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Measuring Sustainability in the Russian Arctic: An Interdisciplinary Study

by Votrin, Valery, PhD

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ice-free port and the main base for the country's fishing industry. The main industrial centres are
Murmansk, Apatity, Kandalaksha, Monchegorsk, Kirovsk, Olenegorsk, and Severomorsk. The
regional economy is orientated towards natural resource use and primary production. The
region is a global reserve of commercial minerals producing 100% of the apatite used in Russia,
43% of the nickel, 14% of the refined copper, 14% of the edible fish products and 12% of the
iron ore concentrate. The mining complex includes companies in the mining, chemical,
nonferrous and ferrous metallurgy, and building material sectors. Nonferrous metallurgy ranks
first in the industrial structure (31%), followed by the power industry (21%), the food industry,
including the fishing industry (20%), and the chemical industry (12%). The region's largest
industrial companies are Severonikel in Monchegorsk (nickel and other nonferrous ores),
Pechenganikel in Zapolyarny (refined copper, nickel, cobalt, and sulfuric acid), Kandalaksha
Aluminum Smelter (KAZ; primary aluminum), Olenegorsk Mining and Processing Complex
(Olkon), Kovdor Mining and Processing Complex (Kovdorsky GOK; iron ore concentrate), Apatit
in Kirovsk (apatite concentrate), the Murmanrybprom (fishing, fish processing and sales), the
Nerpa Shipyard in Murmansk, the Kola Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), Kolenergo, and three
fishing fleets, including the Murmansk Trawler Fleet (the largest fleet in the sector). Severonikel
and Pechenganikel are owned by the Norilsk Nickel Corporation. The forests in Murmansk
Oblast are the most northerly forests in European Russia. Forest areas occupy 65.5% of the
region's territory, although the northern part is mainly tundra and the southern part is in the taiga
zone, so that only 34.3% of the region is actually covered with forest and it is very unevenly
Nenets Autonomous Okrug borders on Russia’s Komi Republic in the south,
Arkhangelsk Oblast in the southwest, and Yamal-Nenets AO in the northeast. The region
extends in a belt along the Arctic coast, with shorelines on the White, Barents, and Kara seas. It
covers an area of 176,700 km2 and includes Kolguev and Vaigach islands. The region was
formed on 15 July 1929. The population is 48,100 people (60% urban), and the population
density is 0.3 people per km2. There are two ports: Naryan-Mar and Amderma. The capital is
Naryan-Mar with a popoluation of 26,600 people. The area is located in the Pechora Lowlands,
which extend from Timan Ridge to the Pai-Khoi Range. Naryan-Mar is situated above the Arctic
Circle on the region's largest river, the Pechora. The city has a river dock 110 km from the
Barents Sea and an airport. The main industrial sectors are the food industry (fish, milk, and
meat canning) and the forest industry. A Timan-Pechora territorial production complex is
forming around development of oil, gas, and coalfields in Nenets AO and the Komi Republic.
The leading economic activities are reindeer herding, fishing, hunting, and sealing, particularly
among the indigenous population.
Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug is located on the West Siberian Plain, a small part
of its territory being situated on the eastern slopes of the Polar Urals (the town of Payer,
elevation 1499 m). It has an area of more than 750,000 km2. More than 50% of the region lies


