Russian civil society involvement needed to raise climate consciousness

“Today renewable energy in Russia amounts to less than one percent of the energy produced in Russia. The target to increase this to 4.5% within 2020 is modest, but at least it is a start,” says Vladimir Zakharov.
Andreas Kokkvoll Tveit/Bellona

Publish date: June 14, 2011

“Only the civil society and independent experts can make an environmental friendly Russia possible. I cannot see that politicians alone can do this,” said Vladimir Zakharov, Director of Institute of Sustainable Development and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s closest adviser in climate issues.

“Russia has an enormous potential to restructure the economy towards becoming more environmentally friendly and cost effective, but we lack the knowledge,” said Zakharov, during a seminar on Russian climate policy organized by the Bellona Foundation in Oslo earlier this week.

Zakharov stands up for the environment

As Medvedev’s closest adviser on the environmental, Zakharov is one of the very few environmentalists in Russia who has a substantial influence in Russian policy making. Nor is he afraid of criticising Russia’s lack of environmental engagement. His position as an independent, but influential, environmentalist is a unique niche in today’s Russia.

“Who, if not the civil society and climate experts, could lead Russia on to a more environmentally friendly pathway? I would welcome initiatives from our politicians, but at this stage I just cannot see it happening,” said Zakharov.

Optimistic predictions for Russian environmental policy

Nevertheless, Zakharov is positive about Russian environmental policy. The potential of renewable energy in Russia is enormous, and a number of steps have already been taken in that direction.

“Today, energy generated from renewable sources in Russia amounts to less than one percent. The government has, however, set a target to increase this to 4.5 percent by 2020. This is of course rather modest compared with the EU targets of 20 percent, but at least it’s a start,” said Zakharov.

Zakharov also sees signs of a cleaner future for Russia in the so-called “Climate Doctrine”, a general plan for Russian climate policy that was launched to an ambivalent reception in December 2009.

“The first draft of the Climate Doctrine was rather disappointing, but we managed to pull it in the right direction.  Now the Doctrine actually acknowledges that climate change will have an impact on the Russian economy,” said Zakharov. “Moreover, Russia has now developed quite ambitious goals regarding energy efficiency. I am therefore optimistic that engagement in environmental issues will increase in the future.”

Zakharov points to Norway as an example

During his appearance, Zakharov said he often refers to Norway as an example in his discussions of climate issues with politicians whose only focus is oil an gas.

“Even though Norway is a major exporter of polluting petroleum, you are also a key player in renewable energy with hydro power. My vision for Russia is exactly that: we should also make use of our tremendous renewable energy resources, especially the great potential for wind energy,” Zakharov said.

Nonetheless, the high-profile environmentalist claims that both the knowledge and the debate on climate issues in Russia is lagging years behind the debate that is taking place in Norway.

“Not only Russian politicians, but also highly qualified researchers, strongly believe that climate change can have positive consequences for nature and human beings. It is unbelievable,” Zakharov said. 

Zakharov nevertheless believes that Russia can learn from some Norwegian initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Supplying gas and oil installations with clean renewable energy is a fantastic climate initiative. It is a good idea and very important that Norway is planning to do this, and it will be an example for us to follow,” Zakharov said.

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