MOSCOW, December 26 (Alexey Eremenko, RIA Novosti) – Wildfires, “Potemkin villages” and parliamentary lobbyists will be the main threats to Russia’s environment in the coming year, ecologists and government officials agreed on Wednesday.
“I fear an increase in blatant lies, Potemkin villages created to present a rosy picture, instead of solving problems,” said Alexei Yaroshenko of Greenpeace Russia.
The dismal situation with wildfires is a prime example, Yaroshenko, who supervises the watchdog’s forestry programs, said at an end-of-the-year press conference in Moscow.
Greenpeace and the Russian Academy of Sciences estimate that 11 million hectares of forests was lost to the fires in 2012, the worst statistics in nine years. But the Federal Forestry Agency’s official figures put the affected territory at just 2 million hectares.
The Natural Resources and Ecology Ministry is looking into this discrepancy and will publish its own figures in January or February, deputy minister Rinat Gizatulin said. He added that the local authorities often downplay the wildfires so their inefficiency in combatting them is less apparent.
There is a 30 to 40-percent chance that the country will see more rampaging wildfires in 2013, Yaroshenko said. “Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
He added that the recent years’ rollback in environmental legislation triggered an outflow of professional forestry experts – severely limiting the capacity for prevention.
The government is now working to reverse this rollback, with a handful of crucial bills passed in 2012, including a state policy on environment through 2020, said Igor Chestin, the head of the Russian branch of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
More are slated for review in the coming months, but there is no guarantee they will be passed, in part thanks to what Chestin calls a powerful anti-environmental lobby. Gizatulin said that his ministry also viewed the possibility that this wide-ranging legislation may not be passed is one of the main threats faced by Russia’s environment in 2013.
Neither identified the lobbyists they are facing. But bills pending review include a law hiking emission fines for enterprises using obsolete technologies and environmental examination of economic activity, which could impact thousands of businesses nationwide.