Independent experts and journalists from Russia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland have form a regional alliance to share information and publish stories about environmental damage.
The Barents Region Independent Environmental Society (BRIES) aims to create an international communication platform where specialists in the field of environmental protection can share their knowledge and up-to-date information with journalists.
“We hope to give our audience a full and objective picture of what is really going on in the Arctic and Barents regions, which will allow them to analyze and form an independent opinion on it”, Timofey Surovtsev , co-founder and director of BRIES. Moscow-based ecological consultancy firm POMOR, told the Moscow Times.
“The people will then be well equipped to influence political decisions,” he added.
The founders of BRIES believe that all countries in the Arctic region face almost identical environmental problems caused by the mining industry and the use of harmful and obsolete equipment by industrial facilities, especially in coastal areas.
Although some regional activists have achieved small victories at the local level, cooperation between countries remains limited. BRIES members believe that more objective coverage of these issues by regional and international media could be helpful.
Russian veteran journalist and BRIES member Sergey Shahidzhinyan said he knew little about the environmental problems that exist outside his country until he went on a working trip to ore mines in railway near the Norwegian town of Kirkenes.
“I was shocked when I first saw the empty and contaminated lands and rivers near the mines,” he said. “I imagined Norway as the greenest country on the planet and what I saw changed that forever.”
Shahidzhinyan’s experience in Norway convinced him that some countries are adept at presenting their industrial actions as protecting the environment when in reality they do as much damage as others.
He chose to fill the information gap in the coverage of environmental issues by creating “ECO-press”, an association that supports environmental journalists and puts them in touch with experts in their field.
His organization was part of an environmental campaign that led to the closure of a polluting fish processing plant in the northern town of Nikel in the Murmansk region of Russia and now hopes to share its expertise under BRIES.
Hope for the future
Biologist and environmental activist Vladimir Latka believes that if successful, the BRIES community could help countries beyond the Barents region.
“We share the same environment which knows no human concept of borders and, therefore, similar goals,” said Latka. “The Barents Sea is a vast marine ecosystem shared by Russia and Norway which, in turn, is part of the even larger ecosystem of the North Atlantic,” he added.
Forty experts and journalists from Russia and other partner countries have already confirmed their membership in BRIES. However, the digital network that will unite them is not yet live and the summits in person will have to wait for the post-Covid-19 era.
Ruben Oddekalv, well-known Norwegian activist and member of the NGO ‘Green Warriors of Norway’, has high hopes for the alliance, noting that BRIES members are already working together to solve cross-border ecological problems. He said formalizing the partnership would provide new means to “influence politicians and other authorities”.
“We hope that BRIES will grow stronger and become a recognized and well-established collaborative platform that strengthens and coordinates environmental protection throughout the Barents region,” said Oddekalv.