Russian civil society involvement needed to raise climate consciousness

Polar Bear Walking Across Ice"Only the civil society and independent experts can make an environmental friendly Russia possible. I cannot see that politicians alone can do this," says Vladimir Zakharov, Director of Institute of Sustainable Development and president Medvedev's closest adviser in climate questions.

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

Stands up for the environment

As Medvedev's closest adviser on environmental issues, Zakharov is one of the very few environmentalists in Russia who has a real influence in Russian policy making. And he is not afraid of criticising the lack of Russian environmental engagement. His position as an independent, but influential environmentalist is rather unique seen in a Russian context.

"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.


Nevertheless, Zakharov is positive on behalf of Russian environmental policy. The potential of renewable energy in Russia is enormous, and some steps have already been made in the right 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."

Zakharov also sees signs of a cleaner future for Russia in the so-called "Climate Doctrine", a general plan for Russian climate policy, launched 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 changes will have impacts on the Russian economy. 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."

Norway as an example

Zakharov often uses Norway as an example when discussing climate issues with politicians whose only focus is oil and 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 says.

Nonetheless, the profiled environmentalist claims that both the knowledge and the debate on climate issues in Russia is lagging years behind compared to Norway.

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

Zakharov nevertheless believes that Russia can learn from some Norwegian initiatives to reduce GHG 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 concludes.

Article first appeared at

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