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Any Plans Affecting Lake Baikal Require Rigorous Assessments According to the UNESCO Guidelines

18 April 2018 Topics:
Rivers without Boundaries International Coalition (RwB) and Greenpeace Russia
Submission to the World Heritage Center and the IUCN. April 2018

Concerns regarding implementation of WHC decisions on Lake Baikal and recommendations for the 2018 World Heritage Committee Decision

Lake Baikal is undergoing serious environmental crisis. In 2017 among the good news was revocation by the Ministry of Natural Resources of the mining license for Kholodnenskoye Zinc deposit, which was the major step forward in ensuring lasting protection of the World Heritage Site. However, this is the only truly good news from 2017 that we can share. As we submit our comments the Lake Baikal water surface has already fallen almost quarter of a meter[1] below the previously set minimal level. Throughout the year local communities reported to press and authorities massive cases of land grabs on the lakeshore, mostly associated with international tourism development. Research of citizen-led "Baikal Expedition" has shown that even very low concentrations of pollutants\nutrients may induce serious negative reaction in local aquatic ecosystems, because of highly oligotrophic character of the lake.

We are deeply concerned with failures, delays and denials in implementation of WHC decisions on Lake Baikal . We want to draw Your attention to several specific aspects related to hydropower impacts and environmental monitoring of the Lake as well as new easements and exceptions made by the Government of Russia to Lake Baikal protection regime.

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1. In 2016 the WHC requested that relevant agencies in Mongolia:

-Ensure that the EIA developed for the Egiin Gol Project includes assessment of potential impacts not only on the hydrology, but also on the ecological processes and biodiversity of the property, and specifically on its OUV, and to provide the full EIA report to the World Heritage Centre (p.11a).

– Develop an assessment of cumulative impacts of any planned dams and reservoirs in the Selenge river basin that may have an impact on the OUV and integrity of the property and to provide this assessment to the World Heritage Centre (p.11 d).

– Not approve any of the projects until the above-mentioned EIAs and assessment of cumulative impacts have been reviewed by the World Heritage Centre and IUCN (p.11e).

2. In 2016 the WHC issued additional decisions:

In 2017 the WHC welcomed the intention of the State Party of Mongolia to undertake an additional study on the impacts of the Egiin Gol project on the biodiversity of the property, and notes the information provided by the State Party of Mongolia regarding the Shuren hydropower project and the Orkhon river project, including the Terms of References for the development of Regional Environmental Assessments (REAs) and Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs) for these projects;(p.7).

Also in 2017 the WHC reiterated furthermore its request to the States Parties of the Russian Federation and Mongolia to jointly develop a transboundary SEA for any future hydropower and water management projects which could potentially affect the property, taking into account any existing and planned projects on the territory of both countries, and requests both States Parties to ensure that the results of such transboundary SEA guide the elaboration of ESIAs of any concrete hydropower and water management projects, including the planned Shuren hydropower project and the Orkhon river project;(p.8)

3. Concerns related to Egiin Gol Hydro Project.

We have to report, that according to information available to us, the WHC Decisions quoted above have not been implemented in full and some of them have been directly violated by actions of the Government of Mongolia.

After cancellation of feasibility studies for Orkhon and Shuren dam projects, the Egiin Gol Hydro remains the single most potent threat to ecological integrity of the Lake Baikal in Mongolian part of the basin. Construction of this hydro was launched in late 2015 and only thanks to timely reaction and resolute position of the World Heritage Committee this threat has been averted in 2016.

The Government of Mongolia listed the Egiin Gol Hydro construction project in its Power Plant Construction Plan for 2018, with specific investment of 20 billion tugrugs and a target to complete 10% of construction works in 2018[2]. The Egiin Gol Hydropower Company, that by July 2017 has a debt of 22 billion tugrugs[3] to the Development Bank of Mongolia[4], recently received new investment to continue creation of Eg River Hydro. Thus in September 2017 the State Property Agency ordered the Development Bank of Mongolia to provide additionally USD 2,5 million for the creation of this hydropower plant[5], which is clearly contrary to the WHC decisions.

The new Minister of Energy Mr. Davasuren calls Egiin Gol Hydro "first priority project" both in his interviews and response letters to NGOs[6]. Davasuren admits that assessment of Egiin Gol impacts on ecological processes has not been done yet, however he openly expresses belief that such assessment will show absence of any impacts on the Lake Baikal World Heritage Site[7].

This statement was made by the Minister despite of release to Mongolia side of the preliminary results of research conducted by Russian scientists, which predict possibility of serious negative impacts on Selenge-Baikal aquatic ecosystem from planned dams, including Egiin Gol Hydro.