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north of the Arctic Circle. The region borders on the Komi Republic in the west, the Khanty-
Mansi AO in the south, and the Taimyr AO in the east. Its northern boundary is on the Arctic
Ocean and is a part of the national boundary of the Russian Federation. It has a population of
about 500,000 people, including 32,000 native people (Nenets, Khanty, and Selkup). The
capital is Salekhard, which celebrated its 400th anniversary in 1995. Yamal-Nenets AO is a
resource-producing region. The oil and gas industry is the leading economic sector, with a 93%
share in total industrial production. More than 90% of Russia's natural gas and 12% of its oil are
produced here. The leading gas companies are RAO Gazprom, AO Urengoigazprom, AO
Nadymgazprom, AO Yamburggazdobycha, and its subsidiary Surgutgazprom. These
companies produce 99% of natural gas, and their resource base constitutes 85% of the area's
total reserves. The largest gas fields include Urengoi, Medvezhye, Yamburg, and Vyngapur.
Intensive oil field development is going on along with gas production. The main oil-producing
companies are AO Noyabrskneftegaz, and AO Purneftegaz, which produce 96% of oil.
Noyabrskneftegaz is now part of Sibneft, an oil producing operation that is developing 145
fields. AO Rosneft-Purneftegaz has 13 operating pools, more than 80% of which belong to three
fields: Tarasovskoe, Barsukovskoe, and Kharampurskoe. Due to the severe climate, agriculture
in the region is limited to reindeer herding, hunting, fishing, and fur farming; reindeer herding
accounts for 92.2% of all agricultural production. Yamal-Nenets AO has a developed finance
and banking system. Thirty-eight credit institutions and 10 insurance organisations operate in
the region. The main clients of the region's commercial banks are large oil- and gas-producing
companies; thus, real economic sector is the basis of their operations.
Taimyr Autonomous Okrug occupies the Taimyr Peninsula to its extreme end at
Chelyuskin Cape (including the islands between the Yenisei Gulf and Khatanga Gulf), the
northern part of the Central Siberian Plateau, and the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago. It is the
only Russia’s region located entirely above the Arctic Circle. It is also Russia's largest
autonomous region in the area. It has a total area of 862,100 km2. The population is 44,300
people and the population density 0.05 people per km2. Urban residents make up 64% of the
population. The administrative centre of Taimyr is Dudinka (population – 31,800 people). The
Unified Municipal Formation of Norilsk, which is under the administration of Krasnoyarsk Krai, is
located in Taimyr. It includes the cities of Norilsk, Kayerkan, and Talnakh and the town of
Snezhnogorsk. The largest enthic groups are Russians (67% of the population), Dolgans (9%),
Ukrainians (9%), Nenets (4%), and Nganasans (1.5%); the remaining nationalities make up
10% of the population. The main industrial sectors are the food (baking, fishing), fuel (coal), and
power industries. Three gas fields operate in the region, alluvial gold and platinoids are being
mined, and underground water reservoirs being exploited. There are also companies in the
printing and food industries. Reindeer herding, fur farming (blue and silver fox), and fur trapping
are the primary agricultural sectors.


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The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) is situated in the northeastern part of the Eurasian
continent. The total area of the continental and island (consisting of Lyakhov, Anzhu, and
DeLong islands belonging to the Novosibirsk Islands of the Arctic Ocean) territory of Sakha is
3,103,200 km2. More than two-fifths of the republic are above the Arctic Circle. The region
borders on Krasnoyarsk Krai in the west, Irkutsk Oblast in the southwest, Amur and Chita
Oblasts in the south, Khabarovsk Krai in the southeast, and Magadan Oblast and Chukotka in
the east. Its natural northern borders are the Laptev and East Siberian seas. The total length of
the coastline is 4500 km. Almost all of Sakha's continental territory is in the continuous
permafrost zone, which grades into the discontinuous zone only in the extreme southeast. The
permafrost layer is 300-400 m thick on average, with a maximum thickness of 1500 m in the
Vilyui River basin. The region’s population is about 980,000 people. Despite the region's huge
area, its population density has been ten times lower than in European Russia throughout the
past century. The population is spread out over 676 communities, most of which (601) are
villages; nevertheless, 65% of the region's population lives in cities and industrial communities.
Diamond mining is the leading sector of the republic's mining industry. The main ore-bearing
structures consisting of both primary and alluvial deposits are located in Western Sakha. At
present, about 800 kimberlite pipes have been preliminarily evaluated; 150 of these contain
diamonds, including 13 that contain diamonds in commercial concentrations. Coal industry is an
important energy sector. Other important mineral resources include nonferrous and rare metals
such as tin, tungsten, antimony, and niobium, which are still not being fully utilised. It is
significant that 100% of the antimony concentrate and 60% of the tin concentrate in Russia are
produced in Sakha's Verkhoyansk-Kolyma ore province, while deposits of the remaining metals
are still in reserve.
Chukotka Autonomous Okrug is located in northeastern Russia on the Chukotka (or
Chukchi) Peninsula and adjoining mainland. The area includes Wrangel, Ratmanov, and other
islands. It borders the Republic of Sakha, Kamchatka and Magadan Oblasts, and the East
Siberian, Chukchi, and Bering seas. The region was formed on 10 December 1930. It has an
area of 737,700 km2 and the population of 83,000 people, with the population density of 0.1
people per km2. Native people make up a third of the total population; they include Chukchis
(about 17,000 people), Chuvantsy (about 1500), Evens (about 700-800), and Yukaghirs (less
than 500). The population of Chukotka has decreased drastically in recent years as a direct
consequence of a continuing decline in gold production on the peninsula and resettlement
policies. Gold mining is the peninsula's primary industry. The leading industrial sectors are the
power, coal, gold mining, food, and fishing industries. The region’s capital, Anadyr, is a centre of
the food industry, while Uelen settlement is a centre for artistic trades. Mineral resources include
gold, tungsten, tin, coal, and copper. The best-known deposits are Valkumei and Pyrkakai (tin)
and Anadyrskoe and Beringovskoe (coal). Agriculture includes reindeer herding, fur farming and
trapping, sea mammal hunting, and greenhouse vegetable growing.


