The Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee, Ina Marčiulionytė, has sent a letter to the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, concerning the state of conservation of the World Heritage site of Lake Baikal.
The World Heritage Committee, the intergovernmental body established by the World Heritage Convention, regularly examines the state of conservation of properties inscribed on the World Heritage List. The Committee has already expressed its concern regarding the potentially negative impact of the proposed oil pipeline crossing the World Heritage site on several occasions. At the 29th session of the World Heritage Committee in Durban, South Africa, in July 2005, the Committee stated that any pipeline development crossing the watershed of Lake Baikal and main tributaries would make the case for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The letter follows several articles in the international press reporting the recent decision of the expert commission responsible for the State Ecological Expertise to accept the proposed routing of a pipeline through the World Heritage site, and its approval by the Federal Service for Ecological Technological and Atomic Supervision (Rostechnadzor).
In the letter, the Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee expresses extreme concern at the developments which constitute a potential threat to the outstanding universal value of the property, and which may result in the Committee deciding to inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 30th session in Vilnius, Lithuania. She therefore urges the re-examination of the proposed routing of the pipeline to take into account the World Heritage status of Lake Baikal, and honor the commitment made by the Russian Federation for the conservation of Lake Baikal World Heritage site in accordance with the 1972 World Heritage Convention.
Situated in south-east Siberia, Lake Baikal is the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1,700 m) lake in the world, and contains 20% of the world's total unfrozen freshwater reserve. Known as the 'Galapagos of Russia', its age and isolation have produced one of the world's richest and most unusual freshwater faunas, which is of exceptional value to evolutionary science. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1996.