Greenpeace calls on UNESCO to protect World Heritage from Russian bureaucrats

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Feature story - 26 June, 2012
A Greenpeace activist appeared in a one-person demonstration in front of the Tavrichesky Palace in Saint Petersburg, the venue of the 36th Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. “UNESCO! Save Natural Heritage from Russian Bureaucrats” said his banner in Russian and English.

Unfortunately, the main threat to World Heritage properties in Russia comes from bureaucrats and business, while in other countries – from climate change, fires and other natural disasters. That conclusion was made by participants of the first international NGO forum “Protection of the World Heritage Properties” that ended on June 24.

Over 100 participants – representatives of NGOs from 24 countries from Finland to Australia attended the Forum. As a result of the 3 hard-working days the Forum participants adopted 6 resolutions covering various aspects of protection of World Heritage. Yesterday, in the first day of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee session, a Greenpeace spokesperson addressed the attending state-parties asking them questions from non-governmental organizations.

Of special attention for the Forum participants was the situation in Russian World Heritage properties, of which many are at risk of disintegration as a result of industrial development.

This list includes today: “The Komi Virgin Forests” where they are searching for and are planning to dig for gold and where almost 2,000 hectares of land have been withdrawn from the national park “Yugyd Va”. Lake Baikal where the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill still works dumping its wastewater into the unique lake and where big business wants to start development of the Kholodninskoye poli-metal deposit. The Western Caucasus where the Caucasus Biosphere Preserve is being destroyed in favor of construction of a ski resort in the intact Lagonaki plateau and a highway and a cableway to the governmental residence “Lunnaya Polyana”. Two hydro-electric power plants are planned for the Kronotsky Biosphere Nature Preserve in the “Volcanoes of Kamchatka” World heritage area where the authorities also are about to issue a permit for geological surveying in the nature park “Bystrinsky”. And “The Golden Mountains of Altay” where last year Gazprom launched preparation activities for construction of the Altay gas pipeline through the Nature Park “Ukok Quiet Zone”.

Despite obvious threats to unique areas, Russian officials are trying to show that everything is fine with World Heritage properties in Russia. This was the official statement of Eleonora Mitrofanova, head of the official Russian delegation and the chair of this Session of the World Heritage Committee.

However, the decision of the Session contains transfer of the “Komi Virgin Forests” into the World Heritage in Danger List. A similar decision may wait for Lake Baikal and the Caucasus already in 2013 if Russia does not change its attitude towards World Heritage properties located on its territory.

It is interesting that while official statements describe how good the state of conservation of the Russian World Heritage properties is, Russian authorities and their affiliated companies continue to destroy world heritage.

Next July Gazprom is planning to hold another round of negotiations about supplying Russian natural gas to China, said its vice CEO Aleksander Medvedev off-stage at the meeting of Ministers of energy of APEC countries in Saint Petersburg. He spoke about the western route that, according to Gazprom plans, goes through the World Heritage area. If such plans go ahead, the Golden Mountains of Altay will also have to go into the World Heritage in Danger List.

“More than a half of the Russian natural heritage properties are now in danger of destruction as a result of illegal activities of Russian authorities and business”, said Ivan Blokov, Program Director of Greenpeace Russia. “We presented delegations of the World Heritage Committee state-parties with the resolution of the NGO Forum in hopes that the Committee will turn an attentive ear to opinion of the civil society and world experts and make hard decisions that will push Russian authorities to changing their attitude towards world heritage and abandoning all plans that lead to nature destruction”.

Resolutions of the International NGOs Forum “Protection of World Heritage Properties”

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