The Threat to Baikal Rises from Mongolia

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Feature story - 13 February, 2015
Today, people living in the basin of the Selenga river in Russia and Mongolia, together with a number of environmental NGOs, filed a petition at the World Bank Inspection Panel demanding that the feasibility studies of dangerous hydro-electric power plants (HPP) projects must be postponed.

©Markus Mauthe / Greenpeace

The petition includes the demand that the WB MINIS project should be thoroughly investigated.

Citizens in both countries as well as environmental organizations are seriously worried by the Mongolian government's extensive plans under to build in the Selenga River basin several hydroelectric power plants with the interbasin water transfer systems. Their prior concerns are the Shuren HPP, the dam on the Orkhon river which will be used to transfer water to the Gobi Desert, as well as the dams on the rivers Egiin Gol (Eg river), Tuul and Delgermörön.

These plans are extremely dangerous not only for the ecosystem of the Selenga, the largest river in Mongolia and Buryatia, but also for Lake Baikal, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Selenga is Lake Baikal's main tributary. Inevitably, the lake's fauna will be badly affected, the hydrological regime and the climate will change, and regional seismicity may raise.

The World Bank and MINIS divisions involved in the projects in Mongolia ignore and underestimate possible consequences of the construction of new dams, the petition says. At the same time, they violate the regulations of project planning established by the World Bank itself.

In fact, WB approves the Mongolian government's controversial plan to build big HPPs, which are unprofitable and pose social and environmental risks for Mongolia. At the same time, the Bank goes against its own policy on the access to information, project implementation control and on the measures of environmental and social protection.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has already twice appealed to Mongolia emphasizing that the country has to observe international regulations. Specifically, the World Heritage Convention requires that the states parties undertake not to take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the national heritage situated on the territory of other states parties to the Convention.

The World Heritage Committee's request to invite the reactive monitoring mission of IUCN and Russian experts has not been honored in time and thus prevented WHC from providing input into decision-making regarding the dam projects.

At the same time, the Mongolian President initiated in 2014 the Steppe Road project to create an exports route from Russia to China throughout Mongolia's territory. The project includes high-voltage electric trasmission lines (ETL). Besides, the Mongolian part of the Gobi Desert has huge potential for the development of solar and wind power production, which can be successfully used together with the international ETLs. The proposed ETLs will transmit the energy from the existing Russian power plants which could compensate irregularities of the power produced from renewable sources in the Gobi (see the Energy Charter). Therefore, Mongolia has already formulated a very promising alternative to the construction of its own HPPs.

The coalition of NGOs believes that the construction of large and medium HPPs in the Selenga basin involves inadmissible risks while having clear socially and environmentally appropriate alternatives.

The nature protection organizations and Russian authorities have repeatedly expressed their serious concerns about these projects, however there was no appropriate reaction from the Mongolian authorities and they went ahead into the next round of planning, despite their promise to hold bilateral consultations with Russia. This planning completely excludes Russian stakeholders including potentially affected local communities.

The projects that are criticized by environmentalists will have cause grave environmental, social and economical consequences both for Russia and for Mongolia. The projects must be stopped at least until the time when it will be properly discussed by all key stakeholders in Mongolia and Russia, all the alternatives will be considered in an unbiased way, and the cumulative impact of all the planned dams on the ecosystems of the Selenga River and Lake Baikal will be duly assessed by independent experts.

 

2 Comments Add comment

(Unregistered) schildkroete says:

Please keep Lake Baikal clean - such a wonderful and unique miracle of nature. I´ve been there for 4 times and I hope to come back soon and find ...

Posted 5 February, 2017 at 22:24 Flag abuse

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(Unregistered) rosssmith46 says:

Anti development is something we associate with green peace but to condemn a country to further coal reliant energy is stupid as it is niave to expect...

Posted 17 February, 2015 at 10:04 Flag abuse

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