Russia is Working on Environmental Sustainability

Russia is Working on Environmental Sustainability
Russia is perhaps not known for being on the frontline of the movement to build a sustainable future. However, all that is changing and has been for a while.

Russia is perhaps not known to be on the front line of the movement to build a sustainable future. All that however is changing, in fact it has been for a while.

In this program I talk to Jaqueline Gibson, a sustainable environments advisor from the UK, who came to Russia to talk at what is called the ‘Second Climate Forum of Cities', which is a two day event in Moscow organized with the help of the Moscow City Government. The Forum's goals were to inform, educate and bring Russian urban planners up to date with the latest international trends in green building development and sustainability programs in urban environments.

Jacqueline has a long background in high level negotiations with government and administrative bodies in the sustainability sphere. In Moscow she delivered a number of presentations at the Forum. Brave New World's host John Harrison asked her how she got to be in Moscow: "A few months ago I took part in ‘Green Week Oxford', where I live, and made a presentation at the university. I work for Blenheim palace where I am a sustainability advisor. I was invited by the Moscow City Government to come and take part in a Climate Change Forum, so that's why I'm here, but during the week I have made many other presentations. This morning, for example, I talked to the [Russian] National Parks Department, on Saturday I am travelling to Tarusa, a town not far from Moscow which is taking part in a global initiative under the aegis of ‘One Planet Living'. There are five ‘One Planet Living' cities around the world, and Tarusa is going to be the 6th."

Jacqueline explained what ‘One Planet Living' is all about. "The way we are living, with our population growth, we are dependent on natural resources. We are placing a lot of pressure on the earth to provide fresh air and clean water. This is under jeopardy because of the way we are living. So in a way, we have become a threat to our own survival. This calls for more stainable ways of living. This Forum will very much address issues surrounding cities, green buildings but actually it takes a bit more than that, we need to start behaving more sustainable, and making sustainable choices at home and at work. So One Planet Living is a way to live within the limits of one planet….The WWF stated that if everybody in the world lived according to the average European, we'd need three planets. If everyone in the world lived according to the way that the average American lives, we would need 5 planets…"

Jaqueline mentions China in the sustainability context, and points out that because a country is large, does not mean that it has to be a heavy polluter, and that it is the smaller countries that are often the worst offenders. In this context she mentions that sustainability of cities is something that is vitally important as so many of (93% Jaqueline says) of the world's population lives in urban areas. "Most urban areas are polluted because of bad air, and are at risk of climate change. With rising sea levels, these many cities will be the first to experience wide scale flooding. Who is going to pay for that? Will we see the appearance of climate change refugees? Is the West going to be accountable for that? These are big global political challenges." As an example of the way that we can do something positive together, Jaqueline talks about the introduction of ‘SUP', that is, single use plastic.

Russia, Jaqueline says is ready to embrace the low carbon and green economy. The fact that the Forum was organized by the Moscow City Government, host John Harrison says, means quite a lot. There are a lot of very interesting projects happening in Russia, Jaqueline says, listing new projects in Russia which are appearing and being operated in a sustainable way. The construction of ‘Green Buildings' seems to have now really taken off in Russia. "During the Climate Forum, 25 of Moscow's Green Buildings were highlighted, I think people are aware of doing the right thing, and are also aware of how this works out in business, the cost-saving, especially for corporates in the new generation X era, when people can go onto twitter and check out the transparency of individual projects. I know the government is producing reports now of the top 20 or 50 organizations here in Russia and reporting on their environmental impact. This is great. I am very impressed."

The way that the green building and sustainability movement is rather top down in Russia is discussed. Jaqueline says that "everyone I have spoken to is certainly very interested to find out why I am here, what is happening. OK, not everyone has heard about the Climate Forum happening here in Moscow, but there is certainly huge interest to find out what is happening in other parts of the world, and I'm talking about waste disposal, I'm talking about recycling, and there are actually a lot of things already happening here. There is a movement towards ecotourism and at the same time protected areas are not being ruined by developments….There is a challenge, it is a huge country you have everything from an Arctic environment to grasslands, to wetlands, to river fresh water habitats, and ancient forests capturing carbon so there is no one action plan for all of these different habitats, however I was really impressed with hearing about what is going on…."I'm from Northern Ireland, so I'm used to people having a negative perception of their country. But I have to say that as soon as I arrived here the warm greetings the friendliness, the appetite for wanting to hear about what is happening around the world, and wanting to change and innovate is very unusual. Maybe a top down approach is right for Russia. Decisions have to be made and applied."

Some specifics about the Russian environment are discussed, including the impact of spending months at dachas for the younger generation. It seems that Russia is going green, but quietly and profoundly.

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