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The population of the Russian Arctic includes indigenous peoples, the “old settler”
population (Russians whose ancestors came to the Arctic several centuries ago, living in
regions including Markovo and Russkoe Ust’e, and the “reindeer” Yakuts of north-eastern
Siberia), and the immigrant population that has settled in the region over the past century and
consists mainly of Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians working in sectors such as industry,
transport, health and education. There are 45 indigenous peoples, a total of some 200,000
people (about 2% of the total population). About 80% of all indigenous people live in the Yamal-
Nenets, Khanty-Mansi, Taimyr and Chukotka AO. Twelve indigenous peoples live in the Arctic
itself: the Saami, Enets, Nenets, Khants, Nganasans, Dolgans, Evens, Evenkis, Chukchis,
Eskimos, Kereks and Yukagirs. Adjacent regions are inhabited by Selkups, Chuvans, Mansis
and Koryaks. Russia’s Arctic coast has a population of approximately 2,000 indigenous people,
who constitute approximately five per cent of the population in Sakha, ten per cent in
Krasnoyarsk Krai, three per cent in Arkhangelsk Oblast, 66 per cent in Murmansk Oblast, 15 per
cent in Tyumen Oblast and 100 per cent in Chukotka (Krasovskaya et al, 2000).
The Arctic is probably the most depressed region in Russia in both environmental and

socio-economic respects. Among environmental problems Russia’s Far North regions
encountered are:
high levels of air pollution with sulphur and nitrogen oxides and of soil and water

contamination with copper, nickel, cobalt, cyanides, lead, sulphur and arsenic,
especially around the Norilsk Nickel Plant and in the western part of the Kola
Peninsula (Severonikel and Pechenganikel plants);
pollution and the fall of booster stages from the missiles launched from Plesetsk

the burnings of by-product gas in the northern part of Western Siberia and in the

Pechora basin;
accidental oil spills and gas explosions from leaks in boreholes and pipelines

causing the greatest harm to the Arctic environment;
radioactive pollution on the Kola Peninsula and in the Novaya Zemlya

archipelago and submerged nuclear reactors from submarines and around
11,000 containers with radioactive waste at the bottom of the Barents and Kara
mechanical disturbance of vegetation from the movement of vehicles through the

tundra and from construction and other industrial impacts;
fires and deforestation caused by clear-cuttings which remain predominant

harvesting method; and
fish overcatching and severe biodiversity depletion, with bio-resources of the

Barents Sea and the White Sea close to disaster (Olsson and Sekarev, 1994;


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Poryadin and Zaslavsky, 1996; Vil’chek et al, 1996; Yevseyev and Krasovskaya,
1998; WWF, 2002b).
The most environmentally degraded regions in the Russian Arctic are the Kola and the

Yamal Peninsulas and the areas around Norilsk and Arkhangelsk. One of the difficult
international problems is the atmospheric transfer of pollutants across the national boundaries.
The sulphurous gas pollution from the Pechenganikel and Severonikel resulted in the
oxidisation of many lakes and death of forests on Norwegian and Finnish territory (Andreyev
and Olsson, 2003).
The following basic sustainable development principles for the Russian Arctic have

been formulated by Vil’chek et al (1996):
International importance and special interests of all humankind with respect to the

