Climate, Urbanism, Intelligence, Identity, and the Russia Hub. Day 3 of the Valdai Club Annual Meeting
Sochi, Russia
List of speakers

On Wednesday, October 20, the Valdai Club experts continued their work. The third day of the Annual Meeting was very eventful: four sessions were held, including a special session, as well as a meeting with Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. 

The day began with a session devoted to perhaps the central issue of our time (and the main theme of the previous Valdai Club Annual meeting last year) - climate change and its impact on states and societies. The speakers comprehensively covered the topic from the point of view of science, business and government officials. An alarming picture of the consequences of the atmosphere warming for Russia was presented: it entails an increase in the number of droughts and fires, as well as a decrease in soil fertility. The melting of the permafrost, which covers two-thirds of the country's territory, would be accompanied by the release of carbon dioxide and methane (it contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere), and would lead to landslides in mountainous and hilly regions, as well as flooding. 

Although the problem of climate change is global, individual countries and groups of countries offer their own answers - and sometimes try to impose them on others. The experts noted that each country should have the right to approach carbon neutrality in its own way. Russia has chosen the absorption of carbon by forests as its main approach, but there is potential in energy savings and reducing the energy intensity of production. The main thing is that the energy transition should be smooth, without shock scenarios. 

As the participants of the session pointed out, a new agreement between the state and society on climate issues is needed. The vaccination campaign showed that even the presence of advanced technology and the ability to quickly develop an effective drug does not contribute to an increase in citizens' confidence in the state. One can imagine the kind of social explosion that would be caused by the introduction of a carbon tax on households. As for Russian businesses, they’re concerned about cross-border carbon taxes (in particular from the EU, its largest trading partner), but the business community’s attitude to the issue not only reflects fears of the threat of taxation. Increasingly, their position has an ethical rationale: "something needs to be done." 

In conclusion, the experts noted that the science of climate in Russia is well developed and is based on rich traditions, starting from Dmitry Dokuchaev and Vladimir Vernadsky: global warming was predicted in the USSR back in the 1970s. But for more accurate predictions, climate science needs to be continually invested. 

After the fourth session, a closed-door meeting of the Club's experts with the Mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin took place. In a frank manner, they discussed problems concerning the development of large cities, strategies for responding to a pandemic, and many other issues. 

The fifth session of the Annual Meeting was devoted to the global competition for intelligence, which, according to experts, has become a key resource of states, since in the modern world competitiveness is less and less dependent on geography and military power and more and more on investment in human capital. However, unlike natural deposits, intelligence is mobile. The rich countries attract educated people and become even richer, while the poor countries, which their "brains", become far poorer - such is the cruel reality. 

The "brain drain" from Russia has decreased significantly over the past twenty years, but the country is still an exporter of scientific personnel. The most acute problem is in neurobiology, mathematics, biochemistry and pharmacology. However, there is also a reverse process - "brain gain"; it is observed in such spheres as economics, finance and ecology. 

In recent years, there has been an increase of scientific activity in Russia, but it has not been accompanied by an increase in funding or an improvement in the quality of research and innovation. Russia spends about 1% of its GDP on science. For comparison’s sake, China spends 2%; Japan, Germany and the USA spend 3% each; South Korea spends 4% (by the way, South Korea also accounts for the maximum number of patents per unit of GDP). From year to year, Russian scientists publish more and more scientific articles, but, unfortunately, only a relatively small number of them are published in the most influential world journals. 

According to experts, the development of science and technology is also hampered by a low culture of risk tolerance, and this applies to both public and private structures. The researcher prefers a project with low risk, where he can be guaranteed the opportunity to report to a superior, but not a high-risk project. Meanwhile, the researcher should have the right to make a mistake, one of the speakers emphasised, and the failure of the project should not make its author a "shot down pilot." The good news is that the culture of risk tolerance, which has proven its effectiveness in world practice, is gradually spreading in Russia.

The sixth session was devoted to the national idea and national values ​​of Russia - a topic that the Valdai Club has been dealing with since its establishment. Violent disputes flared up between experts, in particular, about whether collectivism remains a basic Russian value. According to one of the participants, today the West is engaged in the collectivisation of the individual, while Russia, on the contrary, is a country of individual freedom. It is in Russia that discussions are being held freely, which are unacceptable in the West today. However, the thesis that the value agenda being formed in Russia is increasingly incompatible with the mainstream Western one did not raise any particular objections. Some experts expressed doubts that there is a single value agenda in Russia, and indeed, it is impossible in such a heterogeneous and diverse country.

At the end of the third day, a special session was held, dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the new Eurasia. Experts stated that today the inhabitants of the post-Soviet space have less and less in common. The generation that was born after the collapse of the Soviet Union entered adulthood long ago. The common cultural code is being blurred and, although the Russian language still retains its role as a bonding factor, in one or two generations the leaders of post-Soviet countries will speak through an interpreter. 

Was there more in common between individual Soviet republics than between the newly independent states today? One of the experts compared the post-Soviet space with a wheel without a rim, the spokes of which are connected only by an internal hub. The role of the hub was and continues to be played by Russia, which today, through Eurasian integration, creates a common agenda for such different countries as Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. But apart from institutional integration, Russia continues to play a unique role even for countries that decisively distance themselves from it. 

However, it was pointed out that Eurasian integration is not as successful as we would like. The EAEU is perceived through the prism of personalities - as a project of leaders, not societies. Experts even asked the question: has Russia lost interest in Eurasian integration? After all, integration is impossible without effective institutions, such as the European Commission, which “they do not like, but are afraid of”. And no one is even afraid of the Eurasian Economic Commission, since it has no real powers. 

However, everything is not so bad. Sometimes new cultural codes are born where they are not expected, and with them the potential for rapprochement appears. This year, in Kazakhstan, TikTok forum, which unites bloggers with a million followers, has become the most popular not only in the post-Soviet space, but also in the world, and the most popular video blogger of the former USSR comes from Belarus. So it is possible that a new Eurasian identity is emerging through the TikTok and YouTube generation right now, based on global digital platforms.