For example, scientists claim that 3-5 times increase in winter flows[8] , inevitable if any large hydropower reservoir is built, will seriously disrupt spawning of the Selenge population of the Omul – Baikal Cisco (Coregonus migratorius) – the most important fish species of Lake Baikal economically and ecologically. Response matrices developed after the 2017 hearings confirm that Egiin Gol Hydro should be analyzed during the cumulative impact assessment[9]. The results of the research presented at the 2017 hearings have been definitely reported to the Energy Ministry of Mongolia, since now it is a lead agency overseeing the assessment planning by MINIS Project.

Given that in Mongolia "additional ecological assessment" is in the hands of Egiin Gol Hydropower Company subordinate to the Ministry of Energy, we have grave concerns regarding possibility of objective impartial assessment of impacts, when the Minister already knows and has announced the assessment outcome.

The Egiin Gol Hydro and other hydropower in Selenge Basin are listed as #1 climate mitigation measure for which Mongolia requests international funding in country’s NDCs submitted under the Paris Agreement of UN Convention on Climate Change (please see our paper in the 2018 Proceedings of the World Heritage Watch Conference addressing this issue)

We are also deeply concerned, that instead of objective holistic revision of the Egiin Gol Hydro EIA in the light of WHC\IUCN requirements, some substandard study may be prepared to match conclusions already announced by the Minister of Energy.

Our main concern, however, is willingness of the Mongolian Government to proceed with Egiin Gol Hydro project before the SEA (strategic environmental assessment) and the CIA (cumulative impact assessment) for all water infrastructure plans in Baikal Lake basin have been implemented and results submitted to the World Heritage Center and the IUCN for review.

4. Concerns related to World Bank MINIS Project slow progress.

We are also deeply concerned that while Egiin Gol Hydro construction is being pushed forward, the implementation of the cumulative impact assessment of all projects (CIA) and the SEA requested by the WHC is being postponed.

The cumulative impact assessment of all projects (CIA) and the SEA should have been addressed by the MINIS Project implemented on a loan from the World Bank (WB) in Mongolia. In July 2017, the World Bank Inspection Panel[10] (WBIP) encouraged WB Management to ensure that the decisions of the World Heritage Committee are taken into account in any revision of the relevant TORs, which is consistent with WB policies on international conventions and its environmental safeguards. As a consequence, in September 2017 the MINIS cancelled tenders for REA\ESIA and feasibility studies for Orkhon and Shuren hydropower projects. The Government of Mongolia and the WB agreed to develop as a first step a regional environmental assessment (REA) with CIA as its component (which also covers Egiin Gol Hydro as most ready-to-go project and any other planned water infrastructure).

Nine (!!!) months since the Government of Mongolia agreed to WB Inspection Panel recommendation no tangible progress has been made in designing new assessment plans and consulting with stakeholders. Only in mid-April 2018 the REA terms of reference developed in June 2017(!) became a subject of substantive discussion at Expert Group Meeting on Water Infrastructure held in the realm of Mongolian-Russian Intergovernmental Committee on Transboundary Waters. Bilateral Expert Group provided more than 100 recommendations on REA ToR improvement and development of the next draft ToR is unlikely before June.

We question whether such a study can be implemented at all given that MINIS Project has to terminate in September 2019.

5. Concerns on fulfillment of WHC and IUCN requirements.

We also see signs that contents of the REA may be compromised and are not going to meet WHC\IUCN requirements for such assessments. The RwB experts in March-April 2018 reviewed the Draft REA ToR and believe that it does not reflect most requirements listed in WHC decisions and does not follow IUCN "Advice Note on Environmental Assessment ".

On March 16, 2018, answering the RwB question on the fulfillment of the World Heritage Committee’s requirement to hold the SEA, MINIS stipulated that " Strategic aspects have been …covered by separate but related strategic assessments of least cost power production for the Mongolian central power system and water supply to Gobi." We assume that when the WHC and IUCN in the World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment requested to look at alternatives, they implied that environmental and social impacts of various alternative scenarios of energy system development should be considered along with "least cost power\water production" to achieve sustainable development outcomes. The WBIP Final Report stresses that the MINIS Project "will also analyze alternative investments and technology, looking at options to generate energy with less environmental impact", while the MINIS reply promises to assess "least cost power production", a biased approach that in 2013 was completely inappropriately pursued in "Shuren HPP Pre-feasibility Study[11]". This clearly demonstrates the failure of the MINIS Project to follow\consider WHC and subsequent WBIP recommendations and creates huge concern regarding fulfillment of requirements of the World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment.