Arctic should be recognised;
National protectionism ensuring that the exploitation of all types of natural

resources cannot be the exclusive domain of individual public agencies, companies
or individuals, and the state is obliged to participate in the regulation of all aspects
of the environment use, relying on both economic and administrative management
Priority should be given to federal legislation over regional legislation and the role

of federal agencies in the natural resource management and in socio-economic
sphere increased;
The environment use should be diversified taking into account that the current use

of the environment has clearly destructive character;
A special environmental use programme should be set up that would require

acceptable technologies stricter than for other regions and increased responsibility
of those exploiting the environment;
A special status should be granted to the indigenous people of the North, with the

recognition of their social, economic and cultural vulnerability and their inalienable
right to the preservation of their traditional cultural, social and economic way of life;
The demilitarisation of the Arctic should be a special condition for implementing

preservation and restoration measures of the biota as well as for international cooperation
and scientific research in this area.
In addition, a model of sustainable development for the Russian Far North should set

as a priority task the development of a new “environmentally clean” management of natural
resources and the preservation of pristine areas in the Russian Arctic (Granberg et al, 2002).
Furthermore, Nuttall (2000) emphasises that indigenous communities and indigenous

peoples’ organisations are not against various forms of non-renewable resource development
and wish to participate in, and profit from, development activities if their social and economic

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diversity is recognised and maintained and indigenous skills and knowledge are enhanced,
with potentially taking into account indigenous environmental knowledge in EIA.
Several attempts have been recently made to assess socio-economic development
and human potential in the Russian Arctic and the rest of Russia’s northern territories. The
matrix of socio-economic indices, including HDI that can be used as a socio-economic
database providing a reflection of the standard of living for the indigenous peoples residing in
the Russian Arctic (Krasovskaya et al, 2000) was compiled on the basis of latest statistical
data. The matrix clearly demonstrates the regional differences in the level of social well-being
and economic prosperity of the arctic indigenous population and makes it possible to identify
the relationship of cause and effect between various pairs of factors. For a number of the
factors included in the matrix, values are provided for the Russian Federation as a whole and
for the Arctic region as a whole, which means that the level of social well-being and economic
prosperity in the Arctic can be compared with the national average.
This essentially economic model, however, reflects only a standard of living of the
indigenous population in the Russian Arctic and almost fails to consider environmental
aspects. A comprehensive sustainability assessment framework, taking into account specific
geographical and environmental features of the Arctic, has never been used for the
circumpolar regions of the Russian Federation. Given the strategic importance of the Arctic
coast for Russia, a sustainability indicator framework specific for the region is urgently


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3.1 Systemic Sustainability Analysis
Based on fundamental premises that sustainability can measure the integrality and
wholeness of any given system; subjectivity on the part of the stakeholders in any given system
is unavoidable; subjectively derived measures of sustainability are useful if the subjectivity is
explicitly accepted and declared at the outset and if the method for deriving the measures is
available to stakeholders; measures of sustainability can be valuable aids to planning,
forecasting and awareness-building; and rapid and participatory tools for developing and
modelling measures of sustainability are of value to a wide range of stakeholders within
development policy, the concept of Systemic Sustainability Analysis (SSA) was suggested by
Bell and Morse (1999) and further developed in Bell and Morse (2003).
SSA is essentially underlain by the systems approach and hence the complexity of
thinking about sustainability. Therefore, the assessment framework developed within the scope
of this study drew from the sources such as Bell and Morse (1999, 2003) and Bossel (1999)
who advocate the systems approach to the development of sustainability indicators, bearing in
mind that
“The systems aspect of sustainable development implies concern about a total
system composed of the many natural and human subsystems, while the long-term
aspect of sustainable development implies concern even about the future of these
systems... Full understanding of the total system is not possible but… it is usually
possible to capture essential processes and relationships even in crude models, and
the model can always be improved as new knowledge is gained about the system”
(Bossel, 1999).
At the core of SSA lies the soft systems method (SSM) designed by Checkland (1981)
and extended by Bell and Morse (1999, 2003) especially for the needs of sustainability
practitioners. Unlike the traditional reductionist “hard” approach taught in the most of academia,
the fundamental insight of their works relates to the fact that all environmental problems in the
world are usually “soft”, i.e. objectives are unclear, purposes are confused, and solutions are
not readily available. The method is based on holistic analysis and broad participation that helps
different stakeholders understand each other’s perspectives and create the human activity
systems – functions and processes – to achieve common purposes. Figure 3.1 demonstrates a
seven-stage process of SSM that starts from clarifying an unstructured or muddled problem
through developing a conceptual model in order to improve the situation.


