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Consolidated state policy is needed to address environmental problems

May 27, 2010, Moscow

This was announced by Dmitry Medvedev at a State Council Presidium meeting on reform of the state management in environmental protection.

Protection of the environment and related activities are governed today by a number of isolated and at times contradictory laws, the President said. Besides, the country still lacks an integrated system of state monitoring of the environment. According to the President, a consolidated state policy is required to address environmental problems. First and foremost, codification of legislation should be completed, a plan of specific steps should be drafted, and a package approach in legislative acts preparation should be employed.

Mr Medvedev set a number of crucial goals in environmental protection. The rationing of the negative impact on the environment should be improved, the businesses should be enticed through offering manufacturers evident benefits from employing advanced technologies, and strict liability for environmental offences should be introduced.

Dmitry Medvedev stressed that observance of environmental protection legislation must become a standard practice.

Before the beginning of the meeting, the President toured Moscow’s Southwest Water Supply Station, spoke with its staff, and was introduced to modern water treatment technology. The station supplies water to the western and southwest districts of the capital.

* * *

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues,

This is not the first time that we discuss environmental protection, and obviously, — and unfortunately, — not the last time. At least there’s one pleasant fact about it — we have started looking at this issue as a traditional one, not as something extraordinary, for, after all, our society has finally come to understand that if we take no account of the current state of environment, if we fail to strictly abide by environmental standards, we simply have no future. Maybe this simply means that we have matured in the past few years, because, let’s be honest, some ten years ago all environmental talk was perceived as exotic.

Today we will be talking about reforming the government regulation in the area of environmental protection, but not only that, of course, though that would be one of our main topics for discussion.

I have already talked about why and how we now deal with this issue. Now a few words about the problems we have here.

The problems are known, and to solve them, we need a consolidated government policy. It is obvious that any attempts to solve environmental problems through uncoordinated action, through non-systemic solutions will lead us nowhere, because we will be doing something in one place, while in another, unfortunately, things will be falling apart. And the inefficiency of such approach is clearly evidenced by the way things stand now, including (and I might specifically turn the attention of all the Cabinet ministers and regional governors present here to this) unsolved problems, unfulfilled instructions and unaccomplished tasks.

Let me remind everyone that this issue was first discussed in 2003 at a meeting of the State Council Presidium, incidentally, at this very place, but the decisions were practically unfulfilled. Subsequent instructions were issued in 2005 and 2008. There was also a decision made at the Security Council meeting, and I, by the way, remember speaking at that meeting as First Deputy Prime Minister. As President, I have also signed the Executive Order No. 889 dated June 4, 2008, on measures to increase the energy and environmental efficiency of Russia’s economy, subsequently followed by a number of instructions to the Cabinet. Everything I have just cited has been implemented only partially. How partially? Colleagues will report on that. I hope the reports will be objective.

The reasons behind this failure are different as well. Here we shouldn’t rush to put all the blame on bureaucrats, who have made a mess of everything, as usual. No. There are also objective reasons. There is, at least, such an unpleasant thing as the global financial crisis, which has pretty much paralysed the activity of many large companies, who had quite actively engaged in environmental protection. I still remember the early 2008 when I visited (we held a meeting on this issue in Chelyabinsk) obviously one of the most affected cities, and regions as well. Back then, to be perfectly honest, I was rather inspired by what I heard form the business community. The presentations and speeches back then were quite optimistic: “We are doing this, we are doing that, yes, we don’t have enough money, but we will still work in this area.” True, because of the financial crisis we had to cut the funding of ecological modernisation projects, but this is not a reason to stop this work, especially since there are subjective reasons as well. However, this is already the area of responsibility of the Government, regional authorities and municipal bodies, and finally, the responsibility of the business community itself.

Today the environmental relations, the environmental activity are largely regulated by a whole range of unrelated, often contradicting laws, codes, and by-laws, of course. The environmental regulation mechanisms are not always written down on paper and backed by legislation. And sometimes the passed laws do not work for years because one or several by-laws are missing.

We have absolutely inadequate amount of data on environmental damage, and this is a big problem. Compared to other countries, we have a virgin land here.

The country has yet to establish a comprehensive system of state environmental monitoring, and in many regions — no need to hide it — such a system simply does not exist, and in some cases, where it exists, it is outdated and has not changed for decades.

