Dear Oldag, thank you for your availability for the interview! Maybe we can start with a couple of words about Germanwatch. Who are you, what do you do, what are your aims?

Thank you! Germanwatch has been actively promoting global equity and the preservation of livelihoods since 1991. Our motto is "Observing, Analysing, Acting". In doing so, we focus on the politics and economics of the North with their worldwide consequences. The situation of marginalised people in the South is the starting point of our work. Together with our members and supporters as well as with other actors in civil society we are a lobby for sustainable development. We endeavour to approach our aims by advocating such ideas as fair trade relations, responsible financial markets, compliance with human rights, and the prevention of dangerous climate change. Germanwatch is funded by membership fees, donations, grants from the Stiftung Zukunftsfähigkeit (Foundation for Sustainability), and by grants from a number of other public and private donors.

To what extent do you engage in your work with Russia? Do you cooperate with Russian NGOs? What problems are occurring in this process?

Yes, Germanwatch is engaged with Russia since 2008, dealing with Russian national and international climate politics, low carbon modernisation, meaning the economic transition towards almost zero greenhouse gas emissions. A huge problem is the search for financing of such projects, besides other difficulties. Furthermore, there are, unfortunately, still not that much NGOs in Russia which are equipped with skills in such topics as national and international climate politics and consequences of climate change that they would be a reasonable project partner for Germanwatch. But we are in touch with our Russian colleagues and experts. We already had several small, but important common projects, such as seminars about climate changes for Russian journalists.

Where do you see potential for cooperation?

In a long-term perspective for Germanwatch there might be potential to advance cooperation with Russian NGOs on the issue of education and lobbying concerning how to prepare economies and societies for the sustainable zero-CO2-world that industrial states need to have in place in 30 to 40 years.

Is this the reason why Germanwatch is a member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum? You were in Prague and Warsaw, this year you are going to St. Petersburg. What makes the Forum so attractive for you?

The Forum gives us the possibility to intensify contacts with potential Russian partner organisations when it comes to issues such as low carbon modernisation and global security in a warming world.

What projects would Germanwatch like to realise in the framework of Working Group „Environment“? What can be done to improve the work of the whole Forum?

I believe the Environment Working Group, as all other Working Groups as well, needs joint projects in fields which fulfill at least one of two criteria: First, as many member organisations and individuals as possible should feel that a certain topic is of relevance to themselves. Here, looking at how NGOs in Russia and the EU adjust their activities to the challenge of global warming seems to be promising and interesting for Germanwatch. Second, working group projects should focus on issues in which exchange for EU members is as interesting as for Russian members. Especially the second criterion seems not an easy one. Isn’t our common view that Russian civil society organisations would learn from their western partners – not the other way round? I believe that is not necessarily true. Russian NGOs have a lot valuable experience to share in areas like nature protection or campaigning against problematic construction plans of roads, buildings, etc. 

Unfortunately, the Forum would need to be bigger so that member organisations could work together on a more sectored basis. Also, funding for joint projects of Forum members is not sufficient at all to increase their interest and to provide them with more capacity to actively take part in the Forum. Without any funding there is a danger to lose some of the members. And that would be a huge pity!

What do you expect from the General Assembly in St. Petersburg?

We still need to better consolidate the Environment Working Group around one or more projects of common interest and real ownership. That is a main task for the GA in St. Pete. We still have a lot of very professional Russian member organisations, but few high profile EU members. But I am optimistic we can leap forward on this challenge in St. Petersburg.

Thank you so much for your time.

Interview conducted by Polina Baigarova, EU-Russia Civil Society Forum

Germanwatch is member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum since 29.03.2011.