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Figure 3.1. The soft systems method

Source: Bell and Morse (1999), adapted from Checkland (1981)
Bell and Morse (1999) mention the aspects of SSM most critical to the process of

sustainability indicator development. The practitioner should note the considerable time in
thinking about the problem and exploring the tasks implicit in it. The problem is not assumed to
be clear and may have many definitions. Each definition or transformation within the problem
needs to be agreed upon which ultimately should lead to an action plan to be compared to the
problem context. Finally, the stakeholders should be brought together to discuss the results and
thus be involved prior to action. Consequently, the method is iterative, participatory and ongoing
to lay a foundation for the SSA which is a “rapid, participatory, qualitative, descriptive approach
with a very clear explicit statement on what it is to be used for”.
Although it is stressed that SSA is “a developing and changing approach that

practitioners can adapt and change to meet the specific needs of the circumstances which
confront them” (Bell and Morse, 2003), a number of main steps need to be undertaken:
Establishment of the system to be measured and identification of stakeholders;
Identification of main sustainability indicators which have to be subjective and

dependent upon the stakeholder group;
Establishment of the band of equilibrium which is an agreed reference condition

for sustainability, or a sustainable state of affairs;
Development of a visual presentation model;
Extension of a visual presentation over time and understanding of tendencies

and important issues in terms of the stakeholder response to the information
provided (Bell and Morse, 1999).


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Building on this scheme, the approach was adopted which combined elements of the
systems approach and stakeholder participation with modern innovations such as the Internet to
arrive at the outputs specified.

3.2 Internet-Based Participatory Approach
Computer-based interactive tools can be very useful in promoting sustainability, raising
awareness of the current state of a system and providing advanced forms of information to
communities and decision-makers through the Internet. Interactive websites that share
environmental information and promote sustainable development practices can serve as focal
points for discussion and exploring public opinion concerning various sustainability initiatives.
Internet-based participatory approaches and on-line discussions are used more and more
frequently in developing regional and community sustainability indicator sets.
When contemplating which stakeholder groups in the Russian Arctic are to be involved
in the development of the regional sustainability indicator framework, first of all the vastness of
the area under study was taken into consideration. To reach possible stakeholders and get their
response, a format other than personal meetings or workshops was needed, although these
could also be important. Therefore, internet-based participatory tool in form of a website was
considered best suitable to achieve the goals of the project.

3.3 Indicator Identification and Selection Process
The Russian Arctic Sustainability Indicator Project website at: was launched on 25 November 2004. The website promotes citizen
participation and focuses on the bottom-up approach in designing sustainability indicators. A set
of interview questions was developed for gathering field data through an on-line questionnaire
to gain insights into how key informants perceive the sustainability indicator set developed. To
account for the larger context, external experts were also interviewed.
The website is structured around five main sections: the Questionnaire with the set of
Russian Arctic sustainability indicators and the on-line questionnaire; SDIs in Russia containing
the information about sustainability initiatives in Russia, including the projects in Tomsk and
Voronezh; Frequently Asked Questions concerning sustainable development, the indicators, the
Russian Arctic, etc; Links, and Contacts.
Figure 3.2 demonstrates the front page of the website.


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Figure 3.2. The Russian Arctic Sustainability Indicator Project website

At the core of the website is an on-line questionnaire with mandatory fields for comments
on economic, social, environmental and Arctic-specific indicators available in the same section.
The questionnaire includes also data on location, age, contact e-mail, and occupation of a
respondent. The indigenous aspect was emphasised by adding a special question whether a
respondent is a representative of a small indigenous ethnic group. The last question asks if a
respondent is willing to be contacted in future to discuss the problem of introduction of
sustainability indicators in the Russian Arctic regions.
An initial set of 51 indicators was published on the launch of the website. In designing
the initial long list of sustainability indicators and linking it to the development process, the most
important Russian sources were used including Bobylev and Makeenko (2002), Bobylev and
Soloviova (2003), ERM (2003) and Kozlovskaya (2003), and regional socio-economic
development programmes for the six Russian Arctic regions were taken into consideration.
International publications used to elicit core indicators for the Russian Arctic included Hass et al
(2003), DEFRA (2004), Nordic Council of Ministers (2003), UNCSD (2003), and IAEA (2005).
The initial long list of the indicators is given in Appendix.
Several professional newslists and Arctic forums were used to disseminate the
information about the project, and a number of individual experts preferred to give their opinions


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