According to official data, some 40 percent of urban population in Russia leaves in areas with no air pollution monitoring. Almost 40 percent. And 34 federal constituent entities monitor pollution levels only in some areas within their territory — in one, two, or maybe three cities.

Therefore, the situation requires us to take absolutely clear and adequate measures. We need to complete the environmental legislation codification and do away with environmental nihilism at least in legal terms. It’s clear that it’s an old mentality problem, but we are saying that disregard for the law is generally one of our most significant problems, including disregard for environmental law. We need a specific action plan and we need to use a ‘package’ approach in working on respective regulations. Finally, we need special registers and policies establishing procedures and regulations that ensure effective task solution.

What are these tasks? I will mention a few, without claiming any exclusivity; you will explain them in your speeches. First, we need to improve the system of rating negative environmental impact, switch over to – this topic has already been discussed several times, also at meetings with my participation — the so-called NST principles, the best existing techniques. Today we are still using sanitary and fishery standards of the 1940s-1950s. In most cases they are unfeasible, first, and second, they do not take into account the so-called real or background environmental conditions, the specific features of a territory and other problems.

Second, we have to interest the business community in this work as much as possible. Businesses should see the advantages of adopting modern technology, modernising production, and installing modern treatment facilities. This is nothing new, and we have repeatedly talked about it, but the overall approach remains the same: environmental compliance, that is, environmentally sound behaviour should be encouraged; it should bring money to those entrepreneurs who abide by law. On the other hand, environmental violations should involve strict liability with punitive sanctions. But the hardest thing, which, in fact, is always determined by the society’s level of development, by the state of business, and by the level of understanding the law, is to find the balance between advantages and sanctions. And this is an all-time issue. Where does the encouraging sanction end, and at what point it becomes a sanction that is not carried out because the standard has obviously been set too high, and no business, even with the most favourable state of affairs, can pay such amounts.

Third, we must, of course, think about increasing liability for environmental violations, but this liability should be reasonable. We must develop more realistic environmental damage compensation mechanisms. We must make the violators promptly clean up the pollution, including the most complicated pollution cases such as oil spills. We all know what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico, what terrible problems, the consequences of which no one can really comprehend at the moment, such accidents can create. We have a specific example here. What’s the outlook? Will BP [British Petroleum] be successful in dealing with this problem? What are the global environmental implications of this? What technologies can be used? Nothing of this is clear. We need to think about how to constantly maintain our own facilities in perfect order. Russia is fully aware of its responsibility and today it takes every effort to carry out its works on the Arctic shelf, in the Caspian Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk and in other places in strict compliance with international law and international environmental standards. This is not the time to sit back.

The Americans, I am sure, also believed that everything was under control, that they had everything funded, and that they have good laws, but now it’s not clear what will happen next: what will happen to the Gulf of Mexico, what will happen to marine life? And it is even less clear what will happen to the company, because nobody knows what will come next. Environmental liability is a thing that can ruin anyone, not only a large company – it can bring a whole country down to its knees.

Therefore, compliance with environmental legislation must become a standard practice. These are no empty words — it should become a habit. Once again, the consequences are such that we will need to clear up the mess afterwards. So, the punishment must be severe. I want to make this absolutely clear. And at this stage, of course, it is important not to scare the business away with immediate punishment and make them hide the information about the actual environmental impact. Such practices also exist, unfortunately.

Therefore, we need a transition period for entrepreneurs to take the necessary measures and for the state to provide incentives to encourage our business community to adopt clean technology. But as soon as such transition period is over, sanctions should become fully operational under the threat of bankruptcy and liquidation of the company regardless of its merits, because the damage may be even greater. It will be easier to give employment to workers than to plug those holes. This is the work we should have begun yesterday.

We have a whole range of proposals and suggestions; colleagues will talk about it. I think this is enough to get the discussion started. Now, let’s get down to work.

* * *

Thank you. I would like to say a few words in conclusion.

I began my speech by saying that this will not be the last time we meet on this issue. One would have to be an incurable optimist to imagine that now that we have met, instructions will be issued, result in actual laws, everything will start working without a hitch, and we will be able to sit back and rest. We are aware of our own shortcomings, including subjective problems. We know what the situation is like in our work, and we know the state of affairs we are in today. We will therefore keep working, responding to each other’s demands and complaints. It is good that we have established this upfront way of working, and I think it is a positive sign that a number of the measures planned earlier have now been approved.

