1.         Western Caucasus (Russian Federation) (N 900)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1999

Criteria  (ix)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/900/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/900/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

April 2008: World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission; May 2009: High-level visit by Director of the World Heritage Centre and the Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee; May 2010: World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission; September 2012: UNESCO/IUCN reactive monitoring mission 

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/900/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2013

On 4 February 2013, a report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the State Party. From 23 to 27 September 2012 a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission visited the property to evaluate the possible impacts of the proposed Lagonaki tourism and ski development on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property. The mission report is available online at the following web address: https://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/37COM.

a) Amendments to the legislative framework

The State Party reports that “due to the adoption of Federal Law No 365-FZ dated 30 November 2011 the level of protection of specially protected nature territories, having the status of a World Heritage, will in no case be affected”. However, the mission confirmed that this law permits development of tourism and sport facilities in Biosphere Polygons of State Biosphere Strict Nature Reserves.  The Order of the Government of the Russian Federation dated 23 April 2012 No 603-r specifically permits the construction of tourism and skiing facilities with the necessary supporting infrastructure on the territory of Lagonaki Biosphere Polygon, which is confirmed by the State Party report. The mission noted that these recent decisions, and the decision to set up an economic zone in the Lagonaki Biosphere Polygon (see point (b) below), have significantly weakened the protective status of the property. The mission also noted that the boundaries of the Lagonaki Biosphere Polygon were still not established at the time of the mission, and were under discussion by the relevant authorities.

b) Infrastructure development for tourism facilities

The State Party confirms that it is planned to locate mountain ski and ski runs, artificial snow producing systems, cable ways, rope tows, restaurants, mountain shelters, sports infrastructure facilities, administrative and service buildings, roads and other infrastructure within the special economic zone for tourism and recreation established by Decree 833 of October 14, 2010, including in the Lagonaki Biosphere Polygon of the Caucasus Strict Nature Reserve inside the property. Proposals with relevant plans for tourism infrastructure for the “Northern Caucasus Resort” are being elaborated by a state owned company. The State Party states that the further development of the project for an all-season tourist and recreational complex on Lagonaki will only be possible with “account of the position of UNESCO” and notes that work is currently ongoing to define the boundaries of a Special Economic Zone at Lagonaki, within the property.

The mission noted that the Lagonaki Plateau area, including Mounts Fisht and Oshten, is a key area for biodiversity and ecological processes and therefore contributes greatly to the OUV of the property. The mission therefore considered that building ski and tourism infrastructure as projected in the documentation on the “Northern Caucasus Resort” project in its current form would seriously affect the OUV of the property and that in case a decision is taken to go forward with the development, the property would fulfil the conditions for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger, in line with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines. However, the representatives of the developer pointed out to the mission that the project is still at early stages and that no decision on its final design has been made and that the final project could be different and possibly smaller in scope. Therefore and based on the fact that the State Party and the developer and its partners expressed a clear commitment to respect the commitments under the Convention, the mission, at this stage, did not recommend to inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

c) Boundaries of the property

The State Party reports that it is preparing for a proposal for a boundary modification of the property, in order to optimize its boundaries and particularly those of the Lagonaki area. The State Party notes that it intends to propose territories for inclusion in the property, such as the Sochi National Park, and to propose the exclusion from the property of areas that have been degraded and are of little value from the point of view of nature conservation, referring in particular to areas of the Lagonaki Plateau that were heavily grazed in the past. It specifically states that the boundary modification is considered in connection to the establishment of the above mentioned Special Economic Zone.

The intention of the State Party to submit a proposal for a boundary modification was discussed during the mission. While stressing that it was not its mandate to take a position on the feasibility of such a proposal, the mission reminded that a proposal for a boundary modification can be motivated only on the basis of the OUV and that it needs to be demonstrated that the areas proposed to be taken out of the property, will not impact it. The mission further stressed that given its potential impact on the OUV such a proposed boundary modification should be considered as significant, in accordance with Paragraph 165 of the Operational Guidelines. The mission noted that any proposal for boundary modification will have to take into account the importance of the Lagonaki Plateau area, in particular Mounts Fisht and Oshten, for biodiversity and its important contribution to the OUV of the property. The mission considered that priority should be given by the State Party to urgently complete the demarcation process of the northern boundaries of the property, including its buffer zone, prior to any proposal of modification of those boundaries.

