Vladimir Putin signed a presidential decree in December pronouncing 2017 as the “Year of Environment” in Russia.
He spoke about Russia’s role in the global environment to the National Council in Moscow on December 27.
As quoted by the Kremlin’s international broadcaster RT, Putin said: “Russia is serving as an environmental donor to the world, providing almost 10 percent of its biosphere sustainability.”
Putin appears to have been referring to a 2015 report titled “Conservation of Biodiversity in the Russian Federation” that was produced by the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment.
In a section titled “Russia is the Planet’s Ecological Donor,” the report says that "the total input of Russian natural ecosystems in the sustainability of the Earth's biosphere comprises at least 10 to 11 percent.”
The methodology in large part, the report says, is based on an "ecological footprint metric" developed by the California non-profit Global Footprint Network as "a resource accounting tool that measures how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what."
In a statement to Polygraph.info, Global Footprint Network's Ronna Kelly said: "We were unaware of this 2014 report."
Putin did not elaborate on his comments and his use of the term "biosphere sustainability" is not one scientists and environmentalists contacted by Polygraph.info say they are familiar with.
“At present, I know of no measure of ‘biosphere sustainability,’” Maureen G. Reed, a professor at the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, told Polygraph.info. “Either the words ‘biosphere sustainability’ are a poor translation or what he is saying is meaningless.”
Ivan Blokov, who monitors Russian environmental policies for the watchdog group Greenpeace told Polygraph.info: “I am not familiar with the term biosphere sustainability. Moreover I don’t know how it can be measured in percentage and I do not know what the 10 percent means.”
As for Russia being an environmental donor, as Putin claims, the Russian ministry report says Russia's "assimilatory capacity" exceeds its environmental footprint, making Russia a "donor of biocapacity to the Earth."
But a check by Polygraph.info shows the figures used in the Russian ministry report appear to be higher than those provided by the Global Footprint Network.
Using the network's figures, Russia' "donor" share of "biologically productive land" is around 7 percent. The calculation is derived by measuring Russia's biologically productive land areas compared to its demand on nature known as the ecological footprint.
The network's Kelly told Polygraph.info: "As shown in the 2016 WWF Footprint report, using our latest numbers, Russia contains 7.9 percent of the planet’s biocapacity This contrasts to Russia’s Ecological Footprint, which adds up to 6.7 percent of the planet’s biocapacity."
Still, without more specifics from Putin, it is unclear how to evaluate his claims.
Environmental protection groups say too that Russia is one of the world's major polluters.
A Greenpeace report found that "Russia's oil giants have been polluting parts of the country's once thriving landscape, often in secret, spilling oil onto the land and into the Arctic Ocean, poisoning the water and destroying the livelihood of local communities and Indigenous Peoples."
Greenpeace’s Blokov told Polygraph.info: “It is difficult to claim whether Russia is contributing to the preservation of the planet’s environment or…to the destruction of its many key elements.
"Unfortunately, the Russian government is doing very little in solving problems that the Russian Federation creates domestically and for the entire world,” Blokov said of Russia’s environmental policies.
Alexey Yablokov, a professor at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow and a prominent Russian environmental advisor, told Polygraph.info that the Kremlin is not investing in bettering the environment.
“We have passed the point of no return and I do not see Russian government willing to preserve what is left of the nation’s vital natural wealth,” he said. “Environmental spending had been cut significantly during the last 15 years and now consists only of 0.01 percent of the federal budget.”