of

greenhouse gases;
Forest Cover Indicator: the percentage of Canada’s total ground area covered by

forests; and
Extent of Wetlands Indicator: the percentage of Canada’s total ground area

covered by wetlands.
2. Human capital indicator:

Educational Attainment: the percentage of the population between the ages of 25
and 64 that has gained upper-secondary and tertiary-level educational
qualifications (at least a university bachelor’s degree) (NRTEE, 2003).
The Canadian approach to developing sustainability indicators is essentially

econocentric. The indicators’ role is understood to complement the national macroeconomic
indicators, first of all the gross domestic product (GDP). Central to the approach is the notion of
“capital” which includes produced (machinery, buildings, transportation networks, etc), human
(people’s knowledge and abilities) and natural (space to live, raw materials to utilise, a clean
environment within which to function) capital, i.e. an increased emphasis on wealth is in the core
of the indicator development process where wealth is “a broader concept that encompasses the
basis for generating production now and in the future” (Smith, 2002; NRTEE, 2003).
Canada chose not to include either consumption or pressure indicators in its small set of

representative indicators. Consequently, many aspects of Canada’s environment and society
remain uncovered by the relevant indicators.

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Norway’s NSDS was published in 2002 and the national Agenda 21 in October 2003 as
a part of the National Budget 2004. The Government’s sustainability priorities are:
a development policy leading to poverty reduction and sustainable societies;
counteraction of global climate changes;
protection of biodiversity and the cultural environment;
reduction of energy expenditure;
guaranteeing sustainable fishing, agriculture and forestry solutions;
pollution reduction;
encouraging sustainable patterns of production and expenditure through

international co-operation; and
ensuring the interests of the Saami indigenous people (Alfsen, 2004).
In December 2003, the Ministry of Finance appointed an expert committee responsible
for drawing up Norway’s main sustainability indicators. The preliminary themes and indicators
Climate Change: greenhouse gas emissions compared to the Kyoto target;
Acidification: Percentage of Norway's land area where the critical load for

acidification has been exceeded;
Terrestrial Ecosystems: Bird index - Population trends of nesting wild birds;
Freshwater Ecosystems: Rivers and lakes with clearly good ecological status;
Coastal Ecosystems: Localities in costal waters with clearly good ecological

Efficiency of Resource Use: Energy use per unit GDP;
Management of Renewable Resources: Recommended quota, TAC actually set

and catches of Northeast Arctic cod;
Hazardous Substances: Household consumption of hazardous substances;
Sources of Income: Net national income per capita, by sources of income;
Sustainable Consumption: Petroleum adjusted savings;
Level of Education: Population by highest level of education completed;
Sustainable Public Finance: Generational accounts: Need for tightening of public

finances as share of GDP;
Health and Welfare: Life expectancy at birth;
Exclusion from the Labour Market: Long-term unemployed persons and disability

Global Poverty Reduction: Trade with Africa, by least developed countries and

other African countries;
Global Poverty Reduction: Norwegian development assistance as percentage of

gross national income.


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As in case of Canada, Norway’s indicator set is based on the notion of comprehensive
national wealth which is considered to include real, financial, human and natural capital.
However, Norway’s set is the only one taking into consideration the suggestions from the Nordic
Council and including their Arctic-specific indicators into the national indicator set (Alfsen, 2004).
Created in 1971, the Nordic Council of Ministers is the co-operative body of the
ministers of the five Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden,
implementing the recommendations of the Nordic Council, which is an independent consultative
body of the Nordic countries consisting of 87 elected members. Each member country of the
Nordic Council of Ministers appoints a minister to be responsible for the co-ordination of the
Nordic co-operation. Apart from that, there are ministers in charge of specific departments and
sectors, including the environment, who regularly meet throughout the year.
The common sustainable development strategy for the Nordic countries started in 1998
as the Oslo Declaration on a sustainable Nordic Region. In 2001, the Strategy itself was
adopted (Nordic Council of Ministers, 2001). It is the overall framework forming the basis for
Nordic sub-strategies and action plans and setting the targets and measures for the period of
2001-2004, as well as the long-term objectives for sustainable development in the Nordic
Region before 2020. Apart from the environment co-operation between the Nordic countries, the
Strategy focuses on the five priority areas: climate, biodiversity, the seas, chemicals, and food
safety. Efforts to promote public participation, strengthening of local Agenda 21 activities, and
resource efficiency are also emphasised.
One of the strategy’s recommendations is to design a set of the “pan-Nordic”
sustainability indicators to demonstrate the developments in relation to the strategy’s specific
targets. Such a set was released in December 2003 (Nordic Council of Ministers, 2003). It
includes 15 major themes: Key Indicators, Climate Change, Biological Diversity and Genetic
Resources, the Sea, Chemicals, Food Safety, Energy, Transport, Agriculture, Business and
Industry, Fisheries, Hunting and Aquaculture, Forestry, Knowledge Base and Instruments,
Resource Efficiency, and Public Participation and Local Agenda 21.
Each major theme is divided into thematic sub-categories linked to one of the Strategy’s
targets and represented by one or several indicators. For example, Key Indicators comprise
around 30 indicators (Demographic Profile, Cases of Lung Cancer, Air Quality in Urban Areas,
Implementation of the Aarhus Convention, etc) “pinpointing a small number of problems
concerning sustainable development” in the Nordic countries (Nordic Council of Ministers,
In the end of each section, perspectives for developing new indicators are discussed to
enhance the coverage of the environmental, economic and social considerations. The number
of new problem areas are necessary to be included such as accessible drinking water, nutrients
in rivers and streams, binding of green gases (sinks), use of precautionary principle in the
Nordic countries, etc. As a consequence, new directions for improvement of the Nordic indicator


