State Council meeting on Russia environmental development

Vladimir Putin chaired State Council meeting on environmental development of the Russian Federation in the interests of future generations at the Kremlin.

Excerpts from transcript of the State Council meeting.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin:

Colleagues, good afternoon,

Our agenda today includes the challenge of Russia’s gradual transition to a sustainable development model, not simply sustainable development, but environmentally sustainable development. I want to stress that we are discussing economic development, but with a focus on environmental issues.

This issue is crucial, above all, to improving the efficiency of the national economy, on the one hand, and at the same time to improving the quality of life for our people, and achieving the potential of our regions, on the other.

I will remind you that 2017 has been declared the Year of the Environment, and environmental protection has been included in the recently approved National Science and Technology Development Strategy as a priority.

It is clear that this policy is for the long term – for the next 20, 30 years or more. But, unless we start moving, we will go in circles forever complaining that we do not have enough money to address the current issues, and we will never get around to strategic issues. We cannot delay this any longer.

I also want to emphasize that Russia’s huge, no exaggeration, huge resource potential, is of truly planetary significance. Our country has huge reserves of fresh water and forests, and great biodiversity; it serves as an ecological donor for the world, providing it with nearly 10 percent of its biosphere sustainability.

Back in the early 20th century, Vladimir Vernadsky warned that the time would come when people would have to assume responsibility for human, as well as environmental development. There is no doubt that this time has come. Humanity already owes an enormous debt to the environment and continues to test its limits, which is affecting people. Although I would rather not speak about it, I feel compelled to say that outdoor and indoor air pollution claims the lives of 7 to 8 million people every year. These are ominous and alarming figures. This has a direct bearing on our country. In a number of areas, the environmental stress has reached a critical point. This costs our economy up to 6 percent of GDP every year, or up to 15 percent if we factor in the health costs.

I would like to highlight some of the most urgent environmental issues that need to be addressed as a matter of priority. Achieving drastic reductions in emissions of hazardous substances into the air, water and soil is a major issue. This can be done by reequipping industry and implementing the best available technology. A number of big corporations have already launched environment protection programs. However, we are also aware of the fact that not all companies pay due regard to these issues.

Of course, as I said in the beginning, this requires investment, but we have to understand that eco-friendly technology is not only a priority but also brings about tangible economic benefits. I expect the business community to heed my words: the implementation of this technology should not be delayed. We can no long afford to put these issues on the back burner. It was decided to roll back some initiatives, as I will explain later, but there will be no further adjustments. Let me add that implementing the best available technology can serve Russian companies and the economy in general as a powerful incentive for boosting performance and competitiveness.

I would like to call on the ministries and agencies in charge of issuing norms and regulations regarding such technology: you need to ensure that they are being issued in a timely manner and taking into account that companies need a reasonable timeframe for implementing them, which means that norms and regulations should be issued well in advance. Let me reiterate that it is impossible to keep putting this issue on the back burner.

The situation with hazardous emissions remains critical. Half of the city population breathes highly polluted air. Vehicles, both personal and public, contribute 50 to 90 percent. A significant part of open water is classified as polluted or extremely polluted. Seven percent of residents have no access to quality drinking water. Soil condition is worsening in nearly all regions. If we continue to limit the solution to half-measures and priorities other objectives, the emissions and greenhouse gases will reach a critical level by 2050. We understand very well what this means. This means that we will leave the future generations an environment unfit for living. Therefore, we must reduce pollution and emissions by at least 50 percent.

Environmental education and awareness is an important area for improvement. So far, the term “environmental education” has not been fixed by law. Environmental pollution data is scarce and disappears in various agencies while summary estimates of air pollution are calculated for major cities of only 12 Russian regions. These obstacles make the nationwide environmental monitoring difficult, to say nothing about long-term forecasts. I would like to hear today what you think should be done to change the situation.

Another important task is treatment of industrial and consumer waste, which now totals over 30 billion tons. Rubbish is disposed without any order and landfills take up almost 48,000 hectares. As you know, strict rules for the disposal and treatment of household waste have been introduced by law; however, the effective date has been postponed. I would like to hear about drafting of necessary documents and what has been done for the public to learn more about this innovation.

I would like the speakers to pay special attention to processing high-risk waste.

Furthermore, and this is always mentioned in various statements on this subject and in this year’s Address [to the Federal Assembly] too, individuals and public organizations should be actively involved in social projects, including the resolution of environmental issues. As I have said, officials should not hide from people in their offices. Obviously, the public wants and has the right to take part in environmental, educational and other specific actions aimed at improving the quality of their lives and upgrading their courtyards, parks and squares. I am simply convinced that confidence in public initiatives, as well as dialogue and partnership with public organizations are very important for developing a high-level environmental culture in the country.