I want to address some of the specific issues raised and proposals made today, mentioning names in some cases, but not in all, because in many cases these are overlapping points and proposals. 

On the matter of environmental expert assessments and what will become of them, I propose that we weigh up all the pros and cons. If we all agree that doing away with the environmental expert assessment system is a serious loss then we can revive the practice, whatever the arguments about bureaucracy, bribe-taking, and the need to speed up decision-making on investment programmes. There is no problem here. In order to settle this matter, I propose that the Cabinet members present here hold consultations with everyone concerned and present a report to me within a month.

This report should reflect not only the position of the environmentalists, but also the opinions of those who hold other views, the business community, for example. The report needs to be objective. If the Government concludes that the decision to abolish environmental expert assessments was hasty, we can revive these assessments. This is not a problem. We would reintroduce separate environmental expert assessments. Of course, some will no doubt say that this will only create more bureaucracy and not produce any results, but it will at least provide us with assessments that will help us to decide whether proposed work can get underway at this or that site.

On the issues of restoring the common state environmental protection fund, the possibility of ‘colouring’ money and so on, we encounter here problems similar to those that we have had with the state Road Fund, which is something I discuss quite often with the governors, and on which the Government has held numerous meetings on my instructions. Of course, there are arguments both for and against. I think, for a number of reasons, it would be simpler to restore the common environmental fund than the road fund. We are continuing to work on this matter and I am expecting the final report from the Government. I think this is simpler, and so we should include this matter among the instructions that come out of today’s meeting. Let’s decide whether or not this fund should be restored right now, what benefits we would gain, and what we would do with the money the fund collects. I already said that we would need to decide what money goes into the fund – just money from fines, or money from other sources too – and who will be responsible for distributing these funds, from where and to whom they will go. The final answer here depends a lot on the governors’ position. The Government’s position is ultimately my affair, but as for how the governors would rather work, this is a matter on which we need to hold consultations.

There are some specific issues on which we need to take measures. There was, for example, the programme to fight desertification that began back in the Soviet period. I am not sure how prepared we are now to revive that programme, but we certainly do need to take action in this area.

On renewable energy sources it is true that we do not yet have a proper legal framework in place for this subject. I do not think we should strive to see this framework appear overnight, but there are some particular issues that we really must address urgently. The governors talked about obligations to purchase energy produced by renewable sources, and I think we should indeed look at introducing such an obligation. We could study Ukraine’s respective experience in this regard. Ukraine has its own problems, but there are points in which we can learn from our Ukrainian partners and take a look at what they are doing.

I instruct the Government to examine the possibilities for buying wind-generated energy and other energy produced from renewable sources at free market prices. But we certainly need to be clear about where this energy is being produced, of course. This cannot be just a spontaneous business but has to be clear and transparent work, with all the demands and decisions clear. It all needs to be part of a general programme, but at the same time, we must not let this work become clogged up with red tape. If everything is done in legal fashion and with all the proper encouragement this kind of obligation to buy renewable energy should indeed be introduced. We can begin by setting some figures. We do not have such a lot in any case yet, what was it you said for wind energy – only 5 megawatts nationwide, or was it 4.8?

Well, it is a modest figure, a laughably modest figure. But we need to start with something.

As for the Government report presented by the Minister [of Natural Resources and Environment Yury Trutnev], the main thing, as far I am concerned, is that the Government makes a decision on this draft law. Our colleagues have said today that political will is needed here above all, and I agree with this. We have had many discussions on this matter, but have yet to see much progress for lack of political will. Sometimes we need to show this will. I am ready to do this. I am ready to take the initiative if you cannot reach a decision. You just let me know in time if things on your side have come to a standstill, and I will then take command and decide what steps to take from here.

Regarding some of the other issues raised, I support overall much of what was said in Mr Trutnev’s report. Some issues require further consultations, including with business. But there is one subject that has perhaps been left outside the systemic and regulatory efforts being made. As far as rules and regulations go, we are working on these things and will ultimately have them all sorted out. The issue I am referring to is that of the pilot projects for developing technology to be used in cleaning up the consequences of accumulated environmental damage. It all looks like a straightforward matter, but the situation with these pilot projects is absolutely typical for our country, and in this I am forced to agree with what the environmentalists and public organisations have been saying, namely, that this matter is in absolutely last place on the Government’s list of priorities. 

