As requested by the Committee at its 34th session, a joint UNESCO World Heritage Centre / IUCN high level mission was organized from 10 to 15 July 2011 to discuss with the Russian authorities and other stakeholders to identify how the impacts of the re-opened Baikalsk Paper and Pulp Mill (BPPM) on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property can be addressed. The mission also visited the BPPM and had discussion with the Ministry of Natural resources, authorities and institutions of the Irkutsk province and the Republic of Buriatia and the management of BPPM. The full mission report is available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/36COM. On 6 March 2012, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, summarizing the main findings of the high level mission and providing an update on measures taken in BPPM after the mission.
a) Baikalsk Paper and Pulp Mill
The State Party recalls that the decision to resume the operation of the BPPM was made on the basis of the Decree of the Russian Government dated 13.01.2010 No. 1 “On amendments to the list of prohibited activities in the central ecological zone of the Baikal natural territory”. The State Party also notes that following the closure of BPPM in 2008, acute socio-economic problems arose for the town of Baikalsk, and that since its re-opening it provides employment opportunities for more than 1500 people. However, the mission was informed that the socio-economic dependence of the town of Baikalsk on BPPM is over-estimated, as an increasing number of people from Baikalsk prefer to work in small businesses, and BPPM is increasingly hiring workforce from other regions.
The State Party further notes that the decision to re-open BPPM was made on the basis of scientific evidence and cost-effectiveness, but provides no details as to the scientific evidence that was used to justify the re-opening of BPPM. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that the scientific community studying Lake Baikal and the effects of BPPM on the Baikal ecosystem, including the Siberian Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, its Scientific Council for Lake Baikal, and the Limnology Institute, have been opposing the decision to re-open the plant since its conception, including through a letter to the Prime Minister dated 05 April 2010. The State Party provides information on a number of environmental measures undertaken at BPPM linked to the efforts to clean up of sediment ponds, the treatment of sludge and treatment of atmospheric pollution. The report also notes that the Government of Irkutsk approved a proposal by the limnological institute to handle the accumulated industrial waste at the plant but provides no details on the plan. The State Party report does not provide any update on progress in the development and implementation of a closed-loop water system, as requested by the Committee at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010).
The mission noted that while environmental measures undertaken at the plant will improve the quality of water released into the lake, the development of a closed-loop water treatment system is still required. It was brought to the mission’s attention that despite repeated commitments by the State Party to address the problem of pollution caused by BPPM, the situation is actually worsening, as the plant is increasing its production and discharging higher volumes of polluted water into the lake.
The report provides data on water quality monitoring and monitoring of effluent and inspections which took place in 2011. Unfortunately the data are not very clear and difficult to assess. For example, there is confusion on the standard which is used: the standards used for assessing water quality established by the Federal Agency for Fishery in its order No. 20 or the limits established by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in the Federal Law on the protection of Lake Baikal. Nevertheless, the report seems to indicate violations and cases where maximum allowed concentrations of pollutants in the wastewater were exceeded. Water monitoring data also show excessive levels of certain pollutants around BPPM and near towns around the lake. The Deputy Minister of Natural Resources informed the mission that he considered that the problem of pollution of the Lake through the BPPM activities is exaggerated and that the Lake is in good condition. Nevertheless he stressed that if BPPM will not have a closed-loop water treatment system in place by the end of 2012, the plant will be closed by federal court order. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN have received information that in spite of this affirmation, the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Natural Resources, on 17 February 2012, issued a permit to allow the continued operation of BPPM until 2015. They also note the delay in revising the environmental standards for maximum permissible concentrations of dangerous components in the waste water discharged into the lake.
b) Long-term strategy for economic development of Baikalsk based on alternative sources
The State Party notes that a comprehensive investment plan to ensure the long-term economic development for the town of Baikalsk has been prepared, with the objective to diversify the local economy to avoid over-dependency on BPPM. The total target of funding of this Investment Plan from 2010 to 2014 is approximately 4.9 million US dollars. The various activities conducted under the economic development plan for Baikalsk include a 347.4 million rubles (11.5 million US dollars) investment in an enterprise producing bottled drinking water. The State Party reports that a Federal Target Program, “Protection of Lake Baikal and the Social and Economic Development of the Baikal Natural Territory (2012-2020)”, has been developed with the aim to protect Lake Baikal and the Baikal natural territory from negative impacts from anthropogenic, technological and natural factors.
