Ecology and the Environment

René Nyberg, Moscow, 12-13 October 2018

RAND Business Leaders Forum

During my years in Russia I worked intensely with the paper and pulp, i.e. the forest industry. I soon realized that only the fisheries industry was in an even worse state than forestry. But the pits were and unfortunately remain the environment, ecology. Ekologitšeski tšisty (ecologically clean) is an expression every Russian understands.

Russia is neither the first nor the only country that encounters environmental problems. It is a commonplace that the environment cannot take more and that poisoning your own population is not only harmful but politically untenable. China is probably the most notable example because of the rigor with which the challenge has been met – the blue skies campaign.

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The broad and swift Neva is the Baltic’s largest tributary. It discharges more than twice the amount of water than the River Vistula in Poland. For centuries, it was St. Petersburg’s convenient disposal, sweeping refuse and sewage into the Gulf of Finland until nature could no longer take it.

The construction of a modern waste-water treatment plant in St. Petersburg some ten years ago was initiated by a Finnish NGO. It effectively eliminated one of the largest sources of pollution in the Baltic Sea and demonstrated for the first time that Russia could face up to a major ecological challenge in a responsible way. With the construction of this state-of-the-art water treatment facility, the changes have been dramatic. The waters in the Gulf of Finland have become distinctly cleaner.
The point here is not Finland, nor the seed money or the Nordic financing but the fact that building the facility became an ambitious project of the City of St. Petersburg. A visit to the Vodokanal Museum close the Smolny suffices to prove my point. The idea was planted by a Finnish NGO but the concept of cleaning its own waste waters was owned by the city itself. Vodokanal of St. Petersburg is today the leading authority on water treatment in Russia.

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The realization of large environmental projects takes time. I took recently part in a seminar recalling the Lithuanian initiative of a round table on Kaliningrad twenty years ago. The issue then was not the environment. But the World Cup last summer finally forced the city of Kaliningrad to finish the building of its waste-water-treatment plant.

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Eliminating garbage dumps is a global problem. I became aware of the magnitude of the issue when then PM Mihail Kasjanov took the then Finnish PM Paavo Lipponen for a helicopter ride around Moscow in 2002 and we saw the smoking dumps east of the city. Angry citizens taking to the streets because of leaking and polluting garbage dumps is today a political factor in Russia.

Back to St. Petersburg, thirty kilometers south of the city is a toxic waste dump (poligon) called Krasny Bor. It is huge, seventy three hectares of seventy reservoirs full of non-radioactive industrial refuse, barley protected and constantly risking overflowing. It is a real and present threat to the Neva and the city. Finally last year the Russian Government commissioned the Finnish energy company FORTUM, which also manages toxic waste, to analyze and suggest technology to secure and eliminate the dumped chemicals of Krasny Bor. PM Dmitri Medvedev proposed in September in Helsinki ROSATOM as a partner to the project.

Make no mistake. This does not signal that the Russian Government is about to move to a low-carbon resource-efficient circular economy, nor that it considers waste as a source of energy. Neither do these steps indicate a change in the Russian view on global climate policy. It is the fear of growing protests and dissatisfaction among the population that drives the Russian Government.

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Black carbon is a real and present environmental danger especially in the Arctic, and the Arctic is local and global. The Arctic is one of the most important bellwethers of our changing climate around the globe. Indeed, the warming that we see elsewhere is taking place roughly twice as fast in the Arctic. This is why the backbone of the Arctic Council is the fight against the climate change. Finland has the presidency of the Council until 2019 and intends to organize an Arctic Summit next spring on issues like black carbon and maritime safety of arctic shipping, fuel used and search and rescue.

Reducing emissions of black carbon or soot can help mitigate climate change globally, but particularly in the Arctic regions. This is a very straightforward issue. Black carbon emissions result from incomplete combustion of diesel fuel and coal. When black carbon falls on the white ice, it immediately accelerates the melting. The technology already exists for reducing emissions of black carbon. By the wider use of best available technologies we could reduce the warming effect of black carbon in the arctic regions by 0.25 C by 2050. To quote President Niinistö of Finland: “If we lose the Arctic, we lose the world.” +++

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Written by René Nyberg