Everyone is happy to talk about environmental protection and claim taking part in programmes, but when it comes to practical decisions the environment always ends up in last place. Everyone lowers their eyes in shame and says, “Oh, but it’s the crisis, you see, how can we think about the environment when we have enough on our plates just paying people their wages?” This is a problem of our mentality, a problem in attitudes towards the environment among the country’s leadership. People may say that this a problem of business, of lobbying, such as exists all around the world, but the real problem is in the way the country’s leadership views environmental issues.

What do I propose? I want the Government to speak out directly on this issue. I want those responsible for making decisions in this area to speak out. Let the people responsible take it upon themselves to say upfront: “We do not want these pilot projects for cleaning up accumulated environmental damage.” Let them say this to the public, tell this to the people in the regions mentioned here today. And if they do not actually come out and say this then let them get busy making the funds available for the projects to go ahead. Let the ministries and the Government leadership get busy on this work. 

A lot was said about the question of powers. I agree with you overall. If Law 122 and other laws are not working then they can be rewritten. They are not holy cows, after all, and the main thing is that they work. Particular circumstances required that a particular scheme be put in place. Let’s go back to the old system. If you are ready to take on these powers and make decisions then I will hand them over. Who wrote these laws does not matter. We have plenty of people drafting legislation, good laws, all sorts of laws and I have nevertheless made lots of amendments to them.

To make a little digression, some of us (I do not know who was here before this meeting began) saw a very good water treatment facility today. I want all the governors here to pay particular attention to the water issue. I realise that you are all in different situations, and that Moscow has different possibilities, but this is something we all need to work on nonetheless. The scheme being used is also very good. The idea is to first establish a joint venture with predominantly foreign capital, which supplies everything and pays itself off through environmental and housing and utilities payments, and then, after a certain period, which can be calculated in various ways, the facility is transferred to the city’s ownership. What’s more, the facility eventually transferred to the city will be a modernised one making use of the best technology. This is a good example. 

Our colleagues spoke about environmental education. If, despite all the calls, a decision still has not been made this is something we need to sort out. Let’s look into what the Education Ministry has done so far and why it is ignoring instructions. Environmental education will obviously not do any harm. We need simply to put together competent textbooks. It is in childhood, after all, that attitudes towards our natural environment take shape and develop. If schoolchildren are not educated about the environment they will end up developing a purely consumerist view of nature. 

I agree that we should be able to discuss all different issues. I do not know why some people here seem to be under the impression that Baikal Lake or some other issues are taboo subjects for public discussion. Who said such a thing? If you do a search on the issue you’ll see that everyone is discussing it, the Government too. The Government has its own views on the issue. Of course, there are pluses and minuses, and some decisions are being taken, but no one has excluded this issue from public discussion, and it is not a closed issue. Moreover, if you think it needs to be discussed further, raise it, get the environmental organisations involved in the discussion. Who said it is a taboo subject? The only thing I ask is that we have discussions and not campaigns, not hysteria. 

As I said, there are a number of draft laws that we can come back to, and the same goes for the issue our governor colleagues raised about increasing responsibility for environmental protection and the matter of the various bodies’ different powers.

Regarding the Amur River, it amazes me really that we make demands on our Chinese partners here from time to time but cannot put our own affairs in order. The documents drawn up for me for meetings with our Chinese partners usually raise this problem of the Amur River, but if we are willing to criticise our neighbours for their problems we need to be willing to recognise and address our own problems too. Yes, they have problems in this area, and quite serious ones, but we also need to put in place our own programmes. 

Regarding the business community’s position, it is good to see that business and the Government are working together in close contact. Whether this will continue and produce results, I do not know, because practice is the best measure here. It is obvious that we have to do something, however, and so I support this idea of discussing initial Government proposals in this area with the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and some businesses who can express in concentrated form the business community’s position, and only then pass laws.

