Cooperation between Russia, Mongolia and China to save Lake Baikal

Feature story - 14 May, 2015
The Biodiversity Conservation Center (BCC) sent an urgent open letter to all prospective investors of the Shuren Hydro Plant in Mongolia, a project that seriously threatens Lake Baikal and the Selenga River, and will fail to get Mongolia the energy it needs.

As the oldest conservation organization in the country, BCC, and their partners are concerned with the direction this and associated projects are taking, and beseech the presidents of Mongolia, Russia, and China to explore real and sustainable energy production alternatives. According to the BCC, Mongolian energy issues can effectively be addressed by adding power lines to existing hydropower plants, more efficient management of existing plants, and the creation of storage stations in Ulaanbaatar and Erdenet.

Additionally, we can swiftly and more sustainably remedy Mongolia’s energy issues by constructing solar stations and wind farms through the Gobitec Project, an initiative put forth by the World Energy Charter.

The BCC position is supported by a proposal to the heads of Russia, Mongolia, China, and the World Bank - from the public. More than 57,000 citizens signed a petition on Avaaz.org, which calls for immediate action from world leaders:

"We, concerned citizens from around the world, call on you to protect the world’s deepest lake from Mongolia's hydro plant construction plants. It’s a shortsighted plan that will destroy the lake and its wildlife without giving Mongolia the energy it needs. We urge you to, instead, fund environmentally-friendly wind farms and solar stations in Mongolia’s Gobi desert -- and stop this environmental disaster before it’s too late.”

This appeal and the signatures were delivered to Russian authorities on the eve of a meeting between Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, Xi Jinping, President of China, and Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, President of Mongolia, at the Victory Parade on May 9, where the presidents were set to discuss cooperation to save Lake Baikal.

Mongolia needs energy, but the risks to Lake Baikal vastly outweigh the short-term energy gains for Mongolia. Baikal is a World Heritage site treasured for its rich biodiversity. Environmentally friendly wind and solar farms and solar stations along grids in Mongolia’s Gobi desert are a perfect alternative that could even provide enough energy to allow for export to China - and using them instead is just a matter of diplomacy and political will.

President Putin has already announced that this summer the heads of Russia, Mongolia and China will meet again to discuss the "road map" of full cooperation as part of the Silk Road Project between the three countries. Ecologists maintain that the Silk Road Project must live up to its promises for meaningful and sustainable energy production and environmental conservation.

The official project abstract contains the words "ecology”, “environment” and “biodiversity" on every page. The document calls for "strengthening cooperation in the field of environmental protection, biodiversity and combating climate change”, to jointly build a green "Silk Road". Unfortunately, ecologists have yet to find any concrete design within the trilateral agreement supporting environmental protection and green energy development. Instead, the document supports trilateral commitments to developing coal energy without mentioning the environmental impact assessment of such plans.

Ecologists fear that the implementation of the Silk Road Project will actually lead to a loss of potential green developments, including the potential revamping of a comprehensive assessment process to evaluate environmental and social impacts of energy projects. Without clear mechanisms in place, and under the guise of being a green development plan, ​​the Silk Road Project may open the way for environmental degradation, such as building dams on a river and lake that cannot possibly survive them. Concerned NGOs propose adding actual mechanisms for environmental assessment with active participation from the public.

On behalf of the 57,000 public voices calling for Lake Baikal’s protection, ecologists call on Russia, China and Mongolia to take the opportunity this plan represents to create wind farms and solar power plants in the Mongolian part of the Gobi Desert. It will be a real and viable alternative to dangerous hydro power on the Selenga and help prevent environmental disaster at Lake Baikal.