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Saving the taiga ­ one tree at a time

Cut Logs and Cleared Area in Khimki ForestThe government is going green and pushing a new environmental policy that will bring business practices up to international ecological standards.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pushed the proposals, which would put more pressure on companies to watch their waste, in a March 31 meeting with environmentalists.

"The incentive mechanism of the new ecological principles will directly connect the business of corporations with their liabilities towards nature," said Yevgeny Shvarts, the environmental policy director of the World Wildlife Fund.

The new policy will bring in voluntary and internationally recognised certification, which Shvarts added would become a must-have for companies to run smoothly. An independent auditor will ensure that that the standards are met.

"I hope that auditors can keep their independent reputation and their willingness to improve the market will prove a stronger factor than corruption," Shvarts said.

Economically effective

The new eco-strategy, which outlines the principles through 2030, aims to merge making money with going green.

Putin said that to fix mismanagement the policies will create incentives for green technology that are "financially feasible and economically effective".

Shvarts, who was a member of the draft's working group, said that enterprises which win environmental certification will gain advantages in state procurement procedures.

Many of the proposals are borrowed from standard international practices, in particular the European Union environmental laws adopted in 1996. Firms will face differentiated regional environmental taxes as well as subsidies and tax breaks to cut pollution.

But while there have been some successes in battling climate change, profit remains the priority for most companies.

Shvarts said the legislation might not be properly adhered to, while big corporations hinder innovation as they "understand that their competitiveness is re-enforced by neglecting environmental regulations."

Ecological disaster

Putin described 15 per cent of Russia's vast territory as an ecological disaster when presenting the new proposals.

"This number seems to be understated," said Nikolai Rybakov, the director of Bellona environmental agency. "If we take into account the territories with the highest population density, particularly Moscow and St-Petersburg, the situation is worse."

The dispute over the route of the toll road between the two cities has brought ecological preservation onto the streets in the battle over Khimki forest.

And the wildfires that ravaged the Russian countryside last summer put climate change sharply on the government's agenda.

The United Nations declared 2011 the "Year of Forests" and called for urgent solutions to protect woodland ecosystems. Environmentalists say they need to end the myth that Russia has boundless forests, as many of them are kept in poor condition.

"We need this demystification," said Elena Kulikova, a forest management expert.

Russia has around 800 million hectares covered by forest, and only 150 million hectares are leased out to logging operators.

"The rest isn't rented out, which means it is not economically justified, hard to access, waterlogged, or poor tundra-like forest," Kulikova added.


The majority of forests used by logging companies are located in the European part of Russia, southern Siberia and the Far East.

Less than 30 per cent of these woods are replanted and properly maintained according to WWF data, with some using cheap methods that change the composition of the woodland.

And only 30 million hectares of land are operated by companies with the international certification of the Forest Stewardship Council, an independent international body responsible for woodland management.

Forests are usually leased on 49-year contracts ­ less time than it would take for a pine grove to grow back after the initial logging.

Kulikova says that only the biggest firms care about the forests and plan the long-term recovery of their wealth. The state forestry institutions, meanwhile, have little impact and can't force timber companies to follow the laws, she added.

Small companies and poachers are also a huge problem, especially in the taiga.

Public opinion

Following a spate of high-profile environmental disasters ­ including the wildfires, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the problems at Fukushima nuclear plant ­ public opinion is strengthening on environmental issues.

Going green can be a valuable marketing tool for some companies, particularly those offering alternatives to heavily polluting industries.

And information for people looking to help save the Earth with their purchases can be found on a growing blogosphere focussing on environmental issues.

Teo Dang Do, the founder of the Vietnamese Human Environmental Research Organisation, said at a recent ecological awareness forum, EcoBlogy, that "ecological issues need global thinking and local acting".

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