How many years it will take us to introduce the Best Available Techniques system is another question. Perhaps this process will indeed take longer than thought, perhaps even 30 years, I don’t know, but in any case, I think these reference materials, reference documents on Best Available Techniques, should be put together and introduced. The question does indeed arise: are these legal regulations, recommendations, or simply technical reference materials? This is something we need to sort out. Perhaps not all is as straightforward as it seems. We need to look at the status these references have in other countries. It could be the case that they are reference materials in status, but in practice the courts use them as a code of conduct.

The prevailing view during the USSR was that state standards are not legal regulations. Perhaps not all of you are aware of this fact, but as a lawyer I can tell you that this was so. They were considered technical regulations, and a clear distinction was made between the two. In other words, state standards were not perceived as a code of conduct. But it was unthinkable not to comply with state standards during the Soviet period, unthinkable to ignore them. This was a crime. So, although they had the legal status of being just a set of technical rules they represented in practice a stringent code of conduct, non-compliance with which would land one in prison. The question is therefore not one of the legal classification, but of the legal consequences. And the same applies to these reference materials.

Most important of all, however, is the question of motivation. Where is the motivation to adopt the modernising practices set out in these laws? I cannot but agree here. We need this modernisation that we keep talking about not in order to just shuffle things round a bit, but in order to bring about real change in the quality of life here. And so, when businesses modernise their production facilities and processes they really do contribute to our environmental security too. This is clear. Overall then, whether business acts out of a need to comply with environmental standards, or whether it acts out of a desire to carry out modernisation that in any event will enable it to comply with environmental standards is not so important. Only results matter. But we will only obtain results through laws and rules that prove their effectiveness in practice, laws and rules that are balanced and clear for business, and that are easier to comply with than to break. This is the biggest issue.

Our colleagues from the environmental organisations presented their arguments in energetic fashion, and this is good too, because we always need someone to sound the warning bell.

I already mentioned the issues of political will, and the matter of environmental oversight. If we think that system was worth keeping than we can reintroduce it. This is not a problem. I just want to say that we should not make the mistake of idealising the 1990s. You said that some programmes were underway back then. Maybe something was indeed accomplished, though I do not remember. During the 1990s, I was in business myself and visited various companies. No one was doing anything back then. Everyone was too busy just trying to survive. And if the environmental situation improved in some way it was only because all of the industry that should be working was sitting idle.

On the question of technical regulations for petrol, as far as I know, the E-4 standard has been approved and will take effect as from 2012. This process requires considerable investment, but we will make this transition even so. We need to act more decisively in this respect, and the same applies to phasing out incandescent light bulbs. Nothing happens until the relevant laws are put in place. Of course, we cannot follow the path some of our neighbours have taken and simply ban incandescent light bulbs overnight. We have a different country, a different mentality, but we need to take decisive steps nonetheless, including by introducing new environmental standards.

I agree overall that the environment is essentially an economic issue, and the closer we bring these concepts together the easier it will be to resolve environmental problems. 

To give one example that I saw with my own eyes at summit meetings, first at the G8 and then at the G20, back in 2008 – true, there was a different administration in office in the USA, and different leaders in a number of other countries too – the environment either bored or irritated people. No one showed much interest in things like green growth and green development. It bored them, and not because they were all bad or ignorant people, but simply because they did not see how there was any money to be earned in this. The situation changed in 2009–2010, after the crisis began and the green economy and green development suddenly became more popular than ever before. Everyone started talking about it, proposing economic models and possibilities for setting up special environmental funds. Everyone started to get involved. Why? Because they saw the possibility to make money, even in countries such as the United States and China that had previously shown little interest in these matters, as you know. We need to take the same approach. There can be no resolving environmental issues without a good dose of healthy pragmatism. Of course it is important to speak out about the issues, make appeals, but this alone is not enough.

The proposals we have heard today sound very concrete to me. The main thing is to continue work on the relevant legislation. I will instruct the Government – and with this I conclude my remarks – to make the necessary changes and additions to this draft legislation in rapid time and submit it to me personally so that I can make a decision on how to proceed, if you reach an agreement between yourselves. If for whatever reason you fail to reach an agreement between yourselves, there is no need to make a tragedy of the situation, these things happen, but in this case, just come to me so that I can make a decision on the issue.

Thank you for your work and goodbye.

May 27, 2010, Moscow