On May 10, a UNESCO World Heritage Committee delegation began a 4-day visit to the “Golden Mountains of Altai” World Heritage Site (WHS) in Altai Republic. The Altai Republic government hosted Hervé Lethier (IUCN) and Guy Debonnet (UNESCO Chief of Special Projects) during their assessment of the current status of the WHS and in particular to assess the situation regarding the proposed Altai gas pipeline that would pass through one of the site’s key protected areas – the Ukok Plateau. Following their Altai visit, the delegates met with federal agencies representatives and Greenpeace-Russia on their return trip through Moscow.
Our Russian source met with the delegates following the Altai mission and reported that despite federal and regional government officials’ efforts to reassure the delegates about the harmless nature of the proposed pipeline, the mission delegates were dissatisfied. “They received no new information…. They were unable to meet with Gazprom representatives, which was of even greater concern….” The delegates were reportedly quite impressed with the Ukok Plateau’s cultural sites, and it is anticipated that they will propose an expansion of the World Heritage Site’s nomination to include both Natural (the current status) and Cultural Heritage (new). Our source also reports that officials told the delegates that no work had yet taken place on the Plateau, despite extensive evidence to the contrary – last year’s exploratory works on the Plateau.
Despite initial promises to ensure that local community members and NGOs met with the delegation, Altai officials prevented substantive contact with Altai stakeholders. A few community representatives (including Mikhail Paklin, Urmat Knyazev, journalist and politician Sergei Mikhailov, and Ivan Koltsov) attended a Gorno-Altaisk meeting with the delegation, but were stymied in their efforts at open dialogue with the delegation regarding the pipeline issue. Leaders of Altai protected areas interacted with the delegates during the Gorno-Altaisk meeting and during a day-long helicopter tour to visually inspect the five “clusters” that comprise the WHS: Altaisky and Katunsky Nature Biosphere Reserves, Lake Teletskoye, and Belukha and Ukok Quiet Zone Nature Parks.
On May 16, RIA Novosti News Agency reported a statement by Amirkhan Amirkhanov, head of RosPrirodNadzor (federal agency for oversight of natural resource use) that the pipeline’s route will not impact snow leopard or argali sheep habitat, which is patently untrue. The pipeline must cross the Tabyn-Bogdo-Ola mountain range to reach China – a known wildlife corridor connecting Russia’s snow leopard population with larger populations in China and Mongolia. RIA Novosti also cited the delegates’ concerns that Gazprom is only considering a single pipeline route and called upon the company to study alternatives.
The UNESCO Mission will present its findings regarding the Altai mission at the 36th Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee beginning June 24 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Earlier this year, on April 21, Farida Shaheed, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights traveled to Barnaul in order to meet with Altaians concerned about impacts to their traditional culture as a result of the proposed pipeline. There she met with local representatives including Danil Mamyev, Sergei Kynyev, Roman Tadyrov, and Aleksey Shonkhorov. During this meeting they discussed current concerns relating to the culture and traditions of Altaians, Telengits, and others, but much of the conversation centered on potential negative impacts of Gazprom’s proposed pipeline. In a post-trip statement on the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website, Ms. Shaheed stated, “There is a need to establish proper channels to enable local communities to voice their concerns on matters relating to their cultural heritage, including the urban landscapes in cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg” and she “recommended that consultations be conducted urgently regarding the planned building of a gas pipeline over the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Republic, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”
Early in 2012, Gazprom put the Altai pipeline project on hold through at least the end of 2012, but both the company and the federal government continue to raise the pricing issue in meetings with Chinese and China National Petroleum Corporation officials. Their most recent meeting was on June 1, Platts (an energy, petrochemicals, and metals information provider) reported that China submitted a new “gas model” to Russia for consideration and that Russia had given a “positive response”. Negotiations will continue during a June trip to China by President Putin and Gazprom representatives.