WWF: ACCESSIBILITY AND QUALITY OF ENVIRONMENTAL DATA LEAVE MUCH TO BE DESIRED
The issue of the environmental information availability for Russians has become a central theme of the round table discussion "Openness of Environmental Data on the Example of the Industrial Pollution and the Forest Resources Use Data" held in the RF Civic Chamber.
About a year ago, the first attempts were made to create a centralized and transparent system providing environmental data to all interested citizens and organizations. However, this system is still being debugged and for the time being it`s impossible to obtain reliable information on such indicators as air and soil pollution, specific industrial enterprises emissions and the use of forest resources. Moreover, this information is collected at different levels of government, and there is no unified environmental picture in the country.
"We understand that without public information, the society can`t either participate in discussing decisions or protect its environmental rights, — says Igor Chestin, the director of WWF Russia, first deputy chairman of the RF Civic Chamber Commission for Ecology. – Ensuring the openness of environmental data is the primary task of the state. We are trying to help to make it real in every possible way".
At the end of 2017, a draft amendment was prepared by the Ministry of Natural Resources, for the first time introducing a definition of environmental information in the legislation. It should make environmental data more accessible to citizens. According to the document it`s defined as "information on the current state of environment, as well as on processes and phenomena occurring in it, including the environmental impact of economic or other activities". Environmentalists, however, believe that the the bill in its present form won`t solve all the problems.
"The details of the very definition "environmental information" should be elaborated thoroughly, so that it includes the whole range of data types, — says Ekaterina Khmeleva, head of the WWF Russia environmental legislation program. — It is also important that this list won`t become restrictive, but the information will be provided in full". She also sees it important that all environmental data to be placed in open access, rather than to be provided only on request, as it is suggested at the moment.
According to Ivan Blokov, head of Greenpeace Russia programs, the data on air pollution in human settlements is available, but only partially. "For example, there is up-to-date information concerning St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Chelyabinsk and other cities. While the data on Moscow has not been updated since September 11 this year, — says Blokov. — In other words, residents of the capital, the city with the largest environmental budget, don`t have access to the data on contamination for several months". He also drew attention to the fact that industries working in populated areas keep their data confident, and that the waste management data is disparate and incomplete.
Access to the information about forest resources is one of the most acute problems. The participants of the meeting highlighted the issues of access to the current plans of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation and to the information concerning forest resources use in certain forest areas. After the adoption of the Forest Code containing the requirement to publish the forest fund inventory data (based on the State Forest Register data), it was published only once, in 2014, however it is not available on the Federal Forestry Agency website.
At the same time, the first positive changes in the openness of forest resources data have been noted. Automated information systems the State Forest Register and the geoportal Forests of Russia have been created, making the data more accessible. These systems, however, at times don`t work due to technical problems and they should be improved. Their creators, the Federal Forestry Agency and FSBI Roslesinforg, expressed their intention to make accessible the data on forests that are not classified as having restricted access in accordance with the law. Technical difficulties, due to which not all information is available now, also should be overcome.
Thanks to many years of joint efforts, the forest fire area assessed by means of remote sensing matched the official reporting for the first time in 2017. The fire covered 4.7 million hectares of forest. After 3 years of discussing this issue at the Federal Forestry Agency Public Council, the situation has really changed.
As a result of the round table, the participants suggested recommendations improving the legal regulation and access to environmental information, and the openness of state bodies responsible for the environment and natural resources protection. These recommendations will be sent for further consideration to the president`s office, the government, and to the federal environmental and supervisory authorities.