Should Russia Now Put off Solving Environmental Problems?
16.06.2022

KP.RU: Viacheslav Fetisov, Chairman of the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature: ‘We will probably survive without gas and oil, but not without water.’

The snap in relations between Russia and Western countries has already adjusted life in our country. But it is no less important how this will affect the state's immediate tasks. This includes the solution of ecological problems. Viacheslav Fetisov, Chairman of the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Nature, spoke about this in the open studio of the KP media group at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

THE KEY CHALLENGE IN THE ARCTIC IS TO REDUCE SULFUR EMISSIONS

- Hello! I would like to take this opportunity to express my respect for KP, with which I have a long-standing relationship, said Viacheslav first. KP has been a media sponsor of the USSR national hockey team for many years, so I am happy to be here today. By the way, Happy Young Naturalist Day! The opening of the forum coincided with a unique holiday; this organization was founded 104 years ago.

- Viacheslav, over the last two or three years, our country's leadership has done a lot to help Russian business integrate into the global environmental agenda. It has become clear what the UN's sustainable development goals are and what they are needed for. But the latest sanctions are forcing the country to focus on import substitution. One gets the impression that environmental issues are receding into second or even third place. Is this true?

- Both true and not. We must understand that it is necessary for us. By the example of the accumulated damage, which we still cannot eliminate, we understand that this problem is getting worse every year. The State Duma has submitted a package of anti-sanctions measures to the government. I ask questions to economists, so it is clear to me whether I have to vote for this or that document: are there any economic calculations, so I do not have to think about ecology? Unfortunately, there is no answer. On the other hand, there is the example of Norilsk (I was recently in Norilsk). A year ago, the company laid a plant that will reduce sulfur emissions by 95%, if we talk globally about the Arctic, this is the biggest problem today. Among other things, there were some claims against the Russian Federation. Nevertheless, the company is investing 300 billion in order to implement this project. The whole Arctic, and we have a lot of Arctic neighbors, should understand this as a goodwill gesture. Especially with all the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia.

On the other hand, at one time UN Secretary General António Guterres came to Moscow and said: improving the environment is a common task. But the equipment that is needed to clean up the nature of the Arctic falls under sanctions. Where is the logic? There is no answer. You don't have to be too smart to understand that this whole story goes against humanity. Conflicts end sooner or later. All conflicts do. And during these five years that the project won't work, how many tons of sulfur will fall out into the Arctic? And what damage it has done! I kept saying: green economy and environmentally friendly technologies must not be sanctioned. We understand that nature and ecology have no boundaries. It has common goals to improve the situation. But we are running in the other direction, not understanding that this will cost more over time, and it will most likely be too late. This is the logic I do not understand.

Going back to the question... In fact, last year, our President Vladimir Putin depoliticized climate, ecology, and biodiversity. Speaking at two conferences, he said that our children and grandchildren need this. And of course, by shifting environmental requirements for production to the right, are we doing good on this issue? Or are we making it worse now?

Returning to Nornickel, I can say with absolute certainty that the problem with the oil product spill was not technical, but natural.

- It wasn't Nornickel's fault?

- No. The piles of the platform where the tanker was standing were not pushed to the earth. Now there is a warming-up, which will eventually cost a lot of companies and countries a lot of problems. But the issue has not been studied in any way.

In Norilsk, they now have sensors hooked up to every pile: both the piles under residential buildings and the piles under industrial ones. Now they can see how permafrost melting affects them. If the piles start to thaw, they use blast freezing. Norilsk Nickel, as a result of identifying problems that cost them a lot of money, started making the right decisions.

I can say more. Before all these conflicts, the companies that are the main buyers of products were flying to Norilsk. And they watched the construction of this northern project going on. Because they understand that if they buy products from a company that is ‘dirty’ in terms of standards, it will cost them a lot of money. Extra money. And after making sure everything was going right, they signed the contract.

It seems to me that any decision in our country must be taken in terms of its impact on the environment. For example, at one time they had built a pulp and paper mill on the shore of Lake Baikal. It was shut down in modern history. But we are not able to clear this territory, despite 18 presidential instructions. Because there are no technologies.

Before we make a decision, we must understand how we will deal with the accumulated damage and which harm will be done for the future of our country. The issue of water today, I believe, is becoming more and more important every day. Without water there can be no life on Earth. Without gas, without oil, without something else, most likely, we will survive, but not without water.

