Sustainable development in the Russian regions

Vera Barinova,
International Laboratory for Sustainable Development Studies, Institute of Applied Economic Research, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration,
Russian Federation

The Gaidar Institute,
Russian Federation

Sustainable development is one of the key issues now, and the Decade of Action has been announced to deliver the Global Goals by 2030. The 2020 and 2021 with their pandemic and economic crisis, have brought social and political instability, vulnerability of the education and health systems, new climate change challenges. All these require an integrated and sustainable approach to development.  The localization of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provides the countries with the opportunity to vary national priorities, flexibly adapt the goals and objectives of sustainable development to the needs of individual territories.

The concept of sustainable development has been misinterpreted in Russia for a long time: at the beginning it used to be perceived from the economic perspective, so the sustainable growth was equated with stable economic growth. The impact of this growth on society and the environment was not taken into account, and future generations were not discussed. Later the ecological problems became difficult to ignore and the paradigm of sustainable development became “green”. The ecological component of sustainable development used to prevail, shortening the sustainability concept to the environmental protection issues. Only in the last few 3-4 years the sustainable development got close to the international approach with its social, environmental and economic triad.

Still the SDGs are not integrated into the national strategic documents in Russia. No federal law neither federal project is based on SDGs and national goals are not linked to the SDGs either.

However things are changing. The national statistical service (Rosstat) has started to work on the statistics for SDGs and created a web-page with open data. The Russian Ministry of Economics has actively taken up the topic, an in-depth report of the Accounts Chamber has been released, a voluntary national report has been prepared as well as the alternative civil society report on the SDGs.

Yet in the regions of Russia, the situation is more complicated and lags behind a little. The Russian regions are very diverse, the advanced regions have surplus budgets and are better at developing social projects and green technologies. The regional wealth is determined not only by historical prerequisites and natural resources, location, the presence of large backbone enterprises and the regional policy. Some regional success stories have happened due to the system of interbudgetary transfers, which ensures the distribution of part of the oil rent among the regions.

In the last twenty years, when energy prices were growing or remained high, an extensive raw material growth model was implemented in Russia, based on the exploitation of natural resources, mainly of individual regions. As shown in the paper (S.Zemtsov, V.Barinova et al., Ecological efficiency and sustainable regional development in Russia during the 20 years of Resource-based growth// Ekonomicheskaya politika, 2020, vol.15, no.2. pp.18-47)) the ecological efficiency of the average Russian region has been growing since 2003 (excluding the crisis periods), faster in densely populated regions with a high share of science-intensive services, investment attractiveness and intensive technology upgrading (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sverdlovsk, Tomsk, Belgorod, Kaliningrad regions, etc.), as well as in a number of agricultural centers. At the same time, the environmental efficiency decreased in most northern and Siberian regions specializing in the primary processing industries.

There is still great potential for improving ecological efficiency in most regions, and thus even more is to be done in terms of sustainability. Regional strategies formally have sections, devoted to education and healthcare, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and innovations etc., but no SDGs are mentioned. As a result, certain aspects of the SDGs become omitted, especially those stated in the list of tasks and target indicators. The environmental, social and economic issues are managed separately, not being linked into a single system.

To provide the sustainable regional development in Russia it is necessary to update and revise regional strategies, in order to prioritize and localize the SDGs. Moreover, a monitoring system for the SDGs’ achievement is needed, which requires an improvement of the national statistical system in Russia. More than that, the information on the implementation of national projects, in particular, the national project Ecology, should be open- accessed, and the site on national projects should be regularly updated. Most of the measures supporting the development of high-tech industries and knowledge-intensive services actually increase the possibilities for sustainable development of the region, as well as SMEs development measures.

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