Working with Sakhalin State University in Russia to Promote Sustainable Development

Core Activity
Developing a multi-stakeholder forum to address sustainable development issues on Sakhalin Island.

The gas pipeline being built

The gas pipeline being built

The principal organisations involved in this work were Sakhalin State University (SSU), Sakhalin Energy Investment Company (SEIC) and Living Earth Foundation (LEF). Additional support was provided by the UK Government’s Partnerships for Environmental Cooperation in Europe (PECE)  programme and Shell International.

When the project started in 2004, Sakhalin’s economy, which had been based largely on fishing, forestry, tourism and Government services, was already affected by major oil and gas projects developing on the island and offshore.

LEF-SSU-course-OctAn initial workshop with SSU, SEIC, LEF and other stakeholders confirmed local interest in the concept and practical implications of sustainable development (SD).

Many people in Sakhalin were convinced that the island would be negatively impacted by the oil and gas projects that were being established and unlikely to benefit directly from the revenues that these projects would generate. The initial discussions about SD suggested that Sakhalin needed to build on existing areas of its economy in order to generate long-term economic benefits.

Intended outcomes

  • To facilitate a local forum to promote identification and resolution of local issues through cooperative action by local government, private sector and civil society
  • To demonstrate in Russia a methodology which shows how these three social sectors can work together to put sustainable development into practice

The project
Work began in 2005 with Sakhalin State University and Living Earth Foundation developing active learning programmes on sustainable development. This cooperation was formalised through a Memorandum of Understanding signed by SSU and LEF in February 2006.

The project included:

  • a six-month course for local and regional government officials of Sakhalin in 2006;
  • a ten-day learning visit to Scotland and the Shetland islands in the North Sea in May 2007 by 12 stakeholders from Sakhalin (SSU academics plus representatives of local businesses, local and regional government, the Council of Representatives of Indigenous Minorities of Sakhalin, a fishermen’s association, and a local civil society organisation);
  • a second seven-month course for local government, businesses and civil society representatives of Korsakov, in 2007-8;
  • over this period LEF engaged with relevant staff of Sakhalin Energy Investment Company (SEIC) to deepen corporate understanding of and support for these capacity-building and multi-stakeholder engagement initiatives.

Most significant changes

    • SSU established a Sustainable Development Department in October 2006 with support from LEF and SEIC
    • SSU lecturers and researchers were trained in the theory and application of SD
    • The two courses led to participants from different stakeholder groups engaging to facilitate several local development projects based on multi-stakeholder cooperation
    • The visit to Scotland enabled visitors from Sakhalin to see how processes of multi-stakeholder dialogue, negotiation and consensus-building can minimise environmental impacts and enable the implementation of local development projects that deliver positive results. Sakhalin visitors to Scotland and the Shetland Islands also learned about the the key roles that local authorities and universities can play in these processes (see ‘Report of Learning Visit to Shetland and Scotland’ and the case study on the North Sea).
    • Increased capacity and confidence among SSU academics led to their increased engagement with local and regional government officials to promote local sustainable development strategies and projects
    • Project activities created a non-threatening climate for dialogue among participants with widely divergent interests, leading to constructive engagement around local development issues and initiatives

SSU has developed new courses based on the goals and experiences of sustainable development and the challenges of promoting sustainable development in the context of large-scale operations of the oil and gas industries, and has integrated key sustainable development ideas into existing university courses. Speaking to LEF in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (in September 2013) SSU’s Vice Rector, Professor Victor Korsunov, outlined the effects of LEF’s work in Sakhalin from 2005 to 2009.

The key challenges encountered were:

  • Project partners experienced frustration in trying to convince representatives of the oil and gas industry to engage actively with, and fully support the multi-stakeholder dialogue and capacity-building activities promoted by LEF and SSU. The major oil companies operating in Sakhalin were verbally supportive of project aims and activities, but they participated in few activities and their effective support was limited.
  • Although LEF established links with members of the Council of Representatives of Indigenous Minorities of Sakhalin (CRIMS) and contributed to the launch of the Sakhalin Indigenous Minorities’ Development Plan (SIMDP), no permanent relational mechanisms were developed between SSU, CRIMS and other key stakeholder groups in Sakhalin.
  • It proved difficult to get different stakeholders to develop permanent working relations. Multi-stakeholder discussions did not lead to permanent alliances. The tendency for each social actor to keep to ‘its own thing’ was never fully overcome

Conclusions and recommendations
LEF learned and confirmed important lessons:

  • It is not enough for key corporate stakeholders to express general agreement with project aims and activities proposed. Their active support is needed to enable the development of an effective multi-stakeholder SD forum capable of consensus-based strategic planning and implementation of practical initiatives
  • The development and strengthening of local capacities of key stakeholders is the only way to ensure the sustainability of impacts. Although LEF left Sakhalin in 2009, SSU and other stakeholders have continued to develop the ideas and initiatives facilitated through the LEF-SSU partnership, and in September 2013 SSU signed an agreement with the Local Authority of Aniva City District to provide technical assistance in designing and implementing a participatory local sustainable development programme in the District. In September 2013, Professor To Ken Sik of SSU described key aspects of the project to LEF.

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