Anton Kulbachevsky: Each year is the year of the environment for us

Anton Kulbachevsky: Each year is the year of the environment for us
The head of the Department for Environmental Management and Protection speaks about the impact climate change is having on city life and what Moscow can expect of the Year of the Environment.

Anton Kulbachevsky, the head of the Department for Environmental Management and Protection 

2017 has been declared the Year of the Environment in Russia. This means that special attention will be paid throughout the country to environmental issues and the issues of preserving nature reserves and improving nature protection laws. In Moscow, thousands of new trees and shrubs will be planted this spring while in summer, a new species of rose, Moskvichka, will be presented and the first Climate Forum will be held. By September, three unique nature museums will open. In an interview with mos.ru, Head of the Department of Environmental Management and Protection Anton Kulbachevsky told us where to go to observe the life of a bee alveary, when city residents will be able to see wild animals undergoing rehabilitation in Losiny Ostrov Park; why exotic animals have to be registered in Moscow; and what measures are being taken to improve the environmental situation in the city.

Question: What educational projects will be offered to city residents during the Year of the Environment?

Anton Kulbachevsky: “We’ll try to make sure that practically all Moscow schools have environmental lessons. In keeping with tradition, this year we’ll launch a number of initiatives to collect litter: under the Separate Out and Use initiative, specially marked mobile stations will go around each administrative area to collect the rubbish. The Batteries, Surrender! initiative to collect and recycle discharged batteries will be held in March at Moscow schools and colleges. The Paper Boom initiative to collect waste paper involves schools and social and cultural institutions. We are also preparing to hold traditional environmental initiatives and holidays, such as Earth Hour (on last Saturday in March in various countries across the globe, lights will go out for an hour, from 8:30 pm until 9:30 pm Moscow time, to save energy – mos.ru), Environmentalists’ Day (marked on 5 June – mos.ru); and A Day Without a Car (marked on 22 September – mos.ru). Hopefully, people will give us their active support.

A new rose variety, Moskvichka, will make the rose garden in Moscow’s Botanical Garden look even more beautiful. We also plan to give these roses away to people in the streets on the day of the presentation

Anton Kulbachevsky: I would like to draw your attention to Environmentalists’ Day (5 June – mos.ru). On this day, we plan to present a new variety of rose called Moskvichka. The variety has already been developed and is being registered. It is a bush rose adapted to the urban environment. Moskvichka will make the rose garden in Moscow’s Botanical Garden look even more beautiful. We also plan to give these roses away free to people in the streets on the day of the presentation. Hopefully, in the future, these flowers will be used to landscape streets, squares, public gardens and boulevards.

Each year is the year of the environment for us, so the Department for Environmental Management and Protection will continue with its daily work, however, concentrating its efforts on raising awareness of environmental issues and teaching the young generation to be environmentally-minded.

Question: There are plans to open two new ecomuseums in Moscow this year: a forest museum in Losiny Ostrov Park and a Moskva River museum on board the ship Moskovsky Ekolog. When will they open?

Anton Kulbachevsky: We plan to open both museums by 1 September. The ship Ekolog with a museum on board will cruise up and down the Moskva River while it is navigable, that is until November. Then the ship will start cruising again when the river is open to navigation in April or May 2018.

The floating museum will stop at berths to take visitors. Soon we’ll sign a mooring contract, as we call it, with Gormost, a state-run agency, which will allow the floating museum to stop in the Central, Southern, Southeastern, Northern and Northwestern administrative areas. The ship will be laid up for winter at Serebryany Bor.

The museum will feature interactive rooms with panels providing information about the history of the Moskva River and the changes its bed and watercourse have undergone. Visitors will be able to take water samples at different places for analysis at the museum’s laboratory while their guides, who are environmentalists, will help them compare different samples.

Question: What will the forest museum be like?

Anton Kulbachevsky: It will also feature interactive exhibits, but unlike the Moskva River museum, which will be mostly scientifically oriented, the forest museum, in the Losiny Ostrov national reserve, will be focused primarily on children. I’d rather not disclose all the details of the excursion programmes prematurely. At this point, I can only tell you that environmental and forest protection issues will be presented using themes from Russian folklore and fairytale characters.

Behind the glass, we want to show the life of a bee alveary, all the processes taking place there, beginning with the birth of the bees to honey production. In nature, all of these processes are hidden from the human eye, and in the museum, we are planning to install a large hive made of glass

Question: What about the Beekeeping pavilion at the VDNKh exhibition complex, will it also become an ecomuseum?