MAKE SOME MONEY AND MOVE FURTHER? THIS ISN'T WORKING ANYMORE

- If our country used to take part in environmental projects, primarily for the sake of saving on duties when supplying goods to the same Western countries in the future, now, no matter what we do, whether we invest billions or save money, we will still be ‘bad guys’ in the international arena.

- Only assumption! Without the well-being of Russia's ecology, the world will not be able to cope with the challenges it faces: neither on keeping 1,5 °C increase in temperature, nor a carbon-free economy, and without everything to do with cross-border taxes and so on. All these standards will not work.

We approached the president with a proposal to support Guterres' idea, we could raise problems that we have with interagency relations, with countries with which we share water resources, forest wealth, and climate zones. We often think that we'll make money and then we'll go further to an environmentally friendly place. But it does not work anymore. Everything in the world is interconnected. Talk to any young person, and they understand that ecology is not just a politicized trend. It's the base of the future today. And to walk away from the fact that we have outlined for ourselves the benefits of some decisions without calculating the risks is, I think, not a completely sensible thing to do. In these difficult times, we need to make decisions for the future. And we will win. The world is not going anywhere, it will be passed to us, and by then we will have our own standards of all our calculated forest wealth. We have time, we need to invest in retooling our science. Without science and scientific discovery and creation of new technologies, we won't solve this problem either. It will be too expensive. I think the time has come for the investments in it and understanding what the perspective is. And we have to do it.

- Do you personally see that the government is willing to invest in the development of these industries?

- Yes and no. The same incentives for production without regard to future damages... We do not have a formula that would allow us to calculate it.

I believe that the standardization of the ecological well-being of the country today is not only our future. It is possible that this will be the first bridge that will allow us to interact with the outside world. It is impossible today to deal with environmental problems alone. Even America, which is willing to spend trillions on these issues. If we do not deal with these problems in Russia, then America will waste money too.

I'll give you an example: environmentally friendly Finland. It took 30 years to solve the problems inside the country and educate an environmentally sensitive generation. It's not just waste sorting. The philosophy of life in the country is built so that nobody, neither business nor ordinary people, will harm the environment. But this does not mean that there are no problems in Finland. The country's problems are now deforestation in the Russian taiga, in Siberia and the Far East. The fires in Australia. Drought in Africa. Hurricanes in North America. Floods in Europe. All processes are interconnected. And you cannot understand these problems!

Russia has the largest territory in the world, the largest resource, how can they do without us? Experts understand that the well-being of their inhabitants will depend on the extent to which we will cooperate, to what extent we will have common standards and access in Russia to technologies developed in the West. A time for a ‘water truce’ has come.

THERE IS AN ECONOMIC EFFECT IN THE ‘GREEN’ THEME

- A question about business. The current times for the economy are not the best. Many businesses are experiencing problems, including those related to sanctions. At the same time, environmental and social projects are not only about volunteering, but also about money. Is big business ready for these investments?

- I already told you about Nornickel. Rosatom, Russian Railways... The UNEP and Russian Railways signed an agreement on cooperation. Over the last decade companies have realized that there is an economic effect in the ‘green’ theme. The main thing is to work for the future, don't cheat the government. I was at the newly built production facility. I asked the guys: how do you deal with the environment, with sewage treatment facilities? Guys with western education: oh, everything is up to modern standards. A week later there was a dumping of toxic substances into a nearby pond, fish were swimming upside down. Why did you lie to me?

Products that will not have the prescribed standards will not be in demand on the market. But we have to do it for ourselves. We no longer have to live in prosperous areas of the world. We must build up the ecology inside the country. The health of people, including our children, depends on what we eat, what we drink, and what we breathe. That comfort, which came to us decades ago, is a problem for all mankind. No matter how rich you are, it can be in a bottle of water, in fish. Sometimes you have to give up your habitual way of life in favor of reason, logic, the future. We have to invest in modernization in time. We must pay attention to technologies related to the preservation of nature.

Ask people who suffer from early oncology, children with allergies. The well-being of Russia depends on how we treat the place where we live. The process is not easy, but it must be started. The technologies that will be used in 2040-2060, half of them do not exist yet. If we get into it, we can gain an advantage. Develop technology, develop some new tools. To offer not only ourselves, but also to the outside world. Thus, we can get hold of technology, which will be available and needed by everyone. I believe that science, production, and the talent of our young scientists will help us solve these issues. And there is nothing to blame the situation and no going rogue. We must do everything rationally. This is what state regulation and public control are all about.

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