HSE and NArFU Researchers Unveil New Arctic Development Proposals

Russia’s Arctic territories are home to a diverse but highly vulnerable ecosystem and to traditional lifestyles lived by native peoples resident in the region. It is a region that boasts significant natural resources. So how can we expand our exploitation of these resources and develop the Arctic economy without negatively impacting either the region’s delicate ecosystems or the native people’s way of life? The Institute for Regional Research and Urban Planning at HSE and the Arctic Center for Strategic Research at NArFU held a round table to examine these issues. The round table discussion proposed a resolution for distribution to federal state agencies.

Participants in the discussion stressed that the Arctic is one of the most promising areas for special development in the country. The total oil and gas resources in the Arctic are estimated to be between 13%b and 30% of the world total, respectively. And a significant proportion of these are only 500m deep, and therefore accessible. Climate change is gradually opening up the Arctic’s waters for exploration and natural resource exploitation, and also offering the world new shipping route options (the Northern Sea Route, the North-Western Sea Route).

In addition to natural resources, the territory also boasts extensive biological resources, opening up new production possibilities, and potentially strengthening environmental pressure on Russia’s territories – both sea and land – in the country’s north. Some key issues in terms of resource use and environmental protection need to be resolved in order to ensure the Arctic sees environmentally sustainable development. They include:

  • Supporting comprehensive natural resource exploitation using the latest eco-friendly technology that minimizes pollution, meaning that we will be able to protect the Arctic’s eco-systems in the long term;
  • Storing, negating and removing waste from the regions where new exploration is underway, ensure their reuse and reduce the sources of waste – this will be central to planning and carrying out any activities in Russia’s Arctic Zone (RAZ);
  • Optimize, identify, and develop promising types of economic activity, taking into account the country’s economic needs, environmental friendliness, and the gradual move away from loss-making ‘dirty’ production;
  • Diversify economic activity thanks to promising new resources of industrial hydrocarbons and raw materials on the shelf, archipelagos and islands in Russia’s Arctic zone, develop tourism, the services sector and other forms of economic activity in the region;
  • Carry out research and testing in a variety of different areas.

Research in the Arctic zone essentially stopped in the early 1990s, and although in recent years individual research projects in geophysics, seismology, archaeology, glaciology, biology, geology, meteorology, and environmental monitoring have been carried out, these inquiries have been limited to particular areas and do little to help build a comprehensive body of research into alternative development and economic activities in the country’s North.

Participants in the round table discussion stressed how important it is to ensure a balanced approach is taken to the development of single-industry cities, which face problems in the economic (low competitiveness), social (population outflow) and environmental (high volumes of harmful waste) sectors. Russia’s Arctic Zone encompasses a fifth of all the country’s single-industry cities, and many of them are mired in deep depression – requiring complex structural re-orientation.

Environmental Protection and Cooperation

The Arctic Region is not only of interest to official Arctic states, but also China, Japan, South Korea, India and other countries. Russia must pay particular attention to the attitude and strategies developed by non-regional states regarding their Arctic interests. Issues such as protecting Russia’s Arctic Zone as a national resource base and major transport route must be provided for, critically, through diplomatic channels, the researchers argue. Russia must clearly define its position regarding China’s Arctic ambitions. Clearly, given the context of the Russia-China strategic partnership as part of efforts to create a multipolar global architecture, relations with China over Arctic development must balance national interests and the benefits to be gained through cooperation.

Large-scale development of the Arctic and the launching of significant economic projects in the region will require significant foreign investment. International cooperation in the Arctic must expand and strengthen trust between Arctic states, and boost the development of constructive business engagement in all economic areas, including on the challenges of environmental protection. In many ways this idea was mirrored in the US President Barack Obama’s statement, made during his speech at the international conference on the Arctic at Anchorage, on the desire to continue cooperation with all Arctic states under the Arctic Council, especially regarding climate change.

The upcoming Climate Conference in Paris might serve as a productive forum for the promotion of the initiatives Russian President Vladimir Putin set out at the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly on 28 September 2015 on the need to establish a forum for the comprehensive response to the complex problems posed by climate change under the UN.

One key precondition to the creation and effective functioning of a mechanism to implement Russia’s environmental policies, including in the Arctic is improving its laws and ensuring that they are strictly complied with. To that end updated research and forecasting foundations should be created – creating the conditions that enable new knowledge, technologies and approaches to be adopted and incorporated into production and the development of a high-tech economy in the Russian Arctic.

Round table participants also touched on another subject -  the environmental impact of developing the Northern Sea Route for shipping. The Northern Sea Route is a key factor in socio-economic development for regions in Russia’s Arctic North, and is of particular importance for national security – and the strengthening of Russia’s presence in the Arctic.

The Russian Prime Minister on 5 June 2015 endorsed the ‘Northern Sea Route Comprehensive Development Project’, a key government decision on developing the Northern Sea Route, which includes a proposal for equipping icebreakers and ships that operate the Northern Sea Route year round with trained personnel and equipment to deal with emergencies, including underwater, and oil-spill response crew. 

In response to the problems involved in Arctic development, participants drew up concrete recommendations for Federal Government agencies – including the proposal to set up a working group to develop an Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy based on the Council for Research into Production with the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Economic Development together with our institute and the Arctic Strategic Research Center at NArFU.

The full text can be found in the attached file (in Russian):

 Resolution (DOCX, 265 Кб)