Anton Kulbachevsky: Yes, the Beekeeping pavilion at VDNKh will become a bee museum, we expect it will open this July. This is a joint project with the Russian Union of Beekeepers, which was previously based at the pavilion. There are bee museums in several Russian cities, but this museum will be the first of its kind. Behind the glass, we want to show the life of a bee alveary, all the processes taking place there, beginning with the birth of bees to honey production. In nature, all of these processes are hidden from the human eye, and in the museum, we are planning to install a large hive made of glass. The bees in the hive will be a domestic breed, well-adapted to the city environment in central Russia.

During the warm season, the bees will move freely throughout VDNKh and return to the hive in the Beekeeping pavilion. In winter, they will stay indoors in the museum. The size of the pavilion is 200 square metres, and the beehive and museum exhibits will occupy most of it.

Question: Why bees? Why a bee museum in a metropolis?

Anton Kulbachevsky: Bees are some of the most ancient inhabitants of the Earth. Their life is socially oriented and is based on strict rules and regulations. Every bee in the hive performs its own important function. Beehives and ant hills are often compared to human society. Visitors will be able to carefully examine the life of the hive, and better understand these amazing and useful creatures. In addition to this museum, we are also planning to open three unique nature museums during the Year of the Environment.

Question: Will visitors be able to taste honey at the museum?

Anton Kulbachevsky: Before letting people taste it, the honey produced in a city environment needs to be tested for safety. Generally, the honey produced in Moscow is not sold or eaten. But at the museum, visitors will learn how to distinguish natural, good honey from a counterfeit, will familiarise themselves with bee bread, propolis, and moomiyo, and will learn about the medicinal qualities of honey.

Large-scale planting of trees and shrubs scheduled for 1 and 9 May

Question: What will be the scale of Million Trees this year?

Anton Kulbachevsky: Million Trees programme is in its fourth year. We have planted over 1.5 million trees and shrubs in one-third of Moscow courtyards; two-thirds are still waiting.

The programme provides for planting greenery at social facilities – schools, hospitals, healthcare centres, kindergartens, etc. – and we have been doing this since 2015.

Moreover, Million Trees includes a sub-programme, Hole to Hole, to replace dead-wood, accident-prone trees and windfall all over the city. Last July, for example, a hurricane knocked down 6,000 trees. In autumn, another 6,000 trees were planted in the same holes.

This spring, we will plant over 4,800 trees and over 165,000 shrubs, mostly linden, maple, rowan and birch trees in the tree category, and spiraea, cotoneaster, bloodroot and lilac in the shrub category. A second wave of planting is scheduled for autumn; residents will decide how many plants will be required in the autumn period.

In courtyards, new plants will be under video surveillance; neighbourhood police inspectors have also been warned about threats to the seedlings and will be on the look-out

Question: How do you fight tree stealing? There have been repeated reports of certain enterprising individuals digging out seedlings to take to their dachas.

Anton Kulbachevsky: In Moscow, there were just a few such cases. Trees are not stolen. Vandals go after shrubs: lilac, mock orange or jasmine. In courtyards, new plants will be watched by surveillance cameras operated by the regulatory authorities. Neighbourhood police inspectors have also been warned about risks and will keep an eye on the seedlings as they patrol the area.

Question: Mr Kulbachevsky, Moscow will host a Climate Forum as part of the Year of the Environment. What will be discussed at the event? Can ordinary residents, not just experts, attend it?

Anton Kulbachevsky: Moscow residents will certainly be able to visit the forum to learn more about the climate in the Moscow region. This is the city’s first Climate Forum. We will invite experts and professional environmentalists from various cities and countries to discuss problems related to climate change. We are primarily interested in comparing notes with cities that have sustained development programmes in conditions of a changing climate, programmes that have been adapted for climate change.

Moscow has a programme of this kind and we are ready to share our experience with other Russian cities. We expect guests from London and Paris to come with their solutions. But we will not focus on man-made factors in climate change; there is already too much talk about this. The forum will seek to concentrate on natural reasons, calculate how the climate will change in the Moscow region over the coming decades and possibly draft universal urban development scenarios for climate change. The forum is scheduled for 21–22 August.

 

Twenty years ago, the Moscow utility services were unable to cope with temperature fluctuations between zero and minus 20 degrees Celsius within a single week, along with heavy snow, drizzle and freezing rain. Today, the city housing and utility services take these weather scenarios into account when planning their operation

Question: How has weather changed in Moscow in recent years? What effect has this had on life in the city?

