Russia's environment a "grim picture"

OECD catalogues appalling problems, major political, institutional, challenges

Russia is in environmental crisis, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has concluded in its first ever survey of the country's environmental performance. Despite the passage of a raft of new laws since the USSR's collapse in 1991, many environmental trends are still negative, the agency finds.

Though of most immediate concern to a Russian population suffering significantly increased mortality due to worsening environmental quality, the crisis also has broader European and global implications, the report notes. In particular, the country remains a major contributor to regional and global environmental problems such as acid deposition and greenhouse gas emissions.

Marking significant efforts by the Russian government in the early 1990s, the OECD salutes a series of laws and administrative reforms aimed at setting a new framework for environmental policy in the context of a liberalised and more open economy. But developments on the ground have not matched these intentions, it finds.

Environmental issues have had a lower priority in government in the second half of the 1990s, the report says, and since 1996 Russia no longer has a national environment minister. Newly introduced economic instruments have "lost much of their effectiveness" because of inflation. Implementation of the polluter pays and user pays principles are "weak". Federal funding of environmental activities has fallen to just 0.5% of total environmental expenditure - a level the OECD says "arouses legitimate concerns".

Among the results of these trends, the OECD reports, air pollution levels in many Russian cities exceed international health-based standards, while drinking water infrastructure has deteriorated so far that water-borne disease and mortality have increased. Arrangements to safeguard a growing stock of hazardous wastes, including radioactive wastes, have been "compromised," presenting an "imminent health risk" in some localities.

Along with a 40% contraction in Russia's economy since 1991, many types of pollution have fallen. However, the OECD finds that pollution cuts have been smaller in percentage terms than the economic contraction. The result is that Russia's pollution and resource intensity has actually worsened over the decade and is now "several times" higher than the OECD average.

Apparently unbowed by the "grim picture" it paints of Russia's environment, the OECD makes a series of recommendations aimed at reversing the tide, starting with stronger enforcement of environmental laws and a streamlining of the regulatory framework.

Follow Up:
OECD, tel: +33 1 45 24 82 00. References: "Environmental Performance Reviews: Russian Federation".

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