I would like to ask Mr. Ivanov, chairman of the Organizing Committee for the Year of the Environment in Russia, to take responsibility for environmental projects with the participation of volunteers, including those from the Russian Geographical Society (RGS) and other associations.

Colleagues, I have mentioned only some of the many questions that require our attention. I believe they will be discussed in other reports and speeches. I am referring to such issues as energy saving, and the preservation of forests, water, unique natural sites and rare flora and fauna species. It is also necessary to carry out energy saving and ecological recovery programs at national sites like the Volga River, Lake Baikal, and Lake Teletskoye in Altai.

I would like to ask the speakers to focus on measures and proposals to improve the situation, which we can and must implement in the near future.

Mr. Dubrovsky, please.

Chelyabinsk Region Governor Boris Dubrovsky:

Mr. President, colleagues,

The central issue of the State Council meeting, Russia’s environmental development in the interests of future generations, has stirred great interest among scientists and experts, as well as a wide range of other professionals. In preparation for the report, we analyzed the impact of global environmental issues on Russia’s development and listed some domestic environmental challenges. The report justifies transition to eco-friendly sustainable development as a national strategic priority.

The wellbeing of the present and future generations can only be ensured by efficient use of natural resources. The idea itself is not new, as Mr. President noted in his speech, and originates from Russia. It was our great fellow countryman, scientist Vladimir Vernadsky, who introduced the term “sustainable development” almost one hundred years ago. The concept is clear and simple: humanity cannot exist in opposition to nature since it is an integral part of nature. We also have to honestly admit that neither today nor in the foreseeable future we will be able to do without natural resources. But we must clearly understand the ways to measure our natural capital. The entire world is looking for a new scale for these measurements. I believe Russia must get ahead of the rest of the world in this task.

Since Adam Smith, natural resources have been assessed in terms of their degree of involvement in economy. Even aware of environmental limits of growth, we continue to rate development levels through standard indicators. One of these key indicators is GDP growth, which basically only shows the rate at which natural capital is converted into physical capital, without consideration for the social and environmental impact. This impact can be negative. I think it would be appropriate to compare this to double-entry bookkeeping, which has been in use since the 15th century. We can apply it to our topic in the following way: humankind has natural capital, or liabilities, and human capital, or assets. Our goal is to turn liabilities into assets with minimal losses, that is, to use natural resources to increase human capital.

In our report, we have substantiated the need to add other quantitative indicators beside gross domestic product to reflect sustainable development. We will need to form a system of national accounts to evaluate the state of the environment and the cost of environmental benefits. This should be taken into account in strategic planning documents and should allow us to really manage the processes. We believe this planning system will enhance Russia's role in addressing global environmental issues, as you, Mr. President, said in your speech.

Colleagues, while working on the report, we found it useful to rise to the academic level, because large things are best seen from a distance. This has helped us to focus systematically on specific issues that are of concern to most people today, starting with the most relevant ones: the quality of air and drinking water, household waste disposal, mitigation of environmental damage, and preservation of the existing natural landscapes.

Article 42 of the Russian Constitution enshrines the right to a healthy environment, reliable information about its condition, and compensation for the damage done to one’s health or property by environmental violations.

As we see it, there are three main components, and each requires hard work. The authors of the report have proposed a package of solutions for attaining this complex goal in the medium and long term. It includes amendments to existing legislation regulating natural resources and environmental protection; a multi-level system of incentives; building clean industry – also through using special marketing tools; a set of measures for the development of renewable energy sources; new requirements for environmental education; and effective mechanisms for interacting with civil society. The proposals include large-scale and largely interrelated efforts, which cannot fit in the so-called simple solutions.

The algorithm of implementing the suggested measures has been presented in detail in the report. I will briefly touch on the key issues.

First is the need to control air quality. No tangible reduction in air pollution in industrial cities has been recorded since 2000. This indicates that we have exhausted the potential of the current model of controlling ambient air and must look for other approaches.

Such tools exist and here they are. It has been suggested that we need to estimate the combined influence of all pollutants in a city, conduct a summary assessment of maximum acceptable emissions and, based on this, determine the allowable contribution of each pollutant in the standard quality of air in a given residential area. Companies will proceed from this contribution or quota in drafting specific programs and making technical solutions. The goal is to reduce the rates of air pollution in the cities.

It is also necessary to determine traffic quotas at the same time. Municipal and regional authorities will be responsible for tracking this. They need to determine the tools to influence this, including, first of all, ways to develop public transport, transition to environmentally safe vehicles, and modern city-planning solutions for regulating traffic.

