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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Honors Mayor For Green Policies

Suffering from car exhaust and sticky heat, Moscow took center stage Friday on World Environment Day, when the director of the UN Environment Program honored Mayor Yury Luzhkov and 22 others for contributing to the protection of the environment.

Moscow is the first East European city that the United Nations has appointed to play host to a series of events centered around the global day dedicated to environmental protection.

Although this year's theme was "For Life on Earth -- Save Our Seas," program director Klaus T?pfer said Moscow was an appropriate choice because it exemplifies how urban development affects oceans.

"Moscow, I was told, is the port of five seas," T?pfer said. "And 70 percent of pollution in the sea is caused by land-based pollution."

Luzhkov was honored for removing environmentally unsafe industries from the capital, establishing environmental police to crack down on polluters, and contributing to the stabilization of air pollution from cars.

His administration says it has installed catalytic converters on 1,000 city buses.

Among the others receiving awards Friday were a zookeeper from Afghanistan who stayed with his animals during 18 months of heavy fighting, and a lumberjack from China who spent his retirement "paying off his debt" to nature by planting more than 40,000 trees to replace those he had chopped down.

Environmental activists said they were surprised to see Luzhkov on the list of people honored for fighting pollution.

"Of course he has done a lot of good," said Yevgeny Usov, spokesman for Greenpeace Russia. "But the situation in Moscow is far from good."

Greenpeace won a battle with the city administration just last week, getting its agreement to enact a city ordinance to protect trees in Moscow.

Luzhkov acknowledged that his administration has only made a dent in cleaning up the city of 10 million people.

"This problem is second on our priority list -- right after the issue of fighting crime," he said. Items on a future agenda include tackling soil contamination and uncontrolled garbage disposal, the mayor said.

Luzhkov's achievements include the recent creation of environmental police, who have fined polluters and stopped exhaust-spewing cars. He has opened an environmental prosecutor's office and is pushing for the creation of an environmental court in Moscow.

The mayor also has raised standards for gasoline sold in Moscow.

The Moscow City Duma is mulling over a third version of a city ordinance that would require all car owners to install catalytic converters in their cars. Each device costs $250 to $500 and can easily break if a car uses impure gasoline. The ordinance has encountered fierce opposition.

The State Committee on the Environment's chairman, Viktor Danilov-Danilyan, said this week that it was not economically feasible to force stricter exhaust standards on Russia's carmakers. "There is very little that we can do until we change the thinking of the masses," he said at a news conference.