Another fundamental violation of requirements stipulated in the World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment was repeated refusal to hold public consultations on the key planning document – Draft REA ToR. This severely diminishes ability of the civil society to participate in the assessment process and the RwB International Coalition and other NGOs\citizen groups had to include this concern into their Request for Inspection submitted to the World Bank Inspection Panel last month.

We stress that no valid environmental assessment can be procured without continuous involvement of civil society and other stakeholders by means of public consultations at all stages of those assessments.

We believe that implementation of SEA and CIA studies and their submission to IUCN\WHC for review should remain a strongly required precondition to approval and funding of any dam\reservoir\water diversion project in the Lake Baikal Basin.

All that said, situation with implementation of the WHC decisions on Lake Baikal in Mongolia is still better, than that in Russia, where this World heritage site is situated.

7. Decisions focusing on responsibilities of the Russian Federation:

We are also deeply concerned with failure of the Russian Federation to implement World Heritage committee (WHC) decisions and, especially, by steps taken in direct violation of those decisions.

 

In 2017 the WHC:

– urged the State Party of Russia to elaborate an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of potential impacts of existing water use and management regulations on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, in line with IUCN’s World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment, and not to introduce any further changes in the regulations until their effects on the property are fully understood;

– and reiterated its request to the State Party to develop a property-wide ecological monitoring system in order to identify the scale and causes of such changes and the responses required to preserve the ecological integrity of the property;

None of these decisions have been observed\implemented

8. Irresponsible hydropower management leads to wider fluctuation of lake levels

On December 27, 2017 the Government of Russia issued Decree # 1667[12], which extended for 3 years (2018-2020) the allowable range of fluctuations for the Lake Baikal water level from 1 meter to 2.3 meters. The extension is necessary to sustain "water-heat-energy-supply to population and industry" and primarily serves the interest of En+Group (and their local subsidiary Irkutskenergo) – company that owns both hydropower plants on Angara River and coal-fired thermal power plants in the area, which require water for cooling .

Our preliminary calculations show, that if the En+Group has had implemented adaptation measures (e.g. reconstruction of water-supply intakes from Angara River so they could function during lower river discharge , etc.) the outflow through Irkutsk HPP from the Lake could be reduced from current 1300 m3/sec to 600-1000 m3/sec and that would prevent the Lake Baikal from decreasing below the minimal allowable level determined in 2001 by Governmental Decree #234. Lowering the Lake level exacerbates current ecological crisis in near-shore ecosystems of Lake Baikal World Heritage site and negatively affects livelihoods of local population, which leads to public protests and demands to remove other stringent environmental limitations associated with the heritage site. The RwB, Greenpeace, WWF and dozens of other environmental groups commented in writing on the draft Decree # 1667 and warned the government against issuing it, but none of those opinions were taken into consideration.

The RwB and Greenpeace in addition challenged the En+Group during its IPO in London in November 2017 which led to a notable line in the IPO Prospectus that the Group will "mitigate and prevent the negative environmental impact of its hydro power plants on Lake Baikal"[13]. However, in practice the company has taken no measures, but instead sponsored extensive propaganda campaign in Russian press to blackmail and silence opponents. Besides, recent listing of the En+Group and its owner Oleg Deripaska by the US Treasury for economic sanctions, further reduced opportunities for negotiating more rational water management with the company, for it now faces quite different key challenges and may be less inclined to pay attention to environmental obligations.

As far as we can read the 2017 State of Conservation Report submitted by Russia in 2018 does not even mention issuance of the Decree # 1667, although it happened in 2017.

9. Denial to undertake the EIA of existing water use and management regulations.

The State of conservation report submitted by Russia openly denies necessity to subject current or future water management regime to an EIA, using very questionable arguments to justify this statement.

It refers to the water-management research (R&D 15-01) commissioned by the Federal Agency for Water Resources in September 2015 to justify change in water level regulation. Ever since this research was criticized for its biased approach and for complete absence of any valid ecological\biological components. Report on research results was classified and not open to public or expert comment.

However, from public presentations of the outcomes of the research R&D 15-01 we know for sure that among the key findings of this research were: A) Acknowledgement of the fact that Russian agencies presently do not have information about scientifically valid environmental requirements for water level regulation in Lake Baikal and the monitoring system needed to verify any such requirement is not in place. B) Recognition of a pressing need to conduct complex research to be able forecast the environmental status of water and coastal ecosystems and develop conservation requirements for Lake Baikal based on outcomes of such research[14].

State of conservation report submitted by Russia directly contradicts both findings of the R&D 15-01 listed above.

