The Arctic Club of St Petersburg University discusses indicators of sustainable development of Arctic cities

The first research seminar on "Indicators of Sustainable Development of Arctic Cities" has been held at St Petersburg University as part of the University’s project activities and implementing research findings into solving practical problems of the development of Russia’s Arctic Zone. The seminar has brought together: researchers from St Petersburg University; Lomonosov Moscow State University; as well as experts and practitioners in urban sustainability in the Arctic.

Associate Professor Natalia Mikhalchenkova is Doctor of Political Science and Head of the Arctic Project Office of St Petersburg University. In her welcoming address, Natalia Mikhalchenkova highlighted the importance of forward-looking cooperation, joint projects, and information exchange on the results of ongoing Arctic research. She stressed that internal and external collaboration is required to overcome complex cross-sectoral practical and scientific challenges of the Arctic development.

The research was carried out in 2015–2021 within the framework of the projects: "Arctic Urban Sustainability" (a joint project of the George Washington University and the University of Tromsø — The Arctic University of Norway, with expert support from St Petersburg University, 2012-2015); ‘Promoting Urban Sustainability in the Arctic’ (supported by the National Science Foundation, USA; parent organisation — the George Washington University, 2016–2020); and "Opportunities for and challenges to urban development and social cohesion in Russia’s Arctic under climate change impacts" (a joint project supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research and the EU programme "ERA.Net RUS Plus", 2018–2020).

Aleksandr Sergunin is Doctor of Political Science, Professor in the Department of Theory and History of International Relations at St Petersburg University, and Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator of several research and analytical projects in the field of International Politics and Governance in the Arctic. At the seminar, Professor Sergunin presented the key findings of research projects under the general title ‘Indicators of sustainable development of Arctic cities’. He gave an overview of the existing Arctic urban sustainability indices.

‘The research objective was to analyse the existing Arctic urban sustainability indices and develop our own system of indicators in the study area. Indeed, there are many sustainable development indicators. In our study area, they are usually in line with the targets and indicators defined by the UN Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG 11): make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,’ noted Professor Sergunin.

Unfortunately, since the United Nations General Assembly Resolution is a document of a universal nature, its generalised assessment criteria are not readily applicable to our cities, especially to our Arctic cities.

Aleksandr Sergunin, Doctor of Political Science, Professor in the Department of Theory and History of International Relations at St Petersburg University

According to Professor Sergunin, the specific targets and indicators defined for SDG 11 are formulated in general terms at the global scale; hence, they do not always fit the conditions of the Arctic. For example, some of the targets are aimed at solving the challenges of urban development in developing countries. Some targets are designed for other climatic zones. Other targets are too general and cannot be applied uniformly to all types of urban settlements. Nevertheless, as Aleksandr Sergunin noted, after a certain adjustment, the key targets to achieve urban sustainability are valid and relevant to the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation.

‘Each of the existing rating systems ("City Development Index", "The US Cities Sustainable Development Goals Index", "Human Development Index in the Arctic", "Arctic Urban Sustainability Index", "Environmental Rating of Cities and Regions of Russia", "Environmental Rating of Subjects of the Russian Federation", "Rating of sustainable development of Russian cities" made by SGM Agency, "Ecological-economic index of Russian regions", "Ecological Footprint", "Rating of ecological development of Russian cities", "Polar Index") has its own advantages. They all aim to facilitate the implementation of sustainable development goals. However, there are also a number of limitations. For example, some ratings evaluate only economic and environmental parameters, some assess the sustainability of socio-economic and environmental development of regions rather than cities, others use inaccessible or hard-to-get statistics, while still others fail to account for the specifics and size of cities in Russia’s Arctic zone,’ explained Aleksandr Sergunin, Professor in the Department of Theory and History of International Relations at St Petersburg University.

In our work, we seek to address and, based on the achievements of our colleagues, overcome these shortcomings. Thus, in the ‘Russian Arctic Urban Sustainability Index’, we have introduced a system of indicators related to the effectiveness of strategic planning, socio-economic development and environmental issues.

Aleksandr Sergunin, Doctor of Political Science, Professor in the Department of Theory and History of International Relations at St Petersburg University

Aleksandr Sergunin added that research will be continued as part of the new project "Measuring the sustainability of Russia’s Arctic cities in an era of change". The research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, USA, parent organisation: the George Washington University, 2021–2025.

Nikolai Bobylev, Associate Professor in the Department of Ecological Safety and Sustainable Development of Regions at St Petersburg University, presented the key findings of several research projects supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research and the UN Arctic urbanisation and sustainable development programme. Prospective research in the Arctic and Subarctic regions involves the preparation of data for regional components of the global Sustainable Development Goals reports, including Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG VLRs).

Sergey Nikonorov is Professor in the Department of Environmental Economics at Lomonosov Moscow State University and the expert of the Project Office for Arctic Development. He called for joint initiatives by university teams in the field of Arctic urban sustainability. Professor Nikonorov invited researchers from St Petersburg University to take part in the Lomonosov Readings held by Lomonosov Moscow State University. This year, the conference agenda includes discussions on the "Polar Index" of the Russian Arctic cities and further development of the methodology for dynamic mapping of national and regional Arctic Sustainable Development Goals.

Experts who represent specialists working in urban municipalities in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation and researchers studying methodological approaches proposed to discuss strategies for building: a comprehensive, nationwide systemic approach; and methodological base for strategic planning and urban development in the Arctic, including Russia’s Arctic mono-cities.