Is Russia Ready for an Environmental Disaster?
VCIOM, Moscow, Prechistenka 28
List of speakers

In recent years – not least thanks to the media – the environmental agenda has been steadily reaching the masses and gaining momentum. On the one hand, the problem of reducing greenhouse gas emissions or climate change increasingly worries states and businesses, and on the other hand, it affects the lives of ordinary people who take the trouble to sort their garbage. On February 6, the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VCIOM) hosted another discussion in the framework of a joint project with the Valdai Discussion Club, titled “The Future Preparedness Index”, this time devoted to resources (primarily energy) and environmental issues.

The joint project of VCIOM and the Valdai Club, which has already been discussed many times, assesses the world’s readiness for the future in ten areas – economy, science, culture, and so on. Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, reminded the audience that the case is about readiness for any future, and above all, the unknown one. Back in November, no one had any idea that in December the coronavirus epidemic would begin. The only question is: which among those who did not know is better prepared for such surprises – democratic or authoritarian states? Which economy, which armed forces, and which countries’ scientific establishment?

Despite the whole “nebulosity” of the future in the field of resources and ecology, Valery Fedorov, VCIOM General Director, identified three main trends: the development of alternative energy amid the depletion of non-renewable resources, the rational use of natural resources, and the organisation of total waste processing, due to growing consumption. These parameters are destined to determine what Earth looks like in the future (now that are not going to leave it) and to identify those countries that are prepared as well as those that aren’t. The Index displays five more accurate indicators that can be used to determine this: the share of wind and solar energy, the development of the environment, management quality in the extractive industries, depletion of natural resources, and, finally, the mass introduction of modern waste processing technologies.

As a result, of the 20 largest countries and economies studied in the project, the leading position is held by Britain, Germany, the USA and the EU, as well as Canada and Japan, which used to be in the “middle” group. Saudi Arabia and Russia turned out to be outsiders, gaining 7 points out of 100 possible. Fedorov emphasised that the leaders also have their weaknesses: some places have problems with the rational use of resources, while others have a problem with waste. “The substantial results of the Index are very interesting. We’d better focus on them and what to do with them. The future does not exist yet, it can be created, or at least influenced,” the expert said.

In addition to this keynote speech, Stepan Lvov, Head of Strategic Development at VCIOM, presented the findings of a recent study of Russians’ attitudes towards climate change. It turned out that 40% of respondents consider this problem far-fetched and insignificant. In addition, the vast majority of the country's inhabitants are not willing to pay more for environmentally friendly fuel, utilities or public transport. On the other hand, many expressed their willingness to take a personal part in the fight against global warming – for example, by planting trees.

During the discussion, the participants criticised a number of findings of the report. Konstantin Simonov, Director General of the National Energy Security Fund and Pro-Rector of the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, stated that the depletion of non-renewable resources is a myth, since it is not clear if traditional resources will steadily cede to alternative ones, and the proven oil and gas reserves in the world are growing. On the other hand, Igor Nechaev, Director General of EuroChem, emphasised Russia’s unaccounted contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which has allowed, according to him, for the slowing of global climate change by one year. Therefore, Russia should talk more about its successes and show to the international community what has been achieved.

Igor Bashmakov, Executive Director of the Centre for Energy Efficiency, noted that the Index does not take into account the indicators of material and energy intensity, but agreed that there was a general trend to adopt alternative energy sources that will slow down climate warming. However, at the current level of development, keeping global climate warming within the two degrees stipulated by the Paris Agreement is practically unrealistic: for this you would have to reduce emissions to zero. “According to the model of the “red” economy, it is impossible to double the GDP by 2050 and catch up with the world in terms of growth. If we want to improve the economy, we need to create a new ‘green’ economy and make the one that we have ‘greener’,” Bashmakov concluded.

As a result, in spite of many disagreements, the experts agreed that the relationship between energy and climate is far from trivial, and requires further careful study. In the end, climate change itself is also an unclear issue: as Denis Terekhov, Managing Partner of the Social Networks Agency (SNMG Group) noted, the panic regarding the expansion of the Antarctic and the ice melting is based on the same data. In addition to scientific studies, a public discussion is necessary, together with the activity of individual states and the development of international work in this direction, which will make the world more prepared for environmental changes.