It is easy to determine the efficiency of such air control methods by measuring the reduction in the concentration of harmful substances in the air in residential neighborhoods. The existing Roshydromet (Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring) and Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing) monitoring systems will provide the necessary data for managerial decisions. The extent of meeting the public demand for fresh air will be the main indicator of the efficiency of these joint efforts and hence, may be considered a sign of steady development.

The report suggests using all these tools. I will list them again: combined pollution assessment, pollutant concentration quotas, and monitoring of air in residential neighborhoods as the foundation for managerial decisions on legislative and regulatory acts. This will allow us to face the authorities and industrial enterprises with very practical objectives. I suggest choosing pilot regions for testing these measures and will say outright that the Chelyabinsk Region is ready to pioneer this. We hope this will give new impetus to our development.

In our experience, we often come across growing public and environmental risks as part of major investment projects. We believe a complex environmental impact estimate for such projects at the initial stage of their implementation would allow us to balance business and public interests. Clear and transparent mechanisms of state environmental review should make the process easier.

The next problem is the shrinking land that is supposed to provide for the needs of the current and future generations. Already a third of the planet’s fertile soil has been lost. In Russia its share is 7 percent. But we all realize that this is not an excuse for remaining idle. The process of soil loss is accelerating, and an increasing amount of land is being used for non-cultivating purposes, for manufacturing but also industrial waste and dumping.

As you said, Mr. President, the uncontrolled use of (1st and 2nd class) hazardous waste, which can be tantamount to chemical weapons, is particularly alarming. Its disposal should be regulated by special human safety requirements and for preventing possible terrorist threats. We believe high-tech transport control mechanisms and the best recycling technologies should be introduced in this area as a priority. I hope Mr. Donskoy will highlight this subject in more detail.

Let me touch upon household waste briefly, as it cannot be put off any longer. The regions are prepared for the new waste disposal system to various degrees.

The regions are facing this problem to different extents. The adopted decision to let the regional authorities decide on when to introduce the new system within a certain transition period meets the interests of the green economy and is fairly realistic. People must be prepared to use this system, and it is up to the local authorities to get them ready.

Another extremely important issue, in our opinion, is environmental education. It is important to build a firm attitude to nature in every Russian citizen so that the public understands how their everyday behavior can affect the environment. Insufficient environmental literacy, inability to give an objective assessment to relevant information facilitates environmental skepticism and, therefore, denial of any progress. We have seen that. When this happens, many of our fellow citizens lose the ability to judge environmentally significant data from various sources.

Environment is, above all, knowledge. We believe that our education system must provide this knowledge as a fundamental rather than secondary subject. Environmentally friendly behavior must be instilled by all education programs, starting from kindergarten. Only then will it be common to realize one’s personal responsibility for the future where humankind, which has become a geological force, can continue to progress with confidence.

Colleagues, in my speech I briefly and sometimes emotionally outlined the results of the six months of work. I hope that my team managed to articulate the principles that will help us ensure the sustainable development of Russia for the benefit of present and future generations. In this regard, I cannot help but quote Vladimir Vernadsky who, almost a hundred years ago when people only started paying the price for industrialization, wrote: “A tremendous future is unfolding for humanity if people can understand that and do not use their intelligence and labor for self-eradication.”

I sincerely hope that we will enter the Year of the Environment with a common understanding of the tasks and approaches to them in order to accomplish our goals together.

In conclusion, I would like to thank all the working group members for their contribution here. And Happy New Year! I wish you good health, prosperity and peace!

Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin:

Thank you.

Mr. Donskoy will continue. Please go ahead.

Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Minister Sergei Donskoy:

Mr. President, colleagues,

I would like to begin with the results of a recent nationwide poll conducted by VCIOM Public Opinion Research Centre, in which almost 45 percent of respondents believe that waste is a major threat to the environment, so I'll start with that.

Two years ago, a law aimed at resolving this issue was passed. It provides several key mechanisms. The first is requiring each region to create a transparent system for solid municipal waste management. To this end, the regions need to approve territorial waste treatment arrangements. This document provides a method for the objective assessment of the accumulated amounts of waste and waste traffic management. Under the law, the regional authorities have to select a regional operator on a competitive basis.

We realize that the regions are in varying degrees of readiness, and their transition to a new system is only possible with the full support of the federal government. As an example, I will cite the preparatory process for regional territorial plans. These documents have been agreed upon with Rosprirodnadzor [Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources] in 82 regions, and 69 have approved them. These results are due to the fact that Rosprirodnadzor has been working with each region individually literally on a daily basis.

