This year's World Economic Forum in Davos, which closed its doors yesterday, put a spotlight on Russia. While prime minister Dimitry Medvedev played up his country as a safe bet for investors, a new WEF report raised big concerns about Russia's thriving corruption. We believe that one obvious example for Russia’s high level of corruption are the plans of the Russian state company OJSC "Northern Caucasus Resorts". This company is planing to turn the Northern Caucasus Region into a $15 billion tourism cluster area, covered by a network of high-end mountain ski resorts.
Since Greenpeace started to campaign on this dodgy project, the company massively improved its PR strategy on social and envrionmental issues, claiming to enhance social and economic development of the regions and to improve living standards of the local population. Just take a glance at the mission and goals on its website to get a taste of the company’s Greenwashing tactics.
Unfortunaltey, the reality looks less sustainable: In order to legalize the plans of the "Northern Caucasus Resorts", the Russian government has started a process of overruling and undermining existing federal regulations on nature protection.
The Lagonaki ski resort project is showcasing these crude facts: the resort is planned to be constructed on the Lagonaki plateau, a territory of the Caucasus State Nature Biosphere Reserve which is part of the Western Caucasus UNESCO World Heritage property. While the UNESCO World Heritage Committee urges Russia to immediately abandon any plans for recreational use of the Lagonaki plateau, the Russian government has already passed a special law that allows the construction of tourist infrastructure such as roads, cable cars and ski slopes inside of the biosphere reserve. In addition, the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation officially announced its support of boundary changes of the UNESCO Western Caucasus World Heritage property in order to exclude the area that is planned to be part of the ski resort.
This example has a far reaching negative impact on many other nature reserves and protected areas all over the vast territory of Russia. Russian authorities, ruled by bad governance, are willing to take big steps back regarding nature protection as well as environmental and social justice, for the sake of "fast-tracking" economic development which is only beneficial to a small elite.
In order to implement its big-scale unsustainable project, the Northern Caucasus Resort Company needs foreign investors and was hoping to find more of them in Davos. While the major part of Greenpeace activists were protesting against Shell’s arctic drilling plans in Davos on Friday, a small delegation went to distribute flyers to visitors of the Russian tent which promoted the Northern Caucasus Resort Company. Explaining that we are by no means against tourism development in the Caucasus and welcome a truly socially and ecologically sustainable tourism. But sustainability requires that none of the existing protection areas and none of Russia's existing nature protection laws will be narrowed in any possible way.
So who is already investing in such a dodgy project? The French state-owned group and long-term investor Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations (CDC), supposed to be serving the public interest and the goal of sustainable development, signed an agreement with OJSC "Northern Caucasus Resorts" for the creation of a joint venture, "France-Caucase".
Greenpeace International’s Executive Director Kumi Naidoo met CDC’s Laurent Vigier, Project Leader of “France-Caucase” at the WEF a year ago to discuss our concerns on the construction plans of the Northern Caucasus resorts. Unfortunately, Mr. Vigier did not stand up to his promis to follow up our concerns by sending his project staff to have an exchange with Greenpeace experts. We are expecting the French Civil Society to take a closer look at CDC’s activities in Russia and witness how this French bank of public interest is violating its own sustainability policy as well as the Convention for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage unless they are preventing „Northern Caucasus Resorts" to degrade the Lagonaki plateau.
We keep repeating to call upon CDC and any other investors to either ensure no undermining of Russian national nature protection legislation, no changes to existing nature protection area borders, no construction of tourism buildings or other infrastructure inside protected areas, core zones of national parks and territory of the "Western Caucasus" UNESCO World Natural Heritage, no violation of the Convention for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage – or to disinvest.