Anton Kulbachevsky: The weather has become warmer in Moscow in the past few decades. This doesn’t mean that winters have become warmer and summers hotter, but the volume and distribution of precipitation has changed, weather has become inconsistent and we now register more events that did not used to happen in the region or that happened very seldom. I am referring to freezing rain in winter, showers that last for days in summer as well as hot weather and droughts that result in smog and forest fires.

How is this affecting the urban environment? Here is a simple example. More days with temperatures above freezing are registered in winter, which results in black ice. Twenty years ago, the city utility services were unable to cope with temperature fluctuations between zero and minus 20 degrees Celsius within a single week, along with heavy snow, drizzle and freezing rain. Today, the city housing and utility services take these weather scenarios into account when planning their operation. Global warming is affecting life in cities more than we think. We must take climate changes into account and forecast their influence on nature, the urban environment and life in the future.

Question: Tell us about the Moscow Environmental Strategy project. Which of its provisions are of priority importance?

Anton Kulbachevsky: The Moscow Environmental Strategy has been coordinated with the public and improved, and I hope that it will be adopted very soon. It provides for improving the urban environment and sets out ways to do this by 2030. I believe that the most important provision is that air quality must be improved by 30 percent along traffic routes and by 20 percent in residential districts by 2030. Other tasks set out in the strategy include recycling up to 40 percent of household waste and increasing the planted area from 54.5 percent to 61 percent (of the pre-2012 city limits). We are already taking measures towards these goals.

The biggest problem for all megacities is air pollution, which has a negative impact on water, soil, plants and people’s health.

We have restructured the city industries, removing some of the harmful companies beyond the city limits. The remaining companies are being overhauled, including to meet new environmental standards. They are improving their production and purification systems.

Vehicles are the biggest source of air pollution. The highest levels of air pollution are registered during traffic jams. We are working to resolve this problem. Our urban development and transport programmes deal with traffic congestion directly or indirectly, so that there are fewer traffic jams and hence lower levels of pollution.

In addition, we are building new interchanges and the North-West and North-East expressways, which will ease congestion on the Moscow Ring Road (MKAD) and substantially improve air quality in the neighbourhoods bordering on the MKAD.

 

Question: Mr Kulbachevsky, the requirement to use Euro-5+ fuel within Moscow limits was introduced last year to reduce vehicle emissions. Is this requirement being observed?

Anton Kulbachevsky: Yes, this fuel standard has been in effect since 1 January 2016. The most widespread violations are when filling stations sell motorists fake fuel passed off as Euro-5.

In 2012, just about six percent of cars had Euro-5 engines. Today, their share in the city is about 20 percent

We have the right to inspect filling stations once every three years, and we also respond to complaints that we receive through our hotline. Motorists are quick to see that they were sold substandard fuel: their engines cough and their cars are hard to start. Most criticism is directed at non-networked filling stations located away from the city centre, chiefly in the Troitsky and Novomoskovsky administrative areas. We carry out inspections jointly with environmental prosecutors by making sample purchases, whereupon fuel quality is analysed. In 2016, over 30 filling stations were inspected in response to hotline complaints; we also conducted 12 scheduled and unscheduled inspections. As a result, filling stations had to pay more than three million roubles in fines; 26 filling stations have been blacklisted, and a list of them is posted on the Department website.

As for Moscow’s private car fleet, it is increasingly environmentally-friendly with each passing year. In 2012, there were about six percent of cars with Euro-5 engines; today their share is 20 percent.

Question: High polluting commercial vehicles are not allowed into the city centre this year. How do you ensure that these restrictions are followed?

Anton Kulbachevsky: As of 1 January 2017, commercial vehicles with engines from Euro-3 down are not allowed on or within the Third Ring Road (TRR), and vehicles with engines from Euro-2 down cannot travel on or within the Moscow Ring Road (MKAD).

Lorries account for about 30 percent of emissions polluting the air in motor road areas. Restrictions are expected to encourage transportation companies to upgrade their fleets. TRR and MKAD ride-ins are observed by surveillance cameras. Operators can find a vehicle’s certificate of title in STSI databases and identify its environmental class. If a restricted vehicle enters the city centre, its owner will be fined. For this, STSI inspectors don’t have to chase the trespassers, the cameras take care of that.

We expect the restrictions to result in a two- or three-percent drop in air pollution levels, which is a lot for a megalopolis like Moscow. I think we will be able to gauge the effectiveness of this measure in late 2017.

Moscow will soon have its first eco-home

Question: Mr Kulbachevsky, are green construction standards used in Moscow?

Anton Kulbachevsky: We can only recommend to building companies and developers to adhere, at least in part, to the green standards in housing and office construction. But Moscow will soon have its first eco-home, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) building, based entirely on green standards and with solar batteries on the roof.

