Russia takes the green vector

Last week, Moscow hosted the 8-th Ecological Forum, which discussed the responsibility of business to future generations. The forum was organized by Norilsk Nickel, the Ecological Fund of the Siberian Federal University and the Research Institute of Ecological Problems.

The Ecoforum plenary sessions discussed the search for a balance between the socio-economic development of the country’s provinces and the preservation of a decent environment; analyzed the principles of sustainable development and their impact on public-private partnerships; examined the best available technologies, the need for technological modernization and modern requirements of legislation governing environmental issues.

In his opening remarks, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Gordeev expressed confidence that Russia had entered a new era of civilized ecology, when large industrial companies begin to solve ecological problems protecting the environment from negative impacts without being prompted by the authorities.

Dmitry Pristanskov, Vice President for Interaction with Government Authorities, Norilsk Nickel, spoke about the company’s environmental projects and its commitment to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 75 percent towards 2024 compared to 2018. In the next three years, Norilsk Nickel will invest 123 billion rubles as a net investment in the environment.

“The solution of environmental issues is now one of the main vectors in the breakthrough development of our country,” said Dmitry Pristanskov. In modern conditions, many industrial companies in Russia come up with initiatives to build a green economy.

According to the vice president of Norilsk Nickel, the solution of such tasks on a national scale is impossible without active participation of big business.

“Norilsk Nickel builds its relations with the authorities based on transparency and openness and has long established itself as a reliable partner of the state,” said Dmitry Pristanskov. “This also applies to our cooperation in the environmental field. This year, the company entered into an agreement with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology, with the Federal Service for the Supervision of Natural Resources, with the Government of the Krasnoyarsk Territory on cooperation in implementing a comprehensive plan of measures to reduce atmospheric emissions in the Norilsk industrial region. First of all, we are talking about our pivotal event – the large-scale environmental program of Norilsk Nickel – the Sulfur Project, which in terms of financial expenses, will make up a significant share of the off-budget funds invested into the federal Clean Air Project of the National Ecology Project.” He said that over the past three years, the company’s investment in the environment amounted to 80 billion rubles.

Many provinces of Russia have already achieved significant success and environmental projects have been implemented there for several years, said Vladimir Burmatov, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Ecology and Environmental Protection. According to him, Russia is the only country in the world that uses technology of zero discharge during offshore oil production: “We have long passed the stage when environmental interests went in antiphase with business interests. … Now we can have only one development vector. This development vector is green.”

However, he said, the work on the national environmental project is not going smoothly. Thus, the agencies responsible for the Clean Air Program have not yet completed the preparation of regulatory documents, and the country’s provinces do not receive the funding necessary for this program.

Professor Vladimir Grachev, Chairman of the Scientific Council of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences on Global Environmental Issues, noted that the development of technologies will help protect nature under conditions of industrial growth.

“There is no contradiction in this. This contradiction is far-fetched, because scientific and technological progress will solve all problems. Now we see a huge wave of digitalization, production optimization,” Vladimir Grachev explained. In his opinion, the problem of global warming was invented, and cyclical climate changes are used for economic purposes. It is necessary to solve the problem of air pollution, and this must be done with the help of science, and not by a lobby aimed at mitigating environmental standards. He also noted that air pollution in Russia is a big problem and indicated an increase in dioxin emission standards. Also, the maximum concentration of 29 harmful substances in Russia is ten times higher than the level of acceptable risks. By the end of 2024, the total emissions in Russia for the reporting year should be reduced by 22%. In addition to reducing emissions, one can also predict a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions due to the modernization of large industrial enterprises.

Nevertheless, according to Vladimir Burmatov, the paradox is that there are more problems with the government than with the business community.

Today, industrial companies are trying to solve environmental issues without being prompted by the state.

Alexander Shokhin, President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs also noted that the lion’s share of the environmental expenses – 80% – to implement the National Ecology Project is carried by big business.

According to him, even if there is a threat to the existence of mankind, everything will be fine with planet Earth. He noted the absorption capacity of forests and other positive factors. He also emphasized that since 1990 Russia has practically fulfilled its obligations under the Paris Agreement, even despite the economic turmoil. This does not mean that it is not necessary to work to improve the environmental situation, but it is better to direct efforts towards the introduction of the best available technologies, and not towards increasing the tax burden. In his opinion, business does not need to be forced to introduce “green” technologies, the question is how to stimulate business to do this.

A public-private partnership on ecology should be implemented, but without excessive accumulation of standards. So, he strongly opposed to the bill submitted to the government by the Ministry of Economic Development on the introduction of a carbon tax starting from 2025 onwards.

Nikolai Utkin, Director of the Polar Division of Norilsk Nickel, spoke about the environmental projects pursued by his company, including the Sulfur Project, whose goal is to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions in the Norilsk industrial region by 75 percent towards 2024 compared to last year. He also said that new technologies are already being pro-actively introduced at the company’s production sites, and the implementation of the Sulfur Project in terms of technological equipment surpasses many world analogues.

The forum consisted of eight thematic sections, which were attended by representatives of companies, science and the state.

Alexander Vlasov speaking for the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resource Usage (Rosprirodnadzor) said that out of 623 billion rubles allocated for environmental activities, 459 billion will be invested by business. He added that companies in a number of industrial centers of the country are modernizing their heat power systems and transferring vehicles to gas fuel in order to reduce atmospheric emissions.

Dmitry Sviridov, Chairman of the Legislative Assembly of the Krasnoyarsk Territory spoke about the project on dust collection, restoration of storm sewer systems and other relevant undertakings.

Roman Pukalov, Executive Director of Green Patrol, an all-Russia public organization said that the Murmansk Province is among the top ten provinces out of 85 in the country for financing environmental protection measures.

Vladimir Loginov, Deputy Head of the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation, noted the possibility of improving the competitive environment through a sustainable development policy, as well as its positive impact on the environment. He recalled the principle of rationing production based on the best available technologies, which has found application in most countries. These technologies permit to open access to certain markets.

Vladimir Chernyshev, the head of one of the departments of Rosprirodnadzor, spoke about the need to comply with the new legislation on ecology.

There are first companies in this country, that have received a comprehensive environmental permit. Such permits are to be received by all companies by 2025.

The head of Interfax-ERA, Alexander Martynov noted the importance of evaluating industrial enterprises and said that this will add to their weight in the market. The Ecoforum participants also raised the topic of creating a performance rating for the National Ecology Project.

Dmitry Skobelev, Director of the Environmental Industrial Policy Centre (EIPC) emphasized that all market stakeholders ready for development can achieve a significant breakthrough in modernizing their enterprises, thereby reducing the negative impact on the environment.

The Ecoforum also dwelled on the re-equipment of production in the mining and metallurgical fields, environmental education and ecotourism, and international cooperation in the Barents Sea area.

The forum participants agreed that the environmental problem is the most acute in the modern world and that without close cooperation between business and the state it cannot be resolved. However, they opined that the solution of all environmental problems should be based on scientific achievements, not on populist rhetoric. They said that it is imperative to introduce new accessible technologies at enterprises, but this process should be stimulated by the state in the form of tax breaks.