Dmitry Medvedev attends Baltic Sea Forum plenary meeting in St Petersburg

Good afternoon, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, and good afternoon to the heads of the delegations. Welcome to St Petersburg, the Baltic capital of Russia.

It is a great honour for us to receive all of you – the heads of governments from the countries in this area, representatives from the expert and business communities and from international organisations. My sincere thanks to you for coming.

We have been handed the environmental torch from Finland, the hospitable host of the Baltic Sea Action Summit that was held in Helsinki in 2010. I feel strongly that these events should and must become a tradition. Our main objective today is a cooperative assessment of the results that have been achieved over the past three years and a frank discussion of the unresolved issues. The latter are rather numerous, otherwise we wouldn’t have gathered here today to discuss further environmental cooperation. There isn’t and there can’t be any alternative to environmental cooperation, as this is our common home, and our common approaches will be reflected in that has been coordinated with all the forum’s member countries.

Now a few words regarding our approach to the situation. Obviously, the economic process of improving our citizens’ living standards can’t proceed without environmental conservation. The environmental credit on which the global economy has grown in the last few years will soon be exhausted.

It can be said that we have profited from virtually everything we could, and we now know that our region ranks among some of the most industrialised and technologically advanced regions. At the same time, however, it has become one of the most problematic from an ecological point of view. In order to achieve sustainable development and competitiveness in the region, we need not only to carry out those economic and social objectives which are already underway, but also to address conservation issues. And there is no contradiction here because environmentally friendly innovative solutions, alternative energy sources and a more cost-effective use of natural resources – all these factors are the main driving force of economic development. They are the components of “green” growth or, in other words, an environmentally sound economy. This system relies less on raw materials and energy markets, which is impossible against the backdrop of existing problems.

The combination of economic growth goals and environmental responsibility is a high-priority issue in the work of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) and the Helsinki Commission – Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM). The draft of the so-called St Petersburg Initiative will continue in this vein and will develop existing multilateral cooperation mechanisms in this area. We hope that this initiative will unite representatives of state agencies, business circles and civil society, and that it will generate practical ideas and specific proposals for the preservation of the ecosystem of the Baltic Sea.

I would like to emphasise that the initiative also aims to ensure public monitoring of decisions adopted at meetings of CBSS heads of state to protect the Baltic environment. I would like to recall that we put this proposal forward at the previous conference in Helsinki.

We must create the right conditions for business figures to be more actively involved in investment projects with regional significance, and we need to focus on their environmental aspects. Incidentally, the issue of loans by two state development banks, namely, KfW of Germany and Russia’s Vnesheconombank, for small and medium-sized businesses in northwestern Russia is a good example of this. Other major banks, including the Nordic Investment Bank and the Nordic Environment FinanceCorporation (NEFCO), which have substantial experience of regional operations, should also join these projects. This would be in everyone’s interests.

The creation of multilateral financial mechanisms, including the Project Financing Fund, recently established under the Council of the Baltic Sea States and which started functioning only in March 2013, is also of great significance here. Although its financial potential is still relatively small, the Fund can provide start-up capital for co-financing promising joint research and development projects. And I would like to note the constructive stance of our partners, including their agreement to have a considerable share of the Fund’s assets used in the interests of various Russian regions and other regions.

There is another important issue we should discuss: the possibility of designating the Baltic Sea as a Nitrogen-Oxides Emission Control Area (NECA).

This issue is not very simple, and we should address it in a well thought-out manner, with due account for current Baltic shipping practices, all the more so as we have not yet developed sufficiently effective economic criteria and the parameters for monitoring the reduction of these emissions. Anyway, we are ready to work towards this goal, but we should draft decisions in close cooperation with our colleagues from the northeast Atlantic. We should all work as one rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. We support the efforts of the European Commission to begin monitoring emissions from freight vessels, and we are ready to join this project in all Russian ports in the Baltic region.

It is a fact that Russia has a huge natural and resource potential and is a leading country in the amount of mineral, forest and water resources. But this competitive advantage has a flip side, as it makes Russia a global environmental donor with special responsibility for global environmental safety.

We have surged ahead since the first conference on the protection of the Baltic Sea environment. Russia and its Government have been working quite actively in this sphere. We are improving the national environmental legislation with due account for the country’s international commitments and universally accepted standards, trying to work consistently and joining the efforts of federal agencies, regional and municipal authorities and using the best international practices. We are not only tackling current environmental issues, we are also cleaning up accumulated environmental damage, which, unfortunately, is quite substantial across Russia. As a result, we are creating economic incentives for stimulating low-impact production and consumption. It is not an easy job, but the process is already underway.

Last year we adopted the principles of state policy on environmental development until 2030 along with several long-term state programmes in this sphere. One of the more important federal laws on the Baltic Sea was adopted to protect the marine environment from oil and oil product spills during offshore projects.

We know perfectly well that adopting laws and government directives is not enough for the implementation of environmental standards. It is a much more complex, and I would even say a more delicate, process that takes much time and attention from the Government, the country as a whole and also civil society, which is equally important. We hope that the events of the ongoing Year of Environmental Protection will help us to considerably increase public involvement in this sphere.

It is noteworthy that environmental parameters are becoming increasingly important during large infrastructure projects in the Baltic region. The environmental monitoring of the Russian part of the Nord Stream gas pipeline in 2012 and in the preceding two years has confirmed that the project’s environmental impact, if any, can be minimal, local and of a limited duration. And this is not the only example of this kind. Commercial sea ports in Primorsk and Ust-Luga have been built, and I hope will be operating in compliance with all environmental standards, domestic environmental legislation and HELCOM recommendations.

As for our immediate plans, we are developing an integrated system of state environmental monitoring. Systems for monitoring air pollution will be installed in all cities with a population of more than 100,000. We are also planning new research in the Antarctic and a climate forcing continent.

We are moving more quickly in some areas than expected, and we are happy about this. Our host city – St Petersburg – is one example. As a result of intensified modernisation and reconstruction of water supply and treatment facilities, utility services will bring the sewage water purification level to 98% before the end of this year, rather than in 2015 as was earlier planned.

This is a very important achievement. The Leningrad Region will bring this level to 77% within the next few years. During this year we are planning to complete the reconstruction of water treatment facilities in the resort area of the Baltic Sea coast, in particular in the city of Svetlogorsk and the villages of Primorye, Donskoye and Yantarny near Kaliningrad.

The funds of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Nordic Dimension environmental partnership programme and our Swedish partners are involved in this project.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Baltic Sea coast reveals to us particularly well how vulnerable the environment is. We also understand here very clearly that it is impossible to promote national development without taking into account the interests of our neighbours. Environment is the sphere where it is impossible to act single-handed. I’m confident that all those present in this hall share historical responsibility for the fate of the Baltic Sea and the preservation of its natural diversity for future generations. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry aptly put it when he said we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. We must remember this.

To resolve this task we must pool the efforts of all state and public institutions, the business community and civil societies and promote our bilateral and multilateral ties. Our ultimate goal is to form a common Baltic space on the basis of private-public partnership. We need this space for mutually beneficial cooperation, which is essential for the health and prosperity of all people on the Baltic coast.

Thank you for your attention. I wish success to our forum.