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HSE Advocates for Environmental Transparency

HSE Advocates for Environmental Transparency

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More than 40% of Russian citizens consider changing their place of residence due to environmental problems. This was a statistic cited by Lyaila Sinyatullina, Head of the Department of Advanced Studies at HSE University’s Institute for Public Administration and Governance, at a roundtable dedicated to an environmental information bill that will be reviewed by the Russian State Duma.

Vladimir Burmatov, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Ecology and Environmental Protection, stated that, at present, there exist no means for ordinary citizens, environmental experts, or media outlets to obtain current data about the city’s air quality, soil conditions, drinking water quality, radiation levels, or river and lake conditions.

‘Enterprises that release emissions and discharge harmful substances into the atmosphere and water are not required by law to provide information regarding their environmental activities, because they are protected by Russia’s trade secret protection law,’ he stated.

The government bill ‘On Environmental Information’, which the State Duma’s Ecology Committee is preparing for consideration, seeks to solve this problem. Providing key expertise for the architects of the bill was HSE University’s Institute for Public Administration and Governance. Vice Rector and Director of the Institute, Andrey Zhulin, noted that the 42nd article of the Russian Constitution guarantees Russian citizens the right to favorable environment as well as the right to information about environmental conditions. HSE University supports the government’s proposal to instate guarantees for citizens’ access to information. Currently, there is no mechanism in place to ensure the provision of this constitutional right.

‘There is a very high societal demand for environmental information,’ Andrey Zhulin emphasized.

HSE regularly conducts studies on citizens' attitudes toward environmental issues and the availability of information on the state of the environment. Survey results show a consistently high interest in the topic

According to a study conducted in February-March 2019, 94% of citizens reported that they are concerned about pollution. This is an absolute majority. 71% of the population reported that the problem is of critical importance to them. And only 1% of citizens believe that there are no environmental problems in their region of residence.

‘The situation with the availability of data on environmental pollution is interesting,’ says Andrey Zhulin. ‘64% of the population indicate difficulties in finding such information, and another 20% say that it is completely inaccessible.’

Such statistics directly touch upon another important topic — the degree of public confidence in official data. The participants in the roundtable were unanimous: the lack of full and timely information leads to the appearance of many ‘amateur’ stories and sources on the internet and in the media — many of which can result in unnecessary panic amongst citizens.

15% of citizens reported that they would change their place of residence were they to discover a threat to their life or health, and 32% reported that they would consider it

In addition to landfills and dumps, citizens are concerned about industrial enterprise activity. In a single industrial zone, it often occurs that only one large plant is willing to designate a protected, sanitary zone. Smaller enterprises often decline to comply with sanitation standards.

Based on the conclusions of the roundtable, the Russian State Duma affirmed that the bill, which aims to provide a solution to the current situation, will be adopted with input from the scientific community, regulatory bodies, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, environmentalists, and federal executive bodies.

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