1.         Lake Baikal (Russian Federation) (N 754)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1996

Criteria  (vii)(viii)(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/754/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1990-2000)
Total amount approved: USD 33,200
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/754/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

1998: World Heritage Centre monitoring mission; 2001: Joint UNESCO/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission; 2005: Joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission; 2011: Joint UNESCO/IUCN Mission; 2015: IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/754/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2021

On 29 November 2019, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/754/documents, reporting the following:

The World Heritage Centre sent several letters to the State Party, requesting clarification regarding third party information raising concerns about following issues:

The State Party replied on 15 April 2021, noting that in 2018 new boundaries of the Lake Baikal water protection zone were approved, which resulted in exclusion of some additional inter-settlement areas, but that this is not expected to result in any negative impact on the property. Regarding the water level fluctuations, it is reported that a permanent regulatory document is currently being considered, which would provide for an extended range of water level regulation under conditions of extreme high or extreme low water level.

On 15 March 2019, the World Heritage Centre sent a letter to the State Party of Mongolia requesting clarification regarding third party information about the current status of the Regional Environmental Assessment (REA) for the planned hydropower projects in Mongolia. The State Party of Mongolia replied on 4 April 2019 providing updated Terms of Reference (ToR) of the REA and confirming that it will include many elements of a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), and on 17 May 2019, outlining the planned process for the development of the REA for the Shuren and Orkhon projects and the requested additional study on biodiversity impacts of the planned Egiin Gol hydropower plant project (EGHPP).

On 18 November 2019, the State Party of Mongolia sent further information on the implementation of Decision 42 COM 7B.76. A French and Mongolian consortium has been selected to conduct the additional 15-month study on potential impacts of the EGHPP project on the biodiversity of Selenge River and Lake Baikal, and the joint Mongolian-Russian Working Group has agreed on the ToR for the REA. At the time of preparing this report, no additional information has been provided to the World Heritage Centre.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

A number of factors have continued to negatively affect the property resulting in continued deterioration of its ecological condition. Of particular concern is the weakening of existing regulatory framework through amendments to existing laws, and the introduction of new legislation that would relax allowable levels of pollutants. While some of these proposed changes have not been approved yet, the scale of the weakening of the regulatory provisions, at the time when the property’s ecological condition continues to deteriorate, is such that it can be concluded that, if all these legislative changes proceed, the property would face potential danger in line with Paragraph 180(b) i) and iv) of the Operational Guidelines. It is therefore recommended that the World Heritage Committee urge the State Party to undertake a comprehensive review of all proposed legislative changes and their interdependencies that could potentially affect the property, and urge it not to approve any changes that would dilute the existing protection regime of the property. It is further recommended that based on this review, the Law on the Protection of Lake Baikal is strengthened to ensure the protection of the OUV of the property through a cross-sectoral approach.

While the information provided by the State Party regarding the measures undertaken to minimise water level fluctuations following a number of years of drought in the region causing low lake levels is noted, it is regrettable that the Committee’s request to undertake a complete and comprehensive EIA of the impacts of existing water use and management regulations on the OUV of the property has not been implemented. This is of particular concern given the confirmation by the State Party that a permanent regulatory document that provides for an extended range of water level regulation is currently being considered. While the information that the research project on the links between water levels and the ecological conditions of the Lake did not observe any damage on the environment is noted, such assessment cannot replace a comprehensive EIA, requested by the Committee. It is recommended that the Committee urge the State Party to revoke any amendments which allow changes of the limits on fluctuation and not to approve any further regulatory changes until the impacts of all existing water use and management regulations on the OUV of the property are fully understood through a complete and comprehensive EIA.

It is also regrettable that the State Party did not provide any further information on the different projects developed in the different Special Economic Zones (SEZ) located within or overlapping with the property, nor on the EIA. The reported increase of illegal constructions on the lake shore, even within protected areas, is also of major concern. It is recommended the Committee reiterate its request to submit as a matter of urgency a SEA for all SEZs regarding existing and future developments and their cumulative impacts on the OUV of the property and urges the State Party to address the problem of illegal constructions.

It is further regrettable that no information has been provided by the State Party regarding the planned EIA for the remediation of the former BPPM site. It is recommended that the Committee reiterate its request to the State Party to develop and submit this EIA and, ensure that the best possible options are chosen in terms of selection of technologies and implementing entities.

While welcoming efforts to address forest fire protection, no information was provided on the assessment of impacts of forest fires on the lake ecosystem, as requested by the Committee.

It is further recommended that the Committee request the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to assess the increasing deterioration of the ecological conditions of the property and to review the threat posed to it by the different legislative changes, the existing and proposed developments in the SEZ and the remediation plans for the former BPPM, ensuring that, given the complexity of the issues, the mission can meet with all the relevant national and regional authorities and has access to all relevant legislative documents. It is further recommended that, in order to be able to assess the full range of issues potentially affecting the hydrological and ecological conditions of the property, the mission should be given an opportunity to discuss relevant issues with the representatives of the State Party of Mongolia through appropriate means.

