by Jonathan Hale
Energy and environmental issues have been a key focus of my visit to Russia this week. I had the great opportunity to meet with officials at the Ministry of Energy, which is responsible for improving energy efficiency in Russia, as well as with civic leaders from environmental groups and the Institute for Sustainable Development of the Public Chamber, an entity that serves as an intermediary between Russian citizens and the government. Across the board, my Russian counterparts expressed a strong interest in collaborating with the U.S. to improve energy efficiency and protect the environment.
President Medvedev has identified inefficient use of energy – and its impact on the country’s economy and environment – as an issue of critical importance and has called for reducing the energy intensity of the Russian economy by half by 2020. Today, Russian energy losses due to inefficiency are equal to the annual energy consumption in France! But it’s estimated that Russia could save 45% of consumed energy through innovation and modern technology, which will also help Russia better address climate change. In my meetings here this week, we discussed the challenges of improving energy efficiency in Russia and the substantial impact USAID programs have had in other countries.
At the Public Chamber, I was especially pleased to meet some of the Russian scientists and activists who are a driving force behind environmental protection here. Organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Russia and Greenpeace Russia are led by impressive Russian experts – such as Dr. Ivan Blokov, who also serves as the interim Head of Greenpeace International’s Research Unit. I heard their concerns about pollution and its impact on human health. They also offered their insight on how USAID can continue to partner with Russia to improve the stewardship of its forests – the largest in the world. Together, we can ensure that Russian forests continue to serve as one of the world’s most important carbon sinks and as home to unique ecosystems that include amazing animals like the Amur tiger, the Far Eastern leopard, and the Baikal seal. We also spoke about the Arctic.
Why should this matter to Americans? Russia’s forests and ecosystems make up 22% of the world’s territory so protection in Russia is essential to maintaining a balanced biosphere worldwide. The passion that I have seen this week has energized me even more to find new and exciting ways for USAID to partner and cooperate with Russia on energy efficiency and the environment.