The next step includes choosing regional operators and setting rates. The regions should do this with the targeted support and control of our colleagues from the relevant federal agencies and ministries.

It was decided to move to a new regulatory system in phases, but, of course, we are not putting this issue on the back burner. First, 12 regions have confirmed their willingness to work under a new system of regulations beginning in 2017, and they need our support. The second key mechanism of the adopted law has become operational in full. Today, manufacturers and importers must dispose of the items that have lost their consumer properties on their own, or pay an environmental fee to the state. In 2017, we plan to collect over 6 billion rubles in environmental fees, and these funds will be used as subsidies for the pilot regions.

We also plan to gradually enlarge the categories of goods subject to recycling (at present there are only eight) and set higher recycling standards. This will generate considerable amounts of money: 300 billion rubles. These funds will be used to subsidies household solid waste disposal programs at the regional level.

Obviously, these measures will be successful only if the required waste processing facilities are created. The first step in this direction will be the launch next year of five pilot recycling plant construction projects. In order to make waste recycling environmentally friendly, it is necessary to ensure waste separation and sorting, and we believe that this is an area that small and medium-sized businesses should move into.

Unfortunately, at present, in addition to reforming the waste disposal management system, we have to deal with the backlog of problems in this area. To bar illegal waste disposal practices, we have streamlined the licensing system down the entire waste circulation chain. A total of 12,000 licenses have been issued and license oversight is ensured. There are also plans to introduce additional automated waste transport control systems regardless of hazard categories, including the use of the GLONASS system. Together with NGOs, in 2017, we will put into operation a public information system to identify and monitor the elimination of dumpsites – a kind of public control system.

Now regarding accumulated industrial waste. Over the past four years, we have removed 4 million tons of waste in Russia’s Arctic zone, Siberia, Far East, Caucasus and Volga region, as well as the Baikal nature reserve. However, we understand that considering its scale, the problem requires a systemic solution. We have adopted a corresponding law that provides for the introduction of a new system: the identification of such sites and their categorization in terms of environmental risk. As a result, next year we will expand the scope of operations, with another 25 polluted territories in 20 regions slated for clean-up.

The aggregate volume of budgetary funding for these projects will exceed 7 billion rubles through 2019. However, budgetary funds alone are not enough. It is necessary to incentivize private investors to undertake such projects. This may include exemptions in providing tracts of land cleared of dumpsites and landfills, as well as the implementation of such projects in lieu of reimbursing the damage caused to the environment.

We believe that the implementation of all of the aforementioned measures will make it possible to significantly improve recycling standards. At present, the level of solid household waste recycling is 8 percent. By 2025, it will amount to 40 percent. Naturally, this will also prevent illegal dumps from popping up.

I am now moving to the second area of the environmental protection reform, namely technological regulation through the law on the best available technology. This is a comprehensive law aimed at improving environmental oversight and control, ecological assessment and ecological norm setting and encouraging environmental activities. Each of those elements is to be implemented stage by stage over a period from 2015 to 2025 with the planning horizon stretching as far as 2035.

For the implementation of the first, the most crucial stage, it is necessary to single out 300 enterprises in the first environmental risk category, which account for up to 60 percent of the negative impact on environmental components. Those enterprises will have three years, beginning in 2018, to carry out modernization programs. The remaining facilities in the first environmental risk category are to switch to the new system by 2025. For that, a state database of enterprises is being created. Those of them that pose the highest risk in terms of pollution are being singled out and equipped with automated control. A system of ecological assessment for the construction and reconstruction of such facilities is also being introduced. As a result, data on overall emissions, waste dumping and waste disposal volumes will be available to the general public.

In 2017, to ensure a transition to the best available technology, all necessary reference books for various economic branches will be completed. By now, half of such reference books have been approved. There are 24 reference books.

To make those measures more efficient and simpler to implement, we consider it necessary to envisage equipping enterprises stage by stage with automated emission control devices and issue comprehensive ecological permissions for new enterprises prior to their construction. And we suggest moving the state environmental review of investment projects to the stage at which locations for future industrial enterprises are chosen.

At the same time, we are aware of the fact that the implementation of this large-scale task will require considerable investments – around 1.5 percent of the GDP according to preliminary estimates. Therefore, the law envisages various privileges and economic incentives. In addition, the Russian Foundation for Technological Development will allocate funds from the federal budget to support the development of enterprises introducing the best available technology. For enterprises that fail to introduce the best available technology, the fee for emissions and waste dumping exceeding the required norms will be increased fourfold.

