Russia slashes environmental protections as war rages and economic crisis looms

Russia has quietly eased the construction of pipelines in nature reserves, scrapped auto emissions regulations and pushed back on pollution reduction measures as part of a broad rollback of environmental regulations that is expected to accelerate amid the crisis. war in Ukraine and a deep economic recession. .

Business organizations are pushing for many environmental provisions to be dropped, arguing this would help mitigate the effects of Western sanctions and an economic crisis.

“Things are changing,” environmental journalist Angelina Davydova told the Moscow Times. “Some specific environmental standards and laws are being rolled back.”

In particular, a law passed last month has made it easier for companies to embark on large construction projects in Specially Protected Natural Territories (OOPTs), which cover some 12.5% ​​of Russian territory.

While an earlier version of the law was watered down after public outcry and parliamentary opposition, the final version still looks set to usher in significant changes.

“The law still allows the construction of major objects (oil pipelines or highways) through the federal OOPTN without environmental review,” said Yulia Davydova, spokeswoman for the Russian branch of the environmental group Greenpeace.

In particular, activists are concerned about the construction of oil and gas pipelines, which are often built with substandard equipment and are at risk of leaking.

“After the law is implemented, it will further seriously increase the risks of technogenic impact inside OOPTs,” said Dmitry Gorshkov, Russian head of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Many of the other legislative changes that have affected environmental standards since the start of the war include delays in previously approved regulations.

Baikal nature reserve.
Lynx4502 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The head of the environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor Svetlana Radionova announcement last month that all environmental reviews for businesses will be frozen for two years.

And the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has pushed back two-year deadline for the implementation of the Clean Air Project – a government initiative to control emissions of harmful particulate matter in Russia’s most polluted cities.

Officials say such changes are necessary to stimulate economic activity and give Russian businesses the chance to adapt to new economic conditions created by Western sanctions and the exit of many Western companies from Russia.

The Russian economy could contract by more than 10% this year, according to predictions by the World Bank.

Business lobby groups have been at the heart of efforts to persuade the government to relax regulations on emissions and pollution standards.

The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) – an influential business lobby group – shipped a letter in March to Deputy Prime Minister Viktoria Abramchenko, who oversees the environment, suggesting 43 regulatory changes.

These included delays of several years for companies forced to install emissions monitoring and control systems after receiving a government agreement environmental permit.

Greenpeace’s Davydova said 42 of the RSPP’s 43 initiatives “weaken environmental regulations and give businesses a free hand so that the country is guaranteed to face multiple environmental accidents and disasters.”

One of the most prominent regulators flashbacks since the start of the war Ukraine has been in the auto industry – since early May, Russian automakers are no longer required to meet pollution control standards used by the European Union.

This will not only lead to more pollution, but also reduced passenger safety, according to the daily Kommersant. reported.

A factory in Omsk, Russia. Ilya Makarov (CC BY 3.0)

A factory in Omsk, Russia.
Ilya Makarov (CC BY 3.0)

According to journalist Davydova, pressure for specific changes usually comes from business groups or individual companies.

“The business community as a whole aims to ease the [environmental] requirements,” she said.

Along with repealing laws and rolling back regulations, many also fear the government is seeking to clamp down on environmental activists.

“In times of war, the economy is under pressure and environmental activism is almost seen as treason,” Igor Ivanov, an activist from the northern Komi republic, told the Russian Service of the Moscow Times.

Ivanov was a fine 30,000 rubles ($530) by a Russian court earlier this month for an anti-war social media post.

Other environmental and climate change activists have fled abroad since the war began, fearing criminal prosecution – an absence that will likely mean further weakening of scrutiny over environmental issues on the ground.

More broadly, many fear that the invasion of Ukraine has changed the political priorities of the Kremlin and that major climate reforms will soon be abandoned.

Russia’s Energy Ministry may even revise its goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2060, according to Greenpeace’s Davydova.

Either way, as the war drags on and Russia’s economic problems worsen, authorities and businesses are unlikely to relax their efforts to remove regulations designed to protect the environment and reduce pollution. greenhouse gas emissions.

“The new standards will lead to less environmental control of a company’s activities at all levels,” WWF’s Gorshkov said.

Russia news

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