Scientific and Expert Center
Koltsov Institute of Developmental Biology
Russian Academy of Sciences

Modernization of Economy, Sustainable Development and Civil Society

    Our country, as well as the whole world, faces new challenges. This determines the necessity to modernize the economy, including innovative development, and to ensure energy efficiency. Remember that the essence and trends of modernization are determined by its ultimate goal, which is (for all the importance of economic growth, technological efficiency, and competitiveness) improving the living conditions of every person today and ensuring favorable conditions for future generations. This task is usually defined as ensuring sustainable development.

    Securing economic growth today implies an increase in environmental pollution and degradation, the depletion of natural resources, disturbed biospheric balance, and climate change, which worsens human health and limits the opportunities for future development. This means that solving the exceptionally important task of increasing welfare does not ensure the necessary quality of life. Consequently, the essence of modernization lies in ensuring high technological efficiency for economic development and maintaining a friendly environment (environmental safety that is essential not only for economic growth but also for the existence of humankind).

    It is necessary to support modernization on the way toward so-called double gain, which is associated with both economic efficiency and decrease in hazardous emissions, as well as with waste-free production and the sustainable use of natural resources. The world and Russian experience of such modernization shows that this approach not only increases economic indicators but also significantly improves living conditions. It is necessary to support and propagate this experience. This is the core task of modern innovative development. To accomplish this, it is necessary to not only understand and observe strict environmental requirements but also to have economic interest, including all its instruments; in other words, modernization should be profitable. Promising in this respect is switching to the use of the best available technologies (note, however, that, for all its attractiveness, this approach implies careful estimates of new technologies and their possible consequences). This approach brought good results in developed countries, but experience shows that its implementation takes much time. Hence, we should take urgent measures: adopt a law on paying for negative environmental impact, ensure monitoring, stop practicing temporal agreed permissions for emissions, use the tool of state environmental review of projects, begin removing previous environmental damage, and adopt a law on zones of environmental disorder. The problem of waste and associated production could be solved by a law on deposit-paid containers.

    The key trend in the country's development is energy production. It is necessary to ensure the safe use of traditional resources and energy efficiency. The actualization of the available colossal potential to increase energy efficiency implies urgent measures to ensure commitment to energy saving at all levels, from industries to households (including the installation of water and heat meters and the introduction of energy-saving incentives at enterprises).

    Modernization should account for the country's colossal potentialities to use renewable energy sources (Russia is a leader in the potential to develop wind energy). This implies stimulating energy production on the basis of renewable energy sources and supporting domestic production of necessary equipment. The experience of Western Europe shows that, with a minimum support necessary to launch this process, it further develops increasingly rapidly like a snowball and surpasses all expectations. This trend strengthens the positions of the country as a supplier of hydrocarbons, gives additional export opportunities, and ensures national independence and prospects for further development. The most topical and promising trends are the use of renewable energy sources for internal needs, including, in the first place, energy supply to thinly populated areas (up to 70% of the country's territory); ensuring people’s commitment to the use of renewable energy sources as additional sources of energy; and using renewable energy sources as auxiliary sources of energy supply in industry and in the production of hydrocarbons.

    The solution to the problem of economic modernization for Russia should also take into account the country’s great opportunities in the context of ecosystem services, including the global ecosystem role of forests, swamplands, and other natural ecosystems. Great opportunities here are for the development of the market of ecosystem services and environmental investments both in the international and domestic markets. It is necessary to ensure cooperation between regions based on the assessment of natural services (increasing the value of natural riches and turning into goods things that have not been goods before, including a wide range of ecosystem services) and enter the international market to compensate for the efforts of conserving and increasing natural riches. This will make it possible to rank Russia not only as an energy power but also as an environmental donor.

    The new opportunities for the country are opened up by the global Rio+20 process, initiated for the UN World Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, 20 years after the meeting in Rio de Janeiro. Today Russia is among countries for which this is especially topical. There are several reasons for that. These are economic growth, rich natural resources, and the search for ways of optimal development. The country’s priorities in innovation policy, energy efficiency, and economic modernization according to modern requirements naturally determine the movement toward sustainable development. Russia, together with the other BRIC countries (including Brazil, India, and China), could be a leader in this movement toward sustainable development.

