Educate. Connect. Inspire

Educate. Connect. Inspire

Apr 27, 2012


Russia is the largest country of the world, covering 11.5% of its territory. It extends from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Japan Sea in the east and it comprises 11 time zones. Russia has 14 neighbours: Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, North Korea, Norway, Poland, and Ukraine. The capital city is Moscow. Another very important administrative and cultural centre is Saint Petersburg, often referred to as the second capital. There are over 1000 towns and cities in Russia.

Russia enjoys a vast territory, rich historic and cultural heritage and wild nature in many of its regions. The size and diversity of landscapes make it anything but a dull country. From sea resorts at the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea and the forests of the Central Russia to the foothills of the Caucasus, Siberian taiga and the Far East one has plenty of things to discover.

Russia’s rich history bears the traces of Vikings, ancient Slavs, Mongols and Tatars, Scythians, Swedish, Greeks and other peoples. Grand princes, monarchs and emperors adjoined and lost lands and peoples. Democratic and authoritarian rulers replacing one another, built palaces, established museums, left mausoleums and grand multi-storey buildings, powerful power plants, but also camps for the repressed.

Environmental challenges in Russia

Decades of Soviet mismanagement have resulted in the catastrophic pollution of land, air, rivers, and seacoasts, although the USSR did manage reforestation with some success.
  • By-products of nuclear weapons production caused permanent damage in southern Siberia, and in the Ural Mountains. The Soviet military tested nuclear weapons on the islands of Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Ocean, which was their second testing site after Semey, Kazakhstan. Nuclear reactors and wastes were dumped into the Barents and Kara seas of the far north, and in far eastern Siberia. Dumping of nuclear wastes in the Sea of Japan continued until 1993. The disposal of nuclear submarines and nuclear waste is still a problematic issue. Although some have been decommissioned, many are still docked at Russian ports as a result of a lack of money and facilities for storing nuclear wastes. Moreover, fallout from the explosion at Ukraine’s Chernobyl’ nuclear power plant affected Russia primarily in Bryansk Oblast.
  • Air pollution is especially a problem in the Urals and Kuznetsk (hazardous emissions from metal-processing plants) as well as in the Volga and Moscow regions. Russia's air is among the most polluted in the world, although its quality has been improving since the 1990s. Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Volgograd, as well as other major industrial and population centers, are the highest concentrations of air pollution. When industrial production declined, emissions of air pollutants from those sources also declined, although the amount of motor vehicles on the roads skyrocketed. Currently, vehicle emissions exceed industry emissions in most Russian cities.
  • Water pollution is a serious problem in Russia. Obsolete and inefficient water treatment facilities, as well as a lack of funding, have caused heavy pollution, and also resulted in waterborne disease spread. Many Russian cities are not equipped with adequate sewage treatment plants. Lake Baikal was previously a target of environmental pollution from paper plants, but cleanup efforts since then have greatly reduced the ecological strain on the lake. The Volga River has been damaged through rash exploitation of hydroelectric power. Pollutants released into rivers have accumulated in lakes and seas with limited water exchange, including the Caspian Sea, the Sea of Azov, and the Black Sea. A toxic layer of hydrogen sulfide covers the Black Sea, due in part to organic compounds from agricultural byproducts and untreated sewage.
  • Chemical fertilizers and airborne pollutants have contaminated some agricultural areas. Soil resources have also been adversely affected by mismanagement. Broad areas of land in southern Russia suffer from erosion. Wind erosion has affected the more arid parts of the North Caucasus, lower Volga River basin, and western Siberia.
  • Airborne pollutants have caused damage to vegetation in many areas of Russia. Forests in more accessible parts of the country suffer from deforestation caused by extensive logging. Illegal logging is also widespread, especially in the north-west and in the Far East parts of Russia. Some large stands of undisturbed forests are protected in Russia’s extensive network of national reserves and parks. Adequate funding for park rangers and other personnel is lacking, however, and poaching of endangered animals such as the Siberian tiger has increased as a result. Inefficient logging and clearcutting strategies result in 40% of harvested trees never being used, and the implementation of forest protection policies has been slow. About 3.1% of Russia's total land area was protected as of 2001. The same year, there were 31 mammal species, 38 bird species, and 129 species of plants listed as threatened. Endangered species include Atlantic sturgeon, beluga, crested shelduck, Amur leopard, Siberian tiger, Mediterranean monk seal, Wrangel lemming, and the Oriental stork. The great auk, Palla's cormorant, and Steller's sea cow have become extinct.
  • Climate change will prove to have profound impacts on Russia’s environment, economy and society. Environmental concerns include fresh water scarcity (due in part to irrational use of water and fresh water waste), thawing of permafrost impacting natural ecosystems, and melting of Arctic glaciers. Some of the most vulnerable sectors involve agriculture, forestry, water supply systems, buildings and engineering constructions, transportation infrastructure in the permafrost zones, etc.
Citizens’ community involvement

