Establishing dialogue between environmental activists and the business sector was one of the most debated issues at the international Arctic conference held in Moscow.

The arrest of 30 Greenpeace activists in the Pechora Sea seems to have spurred a dialogue between business and environmentalists. Photo: AP

This tension between business and environmental interests was one of the key issues on the agenda of the recent Arctic conference organized by the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) on Dec. 2-3. Given the recent incident involving 30 Greenpeace activists arrested as a result of the attack on an oilrig in the Pechora Sea, this issue is now more relevant than ever. 

One of the speakers, Andrey Krivorotov, Head of the Corporate Relations Department at the Shtokman Development energy company, raised the problem of establishing dialogue between the business and civil sector, while at the same time, weighing the risks facing energy companies, such as the severe climate and difficulties in establishing infrastructure in the region.

Krivorotov proposed to involve in the dialogue environmentalists, entrepreneurs and governments officials as well as representatives from civil society organizations. This dialogue would include organizations such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Russia Direct discussed the issue in greater detail with business leaders, environmentalists, and academics.

Alexander Abashin, Head of the Industrial Safety and Environmental Protection Department of LUKOIL Overseas Holding Ltd

Today we are collaborating with several environmental organizations including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Greenpeace, Russia’s Fund for Environmental Protection and some other environmental agencies. Nothing seems to hamper establishing dialogue with such organizations. Regarding environmental radicalism, even though some Greenpeace actions are politically oriented, it doesn’t prevent us from establishing dialogue. We are open to this dialogue and respond to their requests every time.

In this context, it’s also important to look into international environmental legislation if it is favorable for business. Currently, we have put forward our proposal to the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development on how to improve this legislation. The problem is that there are hundreds of laws and other standards that sometimes appear to contradict each other. That’s why the legislation should be amended: It is necessary to work on this issue a lot, a process which could take more than one year to achieve clear understanding what we should change.

We have to analyze Russia’s legal normative base and then propose specific amendments. All this can contribute to improving the dialogue.

Alexander Shestakov, Director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Global Arctic Program

Unfortunately, currently the dialogue [on the Arctic] between civil society and business leaves much to be desired in Russia even in those cases where we have this dialogue. And I don’t mean the dialogue between a company and a certain part of the local population because this is not real dialogue. It’s the dialogue carried out in the format of compensations or even buying opinions, let’s say. When I am talking about dialogue I mean the communication between business companies and well-established civil society agencies such as non-governmental organization (NGOs).

What prevents this dialogue? Partly, sometimes this dialogue is conducted in a different language with a lack of understanding and reluctance to listen [to each other]. According to our experience, when we wasted a lot of effort and time for the dialogue with different companies – and sometimes this dialogue was taking several years – almost in all cases this dialogue seems not to have brought any results. Unfortunately, we found out that [oil and gas] companies seem to change nothing in their work. The dialogue is used by these companies for publicity campaigns.

It is possible to improve the dialogue provided all necessary changes are made in these companies. From my point of view, some Russian companies are not mindful about the changes that have happened over the last 15-20 years. They don’t understand what sort of dialogue they should establish with society. The problem is that they see society as an irrelevant element that can be manipulated and controlled by the decisions from the authorities. Undoubtedly, there are some NGOs that are created specially to fulfill the orders [from companies].       

Regarding environmental radicalism, we should keep in mind the reasons of these radical measures. To be specific, the recent Greenpeace arrest actually resulted from the reluctance of the [Gazprom] energy company to maintain the dialogue. In this case Greenpeace chose such a radical method because it didn’t see any alternative, because other methods don’t work: there is no dialogue with them, no reaction, no changes, and no transparent decisions.    

Vladimir Chuprov, Energy Unit Head at Greenpeace Russia

Today, there is almost no dialogue between the Russian civil sector and business regarding the Arctic’s development. Greenpeace has been submitting applications to the authorities and energy companies about what is to be done in the Arctic and what we should avoid on the Arctic shelf but we see no reaction except formal replies. I see this move as quasi-dialogue: What brings news and create this sort of dialogue is the arrest of 30 Greenpeace members [related to the recent incident in the Pechora Sea].

Remarkably, after this scandal we got many invitations to discuss the Arctic together with experts and business at different conferences, something that was not previously commonplace. And now Greenpeace has representatives in Russia’s Council of Human Rights and we raise the problem of the Arctic. It seems to me that there won’t be dialogue until a scandal happens.

Today, the monopoly of taking political and economic decisions is one of the major impediments for establishing this dialogue between environmentalists and business. So, overcoming this monopoly is one of the ways to improve the dialogue between environmentalists and business. And also we should develop a culture of communication with the civil society sector.

Vasiliy Bogoyavlenskiy, Deputy Director for Science, Oil and Gas Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences

Any oil projects have special civil hearings. But it’s important how [these hearings] are conducted, if all interested sides are invited for discussion. Yet, every energy project is discussed by members of the local community. That’s why we can’t say that energy companies are not accountable before society. So, everything is positive in this field, from my point of view.

As a representative of academic science involved in the work of the Arctic region, I try to be as active as possible to spread awareness in this field among people, [government and environmental organizations] by publishing in-depth analysis of what is bad and good [for the environment], where we have disadvantages and what is to be done.

RD Brief: The Arctic as geopolitical pivot

Read the next issue of RD Brief to find out more about the Arctic states' strategies in this region and learn how non-Arctic states like China intend to change the status quo. Look for our special newsletter this Wednesday, Dec. 4, with a link to download RD Brief.