    All this predetermines the development and implementation of environmental policy. Here we should proceed from the fact that environmentalism today is the economy. It is environmental requirements that determine the directions of innovative development and production modernization to ensure long-lasting and trouble-free economic development. Despite the importance of innovation policy, which is a long-term target, we need a natural-resource policy now because natural resources and our attitude toward them predetermine the country’s development today and in the near future. However, we need a policy today not in the form of declarations; declarations have already been made and presented in the Environmental Doctrine, but as a target-oriented activity, a sequence of steps based on the current situation and with the view to its perspective and desirable development. A distinct policy is important in this direction, and it should not be implemented in isolation from mainstream development but incorporated into the strategies, plans, programs, and mechanisms of the country’s development. Individual programs in environmental policy will all the same, despite any declarations of their importance, be viewed as additional and will be financed on the leftover principle. The priorities of environmental policy and environmental requirements must be included into the general plans of development aimed at solving socioeconomic problems that are of everyone’s prime concern. It is practical to include even the implementation of environmental protection measures proper (organizing special protected natural areas, preserving biodiversity, etc.) into foolproof market mechanisms as payments for ecosystem services. This is also true of other aspects of environmental policy, including legislation, education, culture, and the development of civil society. Otherwise, the modern practice of violating the environmental legislation, the absence of real support for the environmental movement, and failure to declare the importance of environmental education or to form environmental culture will continue.

    The top-priority measure to assess the situation and determine action priorities is to introduce a system of indicators of sustainable development. These are primarily indicators of the environmental capacity and energy intensity of economic growth and specific indicators of pollution. Moreover, we need to account for accumulated environmental damage (including pollution and wastes), resource depletion (which is never compensated for by the exploration of new reserves in the long term), landscape degradation, and the effect of pollution on human health. Of principal importance especially for determining prospects for development is to evaluate the extent of the use of renewable energy sources and ecosystem services (including forest, aquatic, swamp, and biological resources; biodiversity, and the area of special protected natural sites). The foundation for the transfer to this modern form of accounting was laid by the decrees of the Russian president to improve energy and environmental efficiency (2008) and to introduce the obligatory accountability of the regions based on energy efficiency indicators (2010). It is necessary to ensure that they also cover other spheres of activity.

    The implementation of the targets of the new market-based economy implies the observance of two main conditions, determined by the level of societal development and societal culture. First, we need to give the competition mechanism in its pure form the opportunity to work without interference of the state. Second, we should ensure market requirements on free goods and related goods characteristics, consumer requests (including the population and the state), which presupposes the role of the human factor based on the priority of improving the value of nature and man.

    The success of the implementation of the ideas of economic modernization, energy efficiency, and sustainable development depends on the active position and personal commitment of everyone. This necessitates educational activity, target-oriented activity of mass media and cultural workers, public service announcements. It is necessary to provide environmental knowledge immediately: from a compulsory subject at general education schools and teaching the basics of sustainable development at higher educational establishments to broad environmental education with its obligatory coverage by mass media, including compulsory limits for public service announcements.

    A great role here should be played by the structures of civil society, including both mass public organizations, youth movements, as well as the professional institutions of sustainable development (such as institutions of public politics, which work in contact with public chambers). The development of such institutions both in the center and in the regions would help consolidate the efforts of the expert community and engage civil society in determining the ways to implement specific tasks of economic modernization and ensure sustainable development. Civil society could initiate the Rio+20 process, demonstrate the commitment of the population, and delegate the country’s active participation in advancing the world community toward sustainable development to the government. This implies the development of a broad environmental movement to support sustainable development as a priority activity of civil society, determining this topic as a priority direction of support on behalf of the state and business.

Vladimir Zakharov


© Center for Sustainable Development and the Health of the Environment, 2015  
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