Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Lake Baikal and Russia's Environmental Policy Process

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Lake Baikal and Russia's Environmental Policy Process

Article excerpt

The protection of Lake Baikal remains one of the most important issues in Russian environmental politics.1 The lake holds a special significance, having attracted a great deal of national and international attention from the Soviet era to the present. Therefore, in many ways, the lake represents a unique case, particularly in terms of its prominence as an issue and its ecology. Lake Baikal is the world's oldest and deepest lake; it contains an estimated 20 percent of the world's unfrozen freshwater reserves. Located in southern Siberia, its isolation means that it is home to a large number of endemic flora and fauna. The lake is surrounded by a number of protected areas, including Russia's first zapovednik (nature reserve) Barguzin, which was established by the Tsarist government in 1916. Lake Baikal was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1996.

Lake Baikal first emerged as an environmental issue in the Soviet Union during the post-Stalinist period, when attempts were made to develop the Baikal watershed, most notably with a proposed pulp and paper plant on the shores of the lake. Proponents argued that the lake's water was necessary to produce pure cellulose for the defense industry.2 Opponents, however, saw the plant as an environmental threat, since it would discharge wastewater directly into the lake. A limited number of scientists were the first to express their concerns, in publications such as Literaturnaia gazeta, and they were later joined by a broader group that included writers, academics, and naturalists. This was considered to be part of a phenomenon of more "pluralist" politics, which prompted much analysis and debate amongst scholars, including Kelley and Löwenhardt.3 Despite this relatively open debate, which gave voice to environmental concerns, industrial interests ultimately triumphed and the pulp and paper plant was built. Nevertheless, Baikal remains an important symbol.

Today, the lake faces a number of threats, including pressure from increasing tourism, industrial development, and water pollution, particularly from the Selenga River, which has its source in Mongolia and flows through a number of towns, including Ulan Ude, before reaching the lake. While the protection of Baikal is fascinating as a study in its own right, the politics surrounding the lake also offer an insight into some of the bigger challenges associated with the environmental policy process in contemporary Russia. This case reveals a great deal about the broader context in which decision-making in Russia takes place, and highlights the key actors involved in environmental protection efforts, including environmental groups and political leadership. It also provides an important opportunity to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the policymaking process.4

Considerable attention has been paid to environmental politics in post-Soviet Russia, and the Soviet Union before it. Environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and their role in civil society have long been a key focus, as demonstrated by the works of Dawson, Yanitsky, Henry, and Feldman and Blokov, for example.5 A number of studies, including most notably those by Peterson and Bielke, Oldfield, Crotty, Crotty and Rodgers, and Mol,6 have also explored institutional developments and change in the post-Soviet era. The process of making decisions about the environment and formulating policy, however, has received less attention. Relatively few studies have examined environmental policymaking, with some exceptions such as Venable, Kochtcheeva, and Martus.7 Further policy-based case studies are required. More broadly, there is substantial interest in Russian policymaking and decision-making at present. Notable works include Fortescue, Adachi, and Taylor, to name a few.8

This study will examine the key policy actors in relation to Lake Baikal and the role they play in decision-making, followed by an overview of relevant legislation and key policy decisions. …

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