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30 Jan, 2008 13:23

Saving Russia from a waste dump

Russia’s Security Council has met to decide how to streamline laws to combat environmental harm. Years of neglect and a growing economy have aggravated environmental threats, but now Russian officials want to encourage business to cut waste. Despite signi

At the meeting President Putin said Russia has the necessary conditions to solve large-scale environmental problems.

“Our financial and economic capabilities have grown. There are more incentives for implementation of green and energy-saving technologies in industry. We have created legislation to foster co-operation between the state and the private companies in this sphere. Communities are becoming more actively involved in the country's environmental policy. This is an important basis to start joint efforts and achieve real practical results,” he said.

Indeed, some Russian businesses are catching up. Russia’s Rusal, the world’s largest aluminium producer, has embarked on a huge programme to clean up its factories. For the past seven years it has invested more than $US one billion in environmental programmes. It’s hoping other companies will follow suit.
“Pollution levels in the cities are growing. Heavy traffic is one reason for that. But there are also heavily polluted places that are our heritage from the past,” Vladimir Zakharov, from the Centre for Environmental Policy, said.

First Deputy Prime Minister and presidential candidate Dmitry Medvedev has pointed out that low environmental standards of products could seriously damage business with the west.

“In the near future Russian businesses could see access to international markets limited due to the low environmental standards of our products, and all the federal and regional agencies concerned should start thinking about such threats now,” Medvedev said.

Igor Chestin, the Head of the World Wildlife Fund in Russia, says urgent measures need to be taken to protect the environment.

“The current industrial growth of course causes a lot of environmental problems, and if not properly controlled and regulated by the state, it will cause very serious environmental degradation all over the country. And that is actually happening. If we look at the energy efficiency for example, in Russia it's absolutely out-of-date, which also causes problems for business,” he said.


Russia’s city of Dzerzhinsk – 400 km east of Moscow – is officially one of the most chemically polluted places in the world. During the Cold War, it was a major production site for chemical weapons. And it still remains a key manufacturing base for Russia’s chemical industry.

Decades of uncontrolled emissions have turned parts of the city’s water into toxic sludge that contains up to 17 million times the safe limit. While authorities say things are improving, the life expectancy there is still just an estimated 42 for men and 47 for women.


The Siberian city of Norilsk is a major nickel mining and processing centre. Last year it made the top ten of the world’s worst polluted sites. Mining and smelting started there in the 1930s.

The city now has the world's largest heavy metals smelting complex. What may look like a front of bad weather is a toxic cocktail of chemicals. Snow here is grey and the life expectancy for factory workers is 10 years below the Russian average.


Lake Baikal is often called the Pearl of Siberia. Since 1996 it has been on UNESCO's World Heritage list. But it’s also become a scene of an oil dispute.
The state-owned company Transneft was planning an ambitious pipeline project to pump oil from Siberian fields to Russia’s Far East and then to oil-hungry Asia. The company wanted the route to run as close as 800 metres to the lake's northern shore.
The environmentalists labelled the project the death of Baikal. Rallies broke out, and in 2006 President Putin called for the pipeline to be moved at least 40 km north, away from the lake.
“Shifting the pipeline away from Baikal is an achievement not just of politicians but of our society as a whole. Another good thing is that Russia’s economy is turning to innovative technologies. This is what environmentalists have been hoping for,” Vladimir Zakharov noted.