The report by the State Party of Mongolia that the ToR for the REA for Shuren and Orkhon hydropower projects have now been finalised and an international consortium will conduct a separate 15-month study on potential impacts of the EGHPP project on the biodiversity of the property, are noted. While the confirmation that the REA will include elements of an SEA, as well as cumulative impact assessment, energy and water option studies, as well as legal and institutional assessments, is welcomed, it remains unclear how this process would specifically address the Committee’s request to the States Parties to develop a transboundary SEA. It is therefore recommended that the Committee reiterate its requests to the States Parties in this regard.

Decision Adopted: 44 COM 7B.107

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7B,
  2. Recalling Decisions 39 COM 7B.22, 40 COM 7B.97, 41 COM 7B.6 and 42 COM 7B.76, adopted at its 39th (Bonn, 2015), 40th (Istanbul/UNESCO, 2016), 41st (Krakow, 2017) and 42nd (Manama, 2018) sessions respectively,
  3. Notes with utmost concern several proposed amendments to existing legislation and new laws, which would significantly weaken the existing regulatory framework in terms of requirements for impact assessments and allowable levels of pollutants, and considers that the scale of this weakening of the regulatory provisions, at the time when the property’s ecological conditions continue to deteriorate, is such that, if all proposed changes proceed, the property would face potential danger in line with Paragraph 180(b) i) and iv) of the Operational Guidelines;
  4. Requests the State Party to undertake a comprehensive review of all proposed legislative changes and their interdependencies, that could potentially affect the property and urges the State Party not to approve any changes that would weaken the existing protection regime of the property and strengthen the Law on the Protection of Lake Baikal to ensure that the protection of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property can be guaranteed through a cross-sectoral approach;
  5. Notes the information provided by the State Party that no damage has been observed on the environment as a result of measures taken on water level fluctuations, but regrets that its request to undertake a complete and comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the impacts of existing water use and management regulations on the OUV of the property has not been implemented;
  6. Urges again the State Party to revoke all amendments introducing changes of the limits on fluctuation and not to introduce any further regulatory changes providing for further extension of the range of allowed water level fluctuation until the impacts of all existing water use and management regulations on the OUV of the property are fully understood through a complete and comprehensive EIA and also requests the State Party to submit the EIA to World Heritage Centre for review by IUCN;
  7. Also regrets that no information has been provided by the State Party regarding the remediation of the former Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill (BPPM) site, nor regarding the planned EIA for this process, and reiterates its request to the State Party to develop and submit this EIA including an assessment of possible options for the future uses of the site and their potential impacts on the OUV of the property, for review by IUCN, and also urges the State Party to ensure that the best possible options are chosen in terms of selection of technologies and implementing entities;
  8. Regrets once again that the State Party did not submit either the results of the EIAs for each Special Economic Zone (SEZ) located within or overlapping with the property or a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for all SEZs regarding existing and future developments and their cumulative impacts on the OUV of the property, and further urges the State Party to complete these assessments as a matter of priority and to submit them to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN, as soon as they are available;
  9. Expresses concern about the reported increase of illegal constructions on the lake shore, even within protected areas and urges furthermore the State Party to address this threat as a matter of urgency;
  10. Welcomes the draft action plan to improve the system for forest fire protection within the property, and also reiterates its request to the State Party to also provide an update on the assessment of impacts of forest fires on the lake ecosystem;
  11. Takes note of the information provided by the State Party of Mongolia that the Terms of Reference for the Regional Environmental Assessment for the proposed Shuren and Orkhon hydropower projects have been finalized, and further requests the State Party to clarify how this process will be linked with the development of a transboundary SEA, as requested by the Committee;
  12. Acknowledges the further progress on the planned study on the impacts of the Egiin Gol hydropower plant project (EGHPP) on the biodiversity of the property, and further reiterates its request to the State Party of Mongolia to take into account the findings and recommendations of the 2015 mission, especially regarding assessing impacts on the habitats of endangered migratory freshwater species of the Selenga/Lake Baikal complex, and to submit this study to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN, as soon as it is available;
  13. Reiterates furthermore its request to the States Parties of Mongolia and the Russian Federation to implement the recommendations of the 2015 mission as well as the requests in Decisions 39 COM 7B.22, 40 COM 7B.97, 41 COM 7B.6 and 42 COM 7B.76, and to jointly develop a transboundary SEA for any existing and planned hydropower and water management projects ensuring that its results guide the elaboration of EIAs of any specific individual projects, including the planned Shuren hydropower and Orkhon river projects;
  14. Requests furthermore the State Party of the Russian Federation to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to review the threat posed to it by the different legislative changes, the existing and proposed developments in the SEZ and the remediation plans for the former BPPM, ensuring that, given the complexity of the issues, the mission members can meet with all the relevant national and regional authorities and has access to all relevant legislative documents, including the abovementioned comprehensive review of recent legislative changes, which should be compiled prior to the mission;
  15. Requests moreover the States Parties of the Russian Federation and Mongolia to organize a meeting, through appropriate means, with the Reactive Monitoring mission team to allow the mission to assess the full range of issues potentially affecting the hydrological and ecological conditions of the property;
  16. Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2022, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 45th session, with a view to considering, in the absence of substantial progress in addressing the above, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.