Statement that such "assessment" can be called "partially implemented EIA" is grossly inaccurate even by standards of Russian EIA Guidelines, let alone WHC\IUCN EA Guidance. EIA is well defined process with clear requirements to baseline information, assessment of impacts, use of precautionary principle, analysis of alternatives, disclosure of draft report and mandatory meaningful public consultations. None of this was sufficiently observed in 2015 R&D.

Russia’s SoC Report alludes to Water Resources Management Rules for the Irkutsk Reservoir issued in 1988, which makes us fear that EIA and Environmental flow assessment and management is being substituted by revival of those this outdated water-management rules. New draft regulation mentioned in text were repeatedly dismissed in 2013-14 due to failure to incorporate environmental and social concerns into those rules.

Statement that "completion of the EIA in its entirety does not seem appropriate" is not supported by valid evidence and anyway contradicts the Russia’s obligations under the Convention. Besides, it implicitly suggests that impacts on the OUV from existing hydropower should not be part of the transboundary SEA either, without which objective SEA would be virtually impossible.

Therefore, in the light of new Decree #1667, it is extremely important to conduct full EIA of Lake Baikal water management regime and any draft Water Resources Management Rules for the Irkutsk Reservoir proposed to direct it in future.

10. Poor status of the Lake Baikal monitoring system.

Russia also has failed to develop a property-wide ecological monitoring system in order to identify the scale and causes of negative changes and the responses required to preserve the ecological integrity of the property.

The State of Conservation Report submitted by Russia mechanically lists various not clearly interrelated monitoring projects development of which was funded from the State Budget. It does not explain whether holistic Lake ecosystem monitoring program exists, who implements it and where results could be seen. Continuing problems with Lake Baikal ecological monitoring can be illustrated by just three simple examples.

– Last year the Journal "Nature" published appeal of scientists from Irkutsk University protesting against discontinuation of state funding for monitoring observation of Baikal plankton that has been conducted continuously for 70+ years. The monitoring program was salvaged in 2017 thanks to donation by private foundation, but actual state funding for that has ceased and was not renewed.

– At the President Putin’s meeting with Siberian Academy of Sciences on February 8, 2018 the Director of the Irkutsk-based Institute for System Dynamics Igor Bychkov stated: "We ask to focus on Lake Baikal monitoring based on new principles. Unfortunately, we can say that this monitoring largely remains a 19th or even 18th century type of monitoring.[15]" This conversation shows the real overall situation in Lake Baikal monitoring system.

– In Russian 2018 SoC on page 4 there is a passage on "Scientifically ground environmental requirements to the regime of fluctuations in the level of the Irkutsk reservoir derived from monitoring information". To the best of our knowledge there is NO special monitoring program that is aimed at relating water level fluctuations to various ecological phenomena of the lake. Therefore all this passage is a disinformation and contains reference to a biased 2015 R&D report commissioned specifically to protect interests of the En+Group, rather than those of Lake Baikal World Heritage site. But as shown above, that very 2015 R&D report in its "conclusions" acknowledged absence of coherent monitoring system covering ecological consequences of water level fluctuation.

11. Reduction in Water Protection Zone and threat of reducing Core Zone of the World Heritage Site and other attempts to weaken protection.

We have additional reasons for deep concern with:

-The Government of Russia issuing on March 26, 2018 a Decree #507-p which more than 10-fold reduces water-protection zone for the Lake Baikal delineated in 2015. Subsequent public discussion has shown that, although the Decree references special research conducted by the Institute of Geography in Irkutsk, in reality new delineation did not follow even those recommendations and likely has been undertaken to open large near-coast areas to development. Besides, massive easing of restrictions is not balanced with state funding and clear timeframe for undertaking necessary mitigation measures. For example, areas now open to construction of waste processing facilities are likely to be left without national funding for such construction, which will inevitably lead to further violations and cover-ups.

-The Government of Buryatia Republic welcomed new easements and its officials[16] allegedly declared that the next objective is reduction of the "Central Ecological Zone" which is the core protected area of the Lake Baikal World Heritage Site.

– The Government of Russia issuing on March 26, 2018 a Decision #328 that makes changes to the "List of activities prohibited in Central Ecological Zone of Baikal Natural Area". It allows basting of rocks in water-protection zone for the purposes of public railroad construction. The new exception is added due to necessity to build additional branches of Baikal-Amur Railroad and possibly Trans-Siberian Railroad. The Decree does not reference results of any SEA\EIA on which such decision could be based.

