IX INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE "THE RIVERS OF SIBERIA AND THE FAR EAST"
10-12 November 2015, Irkutsk, Russia
The Conference began on the 10th of November 2015 in the city of Irkutsk at the premises of the Institute of Geography named by V.B.Sochava.
The Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Irkutsk province Mr. O.E. Kravtchuk was the first rapporteur. In his report he noted that despite the general good tendency with water availability, most of water is concentrated in close vicinity of Lake Baikal. Water is distributed quite unevenly over the territory of province. Twelve regions face problems of clean drinking water scarcity. In this context, the Ministry adopted the special program “Clean water”. At the same time, other regions suffer from floods. He indicated to the lack of legal and institutional arrangements for reservoir management in this context.
The water level in Lake Baikal is dropping. The Government set the minimal level at 456-457 m. However, from the Ministry’s estimates, keeping to this level will leave the Angara region without water. These estimations convinced the Government to permit using water at the expense of the lake’s recharges. Another important problem related to filling the lake with water is the construction of hydropower station in Mongolia that would aggravate the problem of maintaining the minimal water level in the lake.
Representative of the World Wildlife Fund Mr. P.Ye. Osipov presented in his report the practical steps for incorporation of the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) into regional development programs and large investments projects. SEA is based on the two key international treaties: 1. EU Directive 2001; and 2. SEA Protocol 2009. By present, the Russian Federation have adopted and ratified none of those treaties. However, those would allow keeping implementation of large projects in line with international standards. Additionally, SEA would help to apply the principles of sustainable development. Such assessment was supported by the government of the Zabaikalye territory; however, for its implementation they need approval from federal officials.
The report of Deputy Director of the Institute of Geography Mr. S.M.Korytniy was dedicated to water challenges in context of the reviving Silk Road. The Silk Road goes far beyond water resources but water plays a pivotal role there. Neither Irkutsk nor Lake Baikal are located along this Road but they are situated along the so called Tea Road, which is a part of the Silk Road. Therefore scientists from given region are interested in addressing and analysis of all problems connected with the Silk Road. Then, the rapporteur went off on China that always followed and still follows exclusively its own interests, while ignoring the potential damage caused to riparian states. As an example he cited the construction of dams along the Ily River to which Kazakhstan and Russia, particularly as this would cause pollution of the lake, opposed. He also noted the renewed interest in transfer of flow from Siberian rivers to Central Asia and underlined the negative effects of given project for water resources in Russia. The key message of the report was that no economic development could be ensured without addressing of water problems.
Among other rapporteurs were the representative of China, who talked about environmental damage caused by Chinese coal mining industry, representative of Mongolia, who addressed the problem of local public opinion during development and implementation of large international projects.
Representative of SIC ICWC Mr. B.V.Gojenko made a report on the international water law. In his presentation he highlighted the main International Water Conventions and cited examples of conflict resolution in the civilized world. He also underlined a need to follow the principles of international water law by any country, which signed an agreement with riparian countries, irrespective of advantage of its position (upstream or downstream).
Then representative of KROEO “Plotina” (“Dam”) Mr. A.A.Kolotov from the Krasnoyarsk city presented the successful example of filling of a complaint in context of potential negative effects of the large WB project “MINIS” for local population. This project included the construction of a dam at a cost of about $US 600 thousand and of large offtake at a cost of $US 1 billion. Concerned with potential negative effects, local population together with people from Mongolia (as the river is shared by Russia and Mongolia) filled a complaint and submitted it to the WB’s Project Commission. This is for the first time of WB’s projects in Russia. The Commission is to consider the complaint until 2016.
At the end of this plenary session the representative of the Interregional Non-governmental Environmental Foundation “ISAR-Siberia” Mr. Yu.R. Shirokov summarized the results and presented the past experiences from the conference editions and its future outlook.
During the second half of the day, the participants moved from Irkutsk to Baikalsk, where the roundtables were held on the following topics:
- Gold-mining and inwash – the fate of rivers
- Coal thermal stations and hydropower stations – an alleged alternative or salvation of the Planet?
- Russia-China-Mongolia cooperation and nature conservation.
The key messages of roundtable III on multilateral cooperation were as follows:
- It has seemed to be impossible to establish the tripartite dialogue for already several years. Particular complexities arise between China and Mongolia.
- All dialogues related to impacts of large projects between Russia and China are post-factum. This means that environmental and social impacts are assessed as late as after construction of large regulating structures.
- In the south of Eastern Siberia, most birds migrating to China do not return back. In recent years, populations of some bird species decreased by 80% as migratory birds do not find enough feed in China because of active industrial development in the country.
- Transboundary rivers cause significant pollution in Lake Baikal. According to data of the Mongolian Green Cross, many rivers are already polluted in the territory of their country. Treatment plants do not have enough capacities as population grows. All untreated water is discharged into rivers that then flow to Russia and finally enter the lake.
- Russian Federation has many agreements on transboundary rivers. However, they exist and even work only formally.
The second Conference day was comprised of separate sessions, where the following issues were addressed among others:
- Preservation and monitoring of habitats and species
- Silk Road and energy
- Public participation mechanisms
- Fishes and their protection
- Environmental assessment, etc.
Participants of the sessions had lively discussions focusing, inter alia, on the Silk Road project, green growth, environmental conservation during mining, energy development, renewable energy and environmental damage.