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set are established. Even in its present format it is a valuable instrument for measuring progress
towards sustainability in the Arctic and can be used as a framework for designing sustainability
indicators for those Arctic regions that still do not have their own sustainability indicator sets.


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2.3 Russia and Sustainability Process
2.3.1 Sustainable Development in Russia: A Historical Background
Deep economic, social and political changes during the 1990s and high levels of
environmental contamination in many regions inherited from the Soviet era seemed to leave no
option for Russia as to accept the universal concept of sustainable development to help the
country improve economic, human and environmental conditions. Indeed, Russia embraced the
important events related to sustainable development being an active participant in the Rio
Conference and having signed Agenda 21, the Rio Convention and the Forest Principles. In
August 1992, the Interagency Commission for Elaboration of Decisions of the Rio Conference
applied to Russia was established. Yet the first draft of the national plan for sustainable
development, which the Commission submitted to the government, very much resembled a
Soviet traditional approach to elaborating government documents (Tysiachniouk, 1999).
In the aftermath of the Rio a number of important legislative acts have been adopted,
amongst them the Presidential Decree “On the National Strategy of the Russian Federation for
the Protection of the Environment and the Ensuring of Sustainable Development” that laid a
foundation for the country’s environmental policy formulation and stated Russia’s commitment to
sustainable development in the context of achieving economic growth in balance with the
environment. The government was authorised to develop an environmental protection action
plan for 1994-1995. In 1996, the Presidential Decree “On the Concept of Transition of the
Russian Federation to Sustainable Development” approved the development of a national
concept on sustainable development. Combined with several federal and regional target
programmes in the sphere of environmental protection and sustainable development, it reflects
the importance of creating a legal basis for sustainability through the enforcement of economic
instruments for resource use and environmental protection; outlines the need for the stimulation
of economic activity while establishing liability for the environmental consequences of such
activity; underlines the importance of developing the methods for quantification of the absorption
capacity of local ecosystems; and highlights the importance of disseminating the idea of
sustainable development within Russian society (Oldfield, 2001).
The major national policy documents, “Main Directions of the Long-term Socio-economic
Development of Russia for the Period of 2000-2010” and “ Strategy of the Socio-economic
development for the period till 2010” highlight the following few priority areas for sustainable
regional environmental management: enhancement of environmental conditions

in the areas with crisis ecological situation, development of the protected areas


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making national economy more environmentally-friendly: modernisation of
industrial production, development of innovation programmes, reduction of
energy and resources consumption and contaminants emissions, introduction of
the international EIA standards;
environmental aspects of Russia’s integration into the world economy (Limonova

and Olshanskaya, 2001).
Russia provided necessary information to the UNCSD during the Rio+5 New York
Summit in 1997 and prepared a detailed national report for the upcoming WSSD (Limonova and
Olshanskaya, 2001). During the Summit, the government report “National Assessment of
Progress of the Russian Federation in Transition to Sustainable Development” (MEDT, 2002),
as well as the major publication on sustainable development in Russia, “Strategy and Problems
of Sustainable Development in Russia in the 21

