At its twenty-second session, the Bureau was informed that a number of laws for the national protection of the Lake existed and that the Duma had adopted the Federal Law on «The Protection of the Baikal Lake» which was, however, vetoed by the President. The Federal Law had been tabled for a third reading in the Duma, taking into account comments made by the President’s intervention. The Russian authorities had not come to any conclusions regarding the re-profiling of the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill at Baikalsk, one of the main polluters of the Lake. The Observer of the Russian Delegation was of the view that the unresolved legal status, continuing and increasing pollution, lack of resources for management and monitoring, and logging and other negative factors seriously threatened Lake Baikal. He was of the view that the State Party would not oppose the site’s declaration as World Heritage in Danger.
At its twenty-second extraordinary session in November 1998, the Bureau was informed that the Baikal Law was being revised due to the need to include financial measures to implement the Law. Both the Region of Irkutsk and the Buryat Republic were contributing to the revision of the Law and the revised draft was due to be approved by the Duma by the end of 1999. The Minister for Economy had proposed that international bids might have to be called for transforming the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill. However, no solution had been finalised yet and closing the mill would aggravate the social problems of the region. Despite financial problems monitoring of the site was underway. IUCN informed the Bureau that it does not recommend the inclusion of Lake Baikal in the List of World Heritage in Danger at present. The Committee, at its last session noted the Bureau’s deliberations and recommendations on Lake Baikal described above. It expressed its serious concerns about the problems facing the site and reiterated its requests made at the time of the inscription of the site, particularly the urgent need to re-profile the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill and adopt the Baikal Law.
The Bureau noted that the UNESCO Office Moscow, in consultation with the Centre and the Division for Ecological Sciences, organized on 9 March 1999 a workshop on the Baikal Law. Meanwhile, the Law was passed by the Duma, has been signed by the President of the Russian Federation and entered into force with its publication beginning May 1999. The Governmental Baikal Commission held an extraordinary meeting on 13 May 1999 to decide on next steps to be taken to implement the law. At the same occasion, the Commission made the request to the Federal Government that the Director of the UNESCO Moscow Office becomes a member of the Commission, referring to the World Heritage status of Lake Baikal. The UNESCO Moscow Office informed the Centre that the 14th session of the Baikal Commission met on 28 June 1999 with 28 representatives from regional authorities, scientific institutions and NGOs. The Commission discussed (a) threats to the Baikal ecosystem in relation to the law; (b) the water level of the lake and (c) the GEF Biodiversity project. The item of the Pulp and Paper Mill was postponed to await a report ordered by the Irkutsk region. The Centre has received information from Greenpeace, that the “Irkutsk administration is trying to reduce the area of Baikal National Park”. This proposed reduction would be 110,000 ha, which would be 25% of this portion of the site.
IUCN commended the adoption of the Baikal Law by the Duma and the President of the Russia Federation. However, IUCN raised concerns that some important conservation issues are not contained in the latest version. IUCN noted the need for a clearer focus on what are prohibited or reduced activities. IUCN welcomed the special fund for Lake Baikal and the need to allocate funds for the management of the site. IUCN continued to be concerned about impacts of the pulp and paper mill operating in proximity of the site and noted that it should be reprofiled. Recent reports on a proposed reduction of the total area of the World Heritage site should be verified.
The Observer of Finland informed the Bureau, that contrary to some reports from NGOs, the Paper Mill is not owned by a Finnish company.
The Centre informed the Bureau that information was received on 5 July from the UNESCO Moscow Office that the Ministry of Federal Property has acted to keep 49 % of the ownership of the Paper Mill in the hands of the State. This could, given the present situation of the Russian economy and Federal budget, block any further development of an ecologically and socially acceptable solution of the problem of the Mill and may lead to unforeseeable consequences.
The Bureau reiterated its concerns over the threats to the integrity of Lake Baikal, including the issue of reducing the size of the area. While complimenting the State Party on its efforts to adopt the Baikal Law, the Bureau emphasised that the State Party expedites the process of the implementation of the Law with all the legal provisions essential for the effective conservation and management of Lake Baikal. The Bureau requested the State Party to give particular consideration to the legal, financial and other prerequisites needed for re-profiling the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill and other enterprises that continue to pollute Lake Baikal. The Bureau expressed concerns about the recent developments with regard to the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill and urged the State Party to provide full information on this situation. The Bureau invited the State Party to provide a detailed report, by 15 September 1999, on measures to mitigate the pollution threats to Lake Baikal, as well as on the implementation of the Baikal Law.