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Environmental problems of Northern Eurasia

Air Pollution

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Urban air pollution has long been a serious problem in the FSU, reflecting both the importance of highly polluting, resource-intensive industries for the national economy and political factors such as the low priority of environmental issues and lack of public participation. At the beginning of the transition from a centrally planned to a free market economy and a more open society, it was assumed that environmental performance in the FSU would improve. In particular, a shift away from heavy industries to less resource-intensive sectors and improvements in energy efficiency were expected to reduce air pollution levels. All countries of the FSU experienced a decline in industrial output following the change in economic regime and emissions of main pollutants have fallen as a result of a slump in production.

Many commentators saw this as a much needed break for the environment. However, while absolute levels of emissions have decreased, the ongoing economic crisis and persisting financial problems have ensured that decreases in emissions have been smaller than declines in output as a result of the associated deterioration of regulatory mechanisms, a lack of investment into pollution abatement equipment, weak enforcement of environmental legislation and public disengagement. In the areas benefiting from economic changes, and especially in large cities, environmental pressures have increased because of growing car ownership. As the environmental benefits of the economic downturn are uncertain, and new sets of pollution problems face the FSU, has economic restructuring been good for the environment? When and where will emissions return to their pre-transition level? Is decoupling of economic and emission trends feasible? How to implement the 'win-win' strategies in the future? Pursuing the transformation of their country into the world's most industrialized society, the Soviets believed that these problems could be solved. Or could they?

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