st Century” (Granberg et al, 2002), were
presented. These documents provide a legal basis for a long-awaited national sustainable
development concept prepared by the parliamentary working group and accepted by the State
Duma in December 1997. The concept, however, still needs to be approved by President.
Consequently, Russia lacks a national Agenda 21 which is the most important sustainable
development strategy document. As Ursul and Romanovich (2003) argue, working out
theoretical and conceptual basis for the strategy and its “scientific” interpretation is essentially
the distinct feature of Russian approach to the problem of sustainable development. The
authors whose work was published in January 2003 contemplate that the strategy will be
adopted in 2003. However, three years later, by mid 2006 Russia’s national sustainable
development concept still has not been approved.
In absence of a clear sustainable development strategy, a number of Russian
environmental NGOs produced The Ecological Doctrine of the Russian Federation which was
approved by the then Prime-Minister Mikhail Kasyanov in late August 2002. Different versions of
this doctrine focus on outlining the ways in which the existing administrative and economic
systems can be developed to implement a more sustainable form of development (Oldfield,
2001). Nevertheless, the doctrine has never served as an official basis for Russia’s
environmental policy.
A somewhat rigid attitude of the Putin administration towards environmental issues that
some authors refer to as a “de-ecologisation” (Oldfield, 2002; Oldfield and Shaw, 2002; Larin et
al, 2003) and that was marked by the demise of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and
Natural Resources and transfer of its functions to the Ministry of Natural Resources, differs
sharply from th Yeltsin administration’s approach to environmental protection. Indeed, Bobylev
(2005) points out that at Russia’s present economic development, the environmental factor is
virtually ignored. As the same author pointed out earlier (Bobylev, 2004), official government
short-term, medium-term and long-term programmes give minimal attention to environmental
problems. Environmental protection in the Russian government is now vested in three bodies:

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the Ministry of Natural Resources; the Federal Agency for Hydrometeorology and Environmental
Monitoring; and the Federal Environmental, Technological and Nuclear Inspectorate. This
disintegration of environmental management does not promote environmental sustainability.
Departmental functions may be duplicated (for example, the situation with environmental
inspections is confusing) or, conversely, overlooked (for example, accurate identification of
pollution impact on public health). The dramatic history of administrative rearragements in the
Russian environmental agencies and of their dismal results for national environmental policies is
given in Larin et al (2003).
The consequences of this change can be better illustrated by the number of major
environment-related legislative acts passed during Yeltsin administration compared to those
adopted during Putin administration. During the 1990s, federal legislation concerning important
environmental issues such as Wildlife Act, 24 April 1994; Protected Areas Act, 14 March 1995;
Environmental Assessment Act, 23 November 1995 as amended on 15 April 1995; Water Code,
16 November 1995; State Control on Genetic Modification Act, 5 July 1996; Air Code, 19 March
1997 as amended on 8 July 1999; Industrial and Consumption Waste Act, 24 June 1998; and
Atmospheric Air Protection Act, 4 May 1999, have been adopted. In total, about 20 federal laws
concerning various aspects of environmental protection have been passed, compared to only 4
passed by the State Duma since late 1999, i.e. when Vladimir Putin became de facto Russia’s
President. As Larin et al (2003) argue, just one environmental legislative act was passed by the
State Duma between 2000 and 2003.
With the undeniable importance of fundamental environmental legislation such as the
Land Code and Environmental Protection Act, 12 January 2002, recent legislation, especially
the Land Code and a draft Forest Code are biased towards economic benefits of land use and
forest exploitation and underestimate the environmental consequences of such activity. Some
latest amendments to the 1997 Forest Code to be adopted in 2006 by the State Duma introduce
a Western-like version of forest ownership permitting unlimited exploitation of forest resources
held in private property. With Russia’s state forest agency continuously underfunded, this
means the complete destruction of Russian forest ecosystems in nearest 20 years. Similar
example is the legislation concerning export to Russia of nuclear waste for storage recently
passed by the State Duma.
Leading Russian legal experts (Zlotnikova, 1998; Mukhamet-Irekle, 2002; Bogolyubov,
2003) hold that the current “top-down” enactment practice in Russia is rather imperfect and
improving the Russian environmental legislation is only possible with the broad public
involvement and taking into consideration justified, efficient legal norms. In particular, Bobylev
(2004) argues that rather extensive environmental legislation in Russia dispersed among 800
various documents lacks enforcement mechanisms and allows a large number of violations go
unpunished, with available legal norms such as high penalties, closure of environmentally
harmful enterprises or legal claims by citizens and NGOs for environmental damage not


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