Question: Are there many environmentally balanced areas in Moscow, where you don’t have to put anything in order – just preserve and protect?

Anton Kulbachevsky: Yes, of course. We have specially protected natural territories with regeneration areas. We are proud of them. These are the nuclei of Moscow nature, which we protect, study, and show to schoolchildren and students for educational purposes. Protected natural area like the Serebryany Bor nature monument, Losiny Ostrov National Park, natural and historical parks like Izmailovo, Bitsevsky Les and others, are our city’s gems. You can’t come across an elk, or a fox or a hare within eight kilometres of the city centre in every major world city. But in Moscow this is real.

But more environmentally-friendly patches are appearing in central streets as well. After the first stages of the My Street programme, we are seeing many green and comfortable public spaces. For us, it is a source of enjoyment.

The Moscow Zoo and our Department have devised a plan to organise a semi-free animal park in the Troitsky and Novomoskovsky administrative areas. We are looking for a plot of land and, simultaneously, for investors

Question: Will the Moscow Zoo establish an animal rehabilitation centre at Losiny Ostrov National Park? Is this your joint project?

Anton Kulbachevsky: Losiny Ostrov already has enclosures for animals. The centre will help wounded or enfeebled wild animals that are donated to the zoo. After rehabilitation, some of them will be returned to the wild. Currently we are addressing legal problems, including how to hand over property to the Moscow Zoo. The next step is to bring in animals and organise guided tours. As for the rest, we are ready.

The Moscow Zoo and our Department have devised a plan to organise a semi-free animal park in the Troitsky and Novomoskovsky administrative areas. We are looking for a plot of land and, simultaneously, for investors.

I don’t like the name safari park. Safari is associated with hunting, whereas we are in favour of photo-hunting and want it to replace hunting in our society. People should prioritise contact with nature, not its destruction for the sake of game. Incidentally, Serebryany Bor will host guided tours with photo-hunting for squirrel, woodpecker and beaver habitats in February. I think we will be able to hold similar events in other natural territories as well.

Demand for exotic animals in Moscow is growing year after year

Question: Mr Kulbachevsky, what about the law on keeping wild animals at home, what has happened to it?

Anton Kulbachevsky: This law has not been passed yet, it will be considered in March. The demand for exotic animals is increasing year after year in Moscow. These animals, which are not native to Russia, are mostly smuggled into the country in violation of veterinary and customs legislation.

In Moscow we only find out about wild animals being kept at home as pets when something extraordinary happens, for example, the animal escapes, or neighbours begin to complain, or the owner abandons the “pet.”

A person is allowed to have a lynx, iguana or turtle, as long as they register the animals properly

Question: Does this happen a lot?

Anton Kulbachevsky: Our hotline receives 7–8 reports from people every week about wild animals in trouble, including exotic ones. Our draft law sets the requirements for keeping wild animals in captivity by individuals. A person is allowed to have a lynx, iguana or turtle, as long as they register the animals properly. This means that the owner should have the documents proving that the animal had been brought into the country legally, not smuggled. The owners are also expected to provide comfortable conditions for the animals: a spacious enclosure, aquarium or terrarium, and suitable food.

The owner is expected to provide access for our experts to the animal to register the “pet.” Large wild cats, predators, big animals such as elephants or giraffe or venomous snakes will be banned from living in people’s homes.

We plan to hand over rescued wild exotic animals to lyceums, schools and other educational establishments specialising in environmental protection, for their animal corners

Question: Could you comment on how often the authorities thwart attempts to smuggle wild animals?

Anton Kulbachevsky: In 2016, dozens of species were confiscated from smugglers at Moscow airports. They were mostly transported in secret, in terrible conditions. The animals included pig-tailed monkeys, young Ceylon sloths, endangered turtles and snakes, including the venomous Asiatic lance-head snake. Last year, 30 falcons were found in the luggage of a passenger flying to the UAE from Domodedovo airport. Most likely, he was transporting the birds for sale for falcon hunting, which is highly popular in the UAE. We sent all the animals and birds to the temporary animal sanctuary near Yakhroma.

Many animals, birds and reptiles that were smuggled into the country or abandoned by their owners are sent from the temporary sanctuary to the Moscow Zoo or the Yaroslavl Zoo. We are also building contacts with other zoos across the country.

We plan to hand over rescued wild exotic animals to lyceums, schools and other educational establishments specialising in environmental protection, for their animal corners. The most important thing is to make sure that they are looked after by caring people who have a clear idea of what needs to be done.