Russia’s Forests in a Global Economy: How Consumption Drives Environmental Change
The forests of Russia comprise roughly one-fifth of Earth’s total forest cover and one-quarter of its remaining “frontier” forests. The quality (i.e. natural productivity) of these forests continues to decline, however, with timber harvest a major underlying cause. Efforts to ameliorate forest degradation have been production centric, with a focus on the infusion of technology to improve manufacturing capacity, revision of the Forest code for better forest governance, and strategies to control illegal logging. However, consumption also drives forest change. Using production and trade flow data from 1946 to 2012, this paper assesses the state of Russia’s forest resources and demonstrates how sweeping changes ushered in by perestroika and globalization have forged a highly export-dependent forest sector. Once consumed internally (approx. 90% of total production), wood from Russia’s forests is now a global resource–the country annually exports approximately two-thirds of its sawnwood production. In tracking these flows through China to US urban centers, with timber becoming furniture and flooring sold in big-box stores, we demonstrate how consumption patterns affect ecosystems and socioeconomic relations in resource and manufacturing peripheries far beyond regional and national borders. The “ecological shadow” of forest change and degradation in post-Soviet Russia, therefore, is a confluence of factors related to both consumption and production: globalized shifting external market demand; the spatial fracturing of the industry; inefficient production; internal corruption; and weak forest governance. The Russian forest case provides evidence that we need to approach complex environmental (and development) issues as a coupled production–consumption dynamic. More broadly, the research is illustrative of how Russia has become embedded within the global economy through a constellation of resource flow linkages and networks.