The efficiency of this mechanism has been proven within the framework of the experience introduced in 2013 of regulating responsibility for burning petroleum gas at flare facilities. The use of this mechanism has made it possible to raise petroleum gas recycling from 77 percent in 2012 to 90 percent this year. Total investments exceed 200 billion rubles.

I would like to point out that, despite the fact that the core mechanisms for implementing the best practices will become effective only in 2019, many large enterprises are already involved in this work. In particular, together with Rosprirodnadzor, we signed 55 agreements with the companies, and the expected volume of environmental investments will exceed 130 billion rubles.

In addition, for the purposes of sewage water treatment, the Ministry provides support for implementing 59 investment projects to build and upgrade sewage treatment plants, with a total private investment of over 125 billion rubles. Once completed, the volume of polluted wastewater discharged into water bodies will decrease by almost 2 cubic kilometers per year.

Over the long term, the transition to the best practices will ensure not only an increase in the quality of life, but will also stimulate the machine-building industry to manufacture the latest equipment, and set the vector for import replacement and localization of manufacturing facilities, which will ultimately improve the competitiveness of the Russian economy.

Now, with regard to the conservation of nature sites. The system of protected areas and biodiversity conservation are the most effective means of wildlife conservation for future generations. So, our primary goal here is to expand the area of protected nature sites, taking into account the level of social and economic development of the regions where they are located. Over the past four years, we have increased the area of ​​protected areas by 14 percent to over 62 million hectares. We will not stop at that, and plan to create 10 more protected sites next year.

In today's world, specially protected nature sites are actively becoming incorporated into ecotourism. Potentially, our parks and reserves can handle about 20 million visitors a year, but the current infrastructure limits this number to 2 million. The state funds are not enough to create the necessary infrastructure, so next year we propose introducing a mechanism to attract private funds to create such infrastructure, including through concession agreements. These mechanisms will allow us to start implementing pilot projects to promote ecotourism in the Baikal nature area, the Altai Mountains and the Caucasus in 2018, and to triple the number of tourists to our national parks by 2025.

Targeted programs are being implemented with regard to all endangered species, such as the Amur tiger, the Persian and Far Eastern leopard, polar bears, bison, and Przewalski's horse, in order to stabilize and increase their population. We plan to launch more rare animal programs, in particular, for the argali, snow leopard and saiga antelope. Next year, we will, of course, continue to work towards expanding the list of such programs, including those with the participation of businesses.

In closing, I would like to provide one more result from the VCIOM poll, which I began with. Responding to a question about the factors positively influencing the environment, our citizens put state environmental supervision in the first place, followed by punishing violators of environmental legislation. Since the majority of regional leaders are present here today, I want to ask you, especially considering our plans for the Year of the Environment, to be responsive to the public request and proceed from the inevitability of punishment for violations of environmental law. I would ask you to consider our plans for the Year of the Environment specifically in this manner.

Thank you.


Vladimir Putin:

In closing, I would like to say the following.

The subject that we are discussing today is not simply politically expedient and fashionable. It is truly extremely important, both for people’s health and the nation’s economic development.

Yes, investing in modern equipment that ensures high environmental standards always means a lot of spending at the initial stage, but you know well that the introduction of environmentally clean modern equipment should eventually enhance labor productivity, because this is modern high-tech equipment, and this represents the main trends in the development of our industry and economy.

In this context I would like to note the responsibility of the state and the business community. It would be wrong if the decisions required for moving down the road we are discussing today depended on people who drink clean water and live in a good environment, while large teams of workers and everything around them exists and moves around in terrible ecological conditions. This is absolutely inadmissible. I would like to draw the attention of representatives of the business community, as well as regional and federal authorities to this fact.

Needless to say, we should act with extreme caution so as not to destroy the economy, not to act like an elephant in a china shop, not to demand the impossible. All decisions must be thoroughly considered and adopted in a timely matter. We must move along this road not in fits and starts, but steadily. If we do not do this, we will get what I mentioned at the beginning of my opening remarks: by the 2050 we will have to deal with consequences that will be hard or impossible in some places to reverse.

I would like to motivate you and all of us to take part in this joint work that is extremely important for our country. Thank you very much for attending today’s meeting. I am grateful for the efforts of the working group to prepare it.

Thank you very much.



Tula Region Governor Alexei Dyumin (left) and Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District Oleg Belaventsev before a State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
Moscow Region Governor Andrei Vorobyov at a State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Anton Vaino and Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko at a State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
Presidential Aide Igor Levitin, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin and Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov before a State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
Before a State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
Before a State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
Special Presidential Representative for Environmental Protection, Ecology and Transport Sergei Ivanov at a State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
Putin at State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky (left) and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov at a State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev at a State Council meeting on Russia’s environmental development for future generations.
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