Civic engagement in Russia is quite low. One reason may be a lack of public trust in CSOs as just one third of the people trust CSOs of at least one kind. In addition, low levels of trust in political institutions in general could cause low levels of political involvement. Moreover, a few negative phenomena can be observed in Russia. Firstly, there are servile organisations built from above by the party in power or other political groups that are focused on discrediting political opponents in rather dubious ways. Neither founders nor members of these organisations are interested in public recognition of their activities. Secondly, there are coalitions of opposition groups which arise quickly and disappear just as fast, being established only for short-term political goals.

However, while there are low levels of involvement in formal voluntary work connected with CSO activities, a more positive picture emerges if volunteering outside formal CSO structures is examined. A research investigating volunteering in Russia conducted by the CSCSNS in 2009 shows that volunteer engagement is much more widespread. This study showed that 61% of Russians took part in at least one kind of voluntary activity during the past year. When natural fires spread across Russia in 2010, CSOs showed their capabilities as catalysts of constructive public activity under emergency conditions.

The predominant type of attitude towards the environment in Russia is characterised by the adaptation of environmental behaviour to modern life and a distancing of most of the population from participating in solving ecological problems. However, environmental NGOs are active campaigners. The Russian environmental movement appears to be well entrenched, with environmental organisations working in each of Russia’s eighty-nine constituent regions and actively addressing issues from nuclear safety to protection of local parks. The methods of civil society’s work to sustain the environment include advocacy, practical actions to clean environment, resolutions and open letters.

Government environmental policies

In 2005, the environmental legal framework in Russia comprised more than 30 federal laws as compared to only six laws/codes that existed in the early 1990s. Furthermore, environmental requirements are scattered through hundreds of secondary legal acts. Besides domestic legislation, many international legal acts have been ratified. There are many other sources of environmental law, for instance judicial practice and judicial precedent. As a consequence, it is not always clear which norms apply in a specific case thus creating confusion for regulators and regulatees alike.

Russian law does not provide for an integrated environmental permit. Companies must obtain separate permits, each aimed at either protecting a specific environmental medium or regulating a specific type of environmental impact. Companies must generally obtain permits for: air emissions, water use, waste water discharge, waste management or placement. In addition, most industrial facilities must arrange for a sanitary protection (a buffer) zone and have it approved by the controlling public agency. Additional permits may be required subject to the nature of the specific industrial facility.

There are no specific environmental taxes. However, companies make payments for "any adverse environmental impact on the environment" that their activities cause, which can be viewed, under certain circumstances, as an environmental tax. The polluter is the main party liable to pay environmental taxes.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

CSR in Russia has been developing in the last years. There are a lot of practical examples of social investments made by Russian businesses. However, only the big businesses (Russian corporations and transnational companies) and familiar with the notion of CSR may afford to have CSR in place and only a handful of companies are able to work in the sphere of local community development.

Despite the unfavourable legislative environment, hundreds of thousands of commercial companies find “holes” in the legislation in order to carry out charity activity. In the year 2002 67% of top manager considered charity a pure altruism, and only 7% thought it will allow the company to advance its work with the target markets. The overall environment for charity in Russia is considered as unsatisfactory by 76 % of companies’ top managers.

The negative side of the otherwise rather positive picture of CSR in Russia is that where social investments are made on a wider scale (and also locally), the areas of concern are strongly pointed out to the companies by the authorities. In other words, companies find themselves obliged by authorities to fund certain projects and invest in certain social infrastructure. This pattern cannot be called a genuine CSR.

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