The Regional Minister for Economic Development of the Irkutsk province emphasized to the mission that the best option for the economic development of the region is to improve BPPM and increase its production so that it is capable to employ more people and pay more taxes in support of the local economy. During discussions between the mission and regional authorities, it was noted that as the diversification of the local economy takes time, it would be important to keep BPPM working. However, the mission also noted concerns raised by local and regional NGOs that BPPM represents a disincentive to the economic development of the region, as some investors interested in tourism development have shown reservations about investing in a region that seems to be highly polluted.
c) Development of the Kholodnenskoye ore deposit
The State Party report notes several deposits are included within the Central Ecological Zone. It states that the license for subsoil use at the Kholodnenskoye poly-metal deposit was issued before the approval of the boundaries of this Central Ecological Zone. It affirms that the development of Kholodnenskoye and other mineral deposits or deposits of fossil fuels in the Central Ecological Zone is not planned. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note media reports that state that the Government of Buriatia intends to request a revision of the nature protection legislation of the Baikal Central Ecological Zone, to make it possible to start developing the Kholodnenskoye deposit. IUCN has received reports that the CEO of the company holding the state license for the development of this deposit, also a member of the Duma, has indicated the need to change the law to allow development of the Kholodnenskoye deposit. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that, allowing mineral exploitation inside the Central Ecological Zone would represent a clear potential danger to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.
d) Proposed marina development
The State Party notes that the company "Siberia Traveler Ltd" is developing the project documentation for the construction of the proposed marina in the Republic of Buryatia, which includes an environmental impact assessment (EIA). The EIA is expected to be conducted in February-March 2012, and will be submitted to the World Heritage Centre as soon as it is finalized. The State Party considers that the construction of this marina is of environmental importance to facilitate the collection of solid waste and waste waters from ships.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note information provided on the website of the Republic of Buryatia (http://egov-buryatia.ru/eng/index.php?id=85) on the development of a Special Economic Zone for tourism called the “Baikal Harbor”. This ambitious development project, which includes not only the abovementioned development of a marina but also of a tourism resort, a skiing resort in the upper part of the mountains and a network of roads, is proposed in the Pribaikalsky district located on the eastern coast of Baikal in the central part of the Republic of Buryatia, comprising 94 km of the property’s coastline. However no information is provided in relation to the EIAs that will need to be prepared for these projects.
e) Other conservation issues
The State Party notes a decrease in fish stocks in the Delta of the Selenga River, the causes of which are currently being studied. The mission noted that according to the Minister of Natural Resources of the Republic of Buryatia, the main challenge in dealing with the protection of Lake Baikal relates to the pollution of the Selenga River, 46% of which is generated in Mongolia. While there is a programme of cooperation with Mongolia, the main limitation for Mongolia was reported to be a lack of funding to implement the measures necessary to reduce the pollution of the Selenga River.
The State Party reports that in 2011, like in previous years, concentrations of Baikal seals in the areas of coastal rookeries are stable. However, no further details or supportive data are provided. The State Party report also contains useful information on issues relating to the protected areas that overlap with the property, particularly related to forest fires, management, visitation, illegal resource collection (fishing, hunting, and non-timber forest products). It is particularly noted that enhanced protection and patrolling activities have reduced the number of offences in 2011 by 7% compared to 2010.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that the State Party did not provide information on the state of conservation of Zabaikalskiy and Pribaikalskiy National Parks. IUCN has received reports that since 2009, poaching, unauthorized development, and environmentally irresponsible tourism have much worsened. These reports note the illegal lease of land plots in the Reserve Zone of the national park, where all activity is forbidden. Recent inspections by the Federal Environmental, Industrial and Nuclear Supervision Service (Rosprirodnadzor) have reportedly revealed 38 violations of the law on the protection of the national park. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that in its next report, the State Party should provide more information on the state of conservation of all protected areas that make up the property, including Zabaikalskiy and Pribaikalskiy National Parks.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN further note the new Federal Law No. 365-FZ dated 30 November 2011, which has significantly weakened the protection regime of Strict Nature Reserves, making it possible to construct large scale tourism infrastructure within these reserves. They consider that this issue should be addressed at federal level as it affects the protection status of all natural World Heritage sites in the Russian Federation.