d) Other issues – infrastructure developments related to the Biosphere Centre

The State Party does not present any information on other threats, which are mentioned in the mission report, including the continuing expansion of the Biosphere Centre with development of infrastructure such as ski lifts that is clearly not in line with its function as a research centre. The mission noted plans to build a lift to access the Biosphere Centre and to upgrade one of the existing roads to Babuk Aul or Lunnaya Polyana and recalled that the State Party should ensure that infrastructure facilities, even if deemed necessary for management and research purposes, have no significant negative impacts on OUV and reiterated that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should be submitted to the World Heritage Centre before any final decision is taken on this development, in line with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN have since received reports that work on the upgrading of the Babuk Aul road has started, without an EIA having been submitted to the World Heritage Centre. The World Heritage Centre transmitted this information to the State Party in accordance with Paragraph 174 of the Operational Guidelines and requested the State Party to clarify this issue.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are of the view that the changes to the legislation which make it possible to construct winter sports facilities inside the World Heritage property have significantly weakened the protective status of the property. They recall that the World Heritage Committee has repeatedly requested the State Party to abandon any plans for infrastructure development on the Lagonaki Plateau. They support the conclusion of the 2012 monitoring mission that the installation of tourism and skiing facilities on the Lagonaki Plateau would seriously affect the OUV of the property. They consider that in case a decision is made to go forward with the Lagonaki ski and tourism development project in its current form, the property would be in clear potential danger, and fulfil the conditions for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger in line with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines and World Heritage Committee Decision 36 COM 7B.23, but note that the project is still at the planning stage. They also note commitment of the project developer to respect the commitments under the Convention.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note the intention of the State Party to submit a proposal for a boundary modification of the property in connection to the establishment of a Special Economic Zone at Lagonaki, by excluding parts of the Lagonaki plateau from the property which are reported to be degraded and by including other parts into the property. They stress that that a boundary modification must be justified and based only on the property’s OUV and its inherent characteristics and that such modification cannot be justified based on “compensating” for an area taken out by adding other areas. They further point out that the impact on the OUV of the proposed changes needs to be demonstrated on the basis of reliable scientific data and assessments and recall that such a proposal should be submitted as a new nomination, in accordance with Paragraph 165 of the Operational Guidelines.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the Committee support the conclusion of the mission that while the OUV of the property is currently still preserved, anthropogenic pressures on the property are clearly increasing and therefore, if no urgent action is taken, the integrity of the site could be affected in the near future and stress again the need for urgent and full implementation of the recommendations of previous missions. They also recommend that the World Heritage Committee urge the State Party to immediately implement its recommendations, as updated by the 2012 mission, which are included in the draft decision.

Decision Adopted: 37 COM 7B.23

The World Heritage Committee

1.  Having examined Document WHC-13/37.COM/7B,

2.  Recalling Decision 36 COM 7B.23, adopted at its 36th session (Saint-Petersburg, 2012),

3.  Expresses its concern about the changes in the legal protection of the property which make it possible to develop large scale tourism infrastructure on the Lagonaki Plateau situated within the property boundaries and reiterates its request to the State Party to ensure that no large scale ski or tourism infrastructure is built within the property;

4.  Though the State Party reiterates its commitments not to develop any new capital construction projects that would affect the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) within the property boundaries, the World Heritage Committee considers that the installation of any such construction on the Lagonaki Plateau including Mount Fisht and Oshten would constitute a case for inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger in line with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines and its previous decisions;

5.  Notes the conclusion of the joint 2012 World Heritage Centre/IUCN monitoring mission that anthropogenic pressures on the property are increasing and urges the State Party to implement all its recommendations, in particular to:

a)  Develop an overall sustainable tourism strategy and comprehensive plan for the property and adjacent special protected areas, privileging low impact tourism activities and ensuring that proposed tourism and recreational infrastructure does not impact on the OUV of the property,

b)  Ensure that no areas of high biodiversity and key to the OUV of the property are included within the components of the biosphere polygon of the Caucasus Strict Nature Reserve, which might be used for construction of recreational infrastructure and that no activities are permitted within the polygon which are contrary to the property’s integrity,

c)  Urgently clarify the delimitation of the northern buffer zone of the Caucasus Strict Nature Reserve, which is part of the property, and reinstate its legal protection,

d)  Ensure that the potential impacts of any proposed infrastructure upgrading inside the property on its OUV are carefully assessed and that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is sent to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies before a decision is taken in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines ,

e)  Finalize the exact delineation of the boundary of all components of the property, establish a functional buffer zone for the property and submit an updated map of the property and its buffer zone to the World Heritage Centre,

f)   Ensure the implementation of an overall management plan for the property by developing an operational plan and establishing an overall coordination body,

g)  Adapt the “certificates” of the Nature Monuments included in the property to ensure all logging, including sanitary cutting, construction of roads, overpasses, power lines and other communication infrastructure are not allowed and the construction of capital construction projects for recreational use is prohibited,

h)  Halt all construction and/or extension of buildings and facilities in the upper Mzimta Valley within the property boundaries and upgrade the legal protection status of this area;

6.  Takes note of the intention of the State Party to submit a proposal for a boundary modification by excluding parts of the Lagonaki plateau from the property which are reported to be degraded and by including other parts and recalls that such a proposal has to be clearly justified in terms of the OUV for which the property was inscribed, should be based on reliable scientific data and should be submitted as a new nomination, in accordance with Paragraph 165 of the Operational Guidelines ;

7.  Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2014, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property, including a report on progress achieved with the implementation of the recommendations made above and by the mission, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 38th session in 2014.