– The Ministry of Agriculture and Food posting a draft decree intended to open for hunting the Baikal Seal population.( Although there are rumors this may be revoked due to massive public protest).

12. Possible 2018 Decisions

The Rivers without Boundaries Coalition recommends that the World Heritage Committee includes in its 2018 Decisions the following requirements:

For both Russia and Mongolia:

A. Reiterate the request to the States Parties of the Russian Federation and Mongolia to jointly develop a transboundary SEA for any hydropower and water management projects which could potentially affect the property, taking into account any existing and planned projects on the territory of both countries, and requests both States Parties to ensure that the results of such transboundary SEA guide the elaboration of ESIAs of any concrete hydropower and water management projects, including the planned Egiin Gol Hydro project, Shuren hydropower project, Orkhon river diversion project, renewal of the Water Resources Management Rules for the Irkutsk Reservoir, etc ;

For Mongolia:

A. -Welcome the fact that in September 2017 Mongolia cancelled tenders for ESIA and feasibility studies for Orkhon and Shuren dam projects, and ask Mongolia to delay any decisions on specific project planning until results of the basin-wide REA are reviewed and approved. Recommend that Mongolia engage in consultations with the WB and Russia to upgrade the REA to full-fledged SEA.

B. – Reiterate requirement to ensure that the renewed EIA developed for the Egiin Gol Project includes assessment of potential impacts not only on the hydrology, but also on the ecological processes and biodiversity of the property, and specifically on its OUV, and to provide the full EIA report to the World Heritage Centre. Request that Mongolia stops process of creation\funding of Egiin Gol Hydro project until all assessments, including SEA, REA and analysis of alternatives are completed and their results reviewed by IUCN\WHC.

C. – Develop an assessment of cumulative impacts of any planned dams and reservoirs in the Selenge river basin that may have an impact on the OUV and integrity of the property, including Egiin Gol Hydro, Shuren and Orkhon projects, and to provide this assessment to the World Heritage Centre,

D. -Not approve any of the projects until the above-mentioned EIAs and assessment of cumulative impacts have been reviewed by the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

Russia:

A. Urge the State Party of Russia to elaborate an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of potential impacts of existing water use and management regulations and planned Water Resources Management Rules for the Irkutsk Reservoir on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, in line with IUCN’s World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment, so that their effects on the property are fully understood;

B. Reiterate the request to the State Party to develop a property-wide ecological monitoring system in order to identify the scale and causes of negative ecological changes and the responses required to preserve the ecological integrity of the property;

C. Request the State Party of Russia to subject to EIA and legal analysis the Decree #507-p from March 26, 2018 on 10-fold decrease of water-protection zone.

For more information contact:

Eugene Simonov (simonov@riverswithoutboundaries.org )


[1] On April 15,2018 the level was 455.77 – 23cm below "minimum level" assigned in 2001.

[2] CONSTRUCTION WORK OF 11 POWER PLANTS TO START THIS YEAR. March 1, 2018 https://www.news.mn/?id=272613

[3] Approximately USD 9 million

[4] Interim Consolidated Financial Statements of the DBM https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/ubinfo-s3/dbm/pdf/bcbde14c8fb4707e040720683abce805.pdf

[5] Decision of State Property Agency#376, September 12, 20017 pcsp.gov.mnfile/1976

[6] Letter from Davasuren in response of 8 NGOs of Human Right Forum of Mongolia. March 5, 2018

[7] On the quest to energy independence. The UB Post. 28 Feb 2018, By T.BAYARBAT https://www.pressreader.com/mongolia/the-ub-post/20180228/281698320239617

[8][8] https://1baikal.ru/en/soxranim-bajkal/bajkal-pod-oxranoj/lake-baikal-under-threat-ecologists-on-the-building-of-a-hydropower-plant-at-the-selenga-river

[9] http://www.minis.mn/en/disclosures-of-irkutsk-consultation-materials-123456

[10] 3rd Report of WBIP http://ewebapps.worldbank.org/apps/ip/Pages/ViewCase.aspx?CaseId=107

[11] http://www.minis.mn/pfs-shuren-hhp-eng.pdf

[12] http://m.government.ru/docs/30850/

[13] page 167 of the EN+ Prospectus http://enplus.ru/documents/2017/enplus-group-prospectus.pdf

[14] Dr. Mikhail Bolgov. Presentation of the Report on Outcomes of the Research R&D 15-01 commissioned by the Federal Agency for Water Resources in September 2015.

[15] en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/56825

[16] e.g. Minister O.A. Magomedova on April 3, 2018 gave such interview on "News of Buryatia" Radio( «Вести Бурятии» от 03 апреля 2018г.)

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