The 10th Russia–China academic meeting 'Bilateral and Multilateral Inter-Regional Cooperation in the Arctic' has ended in St Petersburg. As part of the anniversary seminar, St Petersburg University experts raised the issues of environmental protection and rare-earth metal mining in the Arctic region.
The meeting was welcomed by: Kirill Chistiakov, Vice-President of the Russian Geographical Society, Director of the Institute of Earth Sciences at St Petersburg University; Professor Irina Novikova, Dean of the School of International Relations of St Petersburg University; Valeriia
Babushkina, Acting Deputy Rector for International Cooperation of St Petersburg University; Professor Li Huajun, Vice-President of Ocean University of China; and Professor Wang Ci, Dean of the School of International Affairs and Public Administration of Ocean University of China.
The first speaker from St Petersburg University was Marina Ermolina, Candidate of Law, Associate Professor in the Department of World Politics. She made a presentation on ‘Legal Aspects of Environmental Protection during Mining Operations in the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation’.
‘At present, state policy in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation focuses mainly on the extraction of natural resources. However, as Russian scientists point out, the Arctic is not only a treasure trove of minerals. From an international perspective, the region plays a significant role in the conservation of global biodiversity: it is home of many species of land and sea mammals, birds and aquatic biological resources, and its flora is unique. The vulnerability of this region has been confirmed by international acts and numerous scientific studies. The consequences of climate change are already real, as confirmed by the recent report of the UN Secretary General,’ said Marina Ermolina, Associate Professor at St Petersburg University.
Marina Ermolina added that, as a party to multilateral international treaties, Russia is obliged to ensure compliance with: the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; the 1992 UN
Convention on Biological Diversity; the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; the 1973/78 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships; and other international instruments. Like other countries, Russia participates in the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
These goals aim at balanced sustainable development and should be taken into account in national economic, social and environmental policies and programmes.
Marina Ermolina, Associate Professor at St Petersburg University
‘In light of Arctic policy, the environmental and sustainable development goals at the national level are combating climate change, conserving terrestrial ecosystems, protecting the marine environment, and partnering in sustainable development,’ clarified Marina Ermolina, Associate Professor of St Petersburg University.
Associate Professor Ermolina also noted that mining in the Arctic region is a promising area of cooperation between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China. The development of the relevant industry is directly linked to the socio-economic development of Russia's northern territories.
‘Russia is interested in foreign investment, while China is interested in gaining access to natural resources and transport arteries. In turn, the Russian Federation cannot fully establish rational use of natural resources due to the lack of best available technologies (BAT),’ she said.
According to Marina Ermolina, the application of BAT will help: create the necessary conditions for the technological re-equipment of the industrial complex of the Russian Federation; increase its competitiveness; and at the same time reduce the negative impact on the environment. ‘The experience of foreign countries in applying rationing based on the indicators of the best available technologies has shown the effectiveness of such an approach for the purpose of reducing the man-made load on the natural environment,’ concluded the expert.
The second speaker from the University was Professor Sergei Belozerov, Doctor of Economics,
Chief Research Associate in the Laboratory of Asian Economic Studies and Head of the Department of Risk Management and Insurance. He presented a paper on 'Russia and China in the Arctic: Opportunities for Cooperation in Rare Earth Elements Mining’. It was prepared together with Elena Sokolovskaia, Associate Professor at St Petersburg University.
‘Nowadays, rare-earth elements are one of the necessary elements for the implementation of green energy technologies – wind turbines, electric car engines, production of consumer electronics, smartphones and various batteries (for example, nine out of 17 rare-earth elements are used in the production of one of the world's most popular smartphones). With the spread of high-tech products, the demand for rare-earth metals is also growing,’ said the report's authors.
According to Sergei Belozerov, China currently accounts for about 58% of the world production of rare earth metals. The country is also a leader in processing and exporting these metals, despite the tightening of export regulations in January 2021. Meanwhile, Russia is now the world's second-largest producer of rare earth metals in terms of proven reserves, while the country's production is less than 2% of the world's total. Professor Belozerov stressed that all of the rare-earth metal production in Russia's Arctic zone comes from the loparite ores of the Lovozero deposit (about 40%) and the apatite-nepheline sites of the Khibiny group (about 60%) in the Murmansk Region.
‘Special mention should be made of the Tomtor deposit in Yakutia, which exceeds all known global peers in terms of explored reserves and concentrations. The project to develop this deposit is included in the state programme “Industrial Development and Competitiveness Improvement”, and it is planned to start exploiting it by 2022. The Tomtor deposit contains significant reserves of neodymium and praseodymium oxides, which are key in the production of permanent magnets.
From an economic point of view, the magnet production sector leads by a considerable margin among other rare earth element consuming sectors. It accounts for about 80% of the global market value of rare earth elements, but only about 30% of the world's deposits,’ said Sergei Belozerov.
Thus, mineral deposits that are ready to ‘serve’ the needs of the sector are promising and most attractive for investment.
Cooperation between Russia and China in the mining of rare earth elements in the Arctic is possible if Russia introduces the principles of rational protectionism – in particular, allowing Chinese companies to access deposits on the Russian Arctic shelf, subject to Russian control over the management of the companies.
Sergei Belozerov, Professor at St Petersburg University
‘Because otherwise, there is a high probability that the products of processing rare earth elements will pass through the value chain in China. Chinese companies, on the other hand, will be able to offset the effects of a reduction in the quota for domestic rare-earth metal production under these conditions,’ explained Sergei Belozerov, Professor of St Petersburg University.
As part of the 10th Russia–China academic meeting 'Bilateral and Multilateral Inter-Regional Cooperation in the Arctic', presentations were also made by postgraduate students from St Petersburg University: Ruslan Bu made a presentation on 'Murmansk Region as a Centre of Attraction for Chinese Tourism in the Russian Federation'; and Yaxin Wang prepared a presentation on 'Specifics of Russian Educational and Research Projects for Training in the Arctic Region'.
The anniversary meeting ended with a presentation by Nadezhda Kharlampeva, Candidate of
History, Head of the master's Programme ‘International Cooperation in Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development’, Associate Professor at St Petersburg University, entitled ‘Ten Years of the Russia–China Academic Meeting: Evolution of Arctic Topics’.
Through our platform, the Arctic has become a full-fledged subject of study for Chinese academic society.
Nadezhda Kharlampeva, Associate Professor of St Petersburg University
‘The annual meetings have also played a role in shaping the Chinese government's Arctic policy. For example, the first features of China's White Paper on International Cooperation were discussed at these seminars. In ten years, we have managed to create a Russia–China space for Arctic research and exploration,’ said Nadezhda Kharlampeva.
Let us note that St Petersburg University has been initiating a series of international meetings on Arctic issues as part of the organisation of public events ‘Arctic Policy in the 21st Century’ since 2009. Since 2011, researchers from the Department of World Politics at St Petersburg University and the School of International Affairs and Public Administration of Ocean University of China (Qingdao), at the initiative of Professor Go Peiqing of Ocean University of China and Nadezhda Kharlampeva, Associate Professor of St Petersburg University, have begun to study the issues of Russia–China international interaction in the Arctic.