Rapid development of environmental pollution processes, ecological crisis zones and ecologically unfavourable territories broadening make people take strict measures to preserve the most valuable natural objects as original as possible. With this purpose a number of measures were worked out on the national and international levels.
One of such measures, quite efficient and effective in the last 25 years, is the Convention on preservation of the world cultural and natural heritage adopted by the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) General Conference at its 17th session on November 16, 1972. The Convention came into force on December 17, 1975, it was ratified in the USSR on October 12, 1988. Since that time an active process of nominating the objects for including them into the list of the world heritage has started in the USSR and later in the CIS countries.
The necessity of such Convention was predetermined by serious global changes in the human environment which were taking place in the second part of the 20th century. The Convention (Article 2) gives the definition according to which the objects of the world heritage are:
• Nature landmarks created by physical or biological formations and having an outstanding and universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view;
• Geological or physiological formations or strictly limited zones which are the natural habitat of the disappearing animal and plant species which are of an outstanding and universal value from the scientific or preservation of natural peculiarities point of view;
• Nature landmarks or strictly limited natural zones which are of an outstanding and universal value from the scientific point of view, preserving their natural features or natural beauty.
The world significance is the most important criterion for the object to be included into the official UNESCO list. For that the proposed objects should answer one or several criteria of significance:
• They should represent the main stages of the Earth’s development including evidences of the ancient life, significant geological processes of the development of the Earth’s surface forms, essential geomorphologic and physiographic peculiarities of the landscape;
• Represent the important and long-term ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of the land, river, coastal and sea ecosystems and plant and animal communities;
• To be a unique natural phenomenon or a territory of exceptional aesthetic significance;
• To contain natural habitats which are the most representative and important for preserving biological diversity and are of exceptional world significance from the point of view of science and nature preservation.
But it is not enough just to answer the above mentioned criteria of the world significance. Even if the object answers them it should also be integral (that is to be big enough and comparatively compact for supporting the functioning of the nature complexes) and be well preserved.
For the last ten years the world community has been making a significant contribution into solving ecological problems of the Baikal region. Thanks to international cooperation Lake Baikal has been included into the list of the world heritage objects. In December 1996 in Mexico Lake Baikal was acknowledged as an example of an outstanding fresh water ecosystem.
A distant Asian lake among wild mountain ranges and thick taiga, why does it attract so much attention, and why is the whole nation anxious and careful about it? Which natural peculiarities made it the most important among three million lakes of Russia? What made it the centre of attention of the world community? To answer all these questions we should consider a number of figures because they can give most answers. Lake Baikal is one of the biggest lakes of the world, the biggest fresh water lake of Russia. It is 636 km long, its area is 31,500 sq. km. It takes the 6th place among the world’s fresh water lakes.
Lake Baikal is not only the biggest fresh water lake of Russia but also is the deepest lake of our planet. Its biggest depth is 1,637 m. The biggest depth of Lake Tanganyika is 1,435 m, of Lake Issyk-Kul – 702 m. According to L. Rossolimo, a limnologist, only eight lakes in the world are more than 500 m deep and about 30 lakes are more than 300 m deep.
The average depth of the lake is also very big, it is 730 m. It is more than maximum depths of many very deep lakes. This fact defines the amount of water stock of Lake Baikal. It has the biggest fresh water resource in the world. Its volume is 23,600 cub. m which makes more than 20% of the world’s fresh water stock. There is more water in Lake Baikal than in all the five Great Lakes of America taken together.
The ecosystem of Lake Baikal is unique because it is ancient (Lake Baikal is the oldest lake in the world, it is more than 30 mln. years old), its water gets mixed up very much thanks to which it is well saturated with oxygen, it is clear and transparent, sun rays penetrate as deep as 40 m. There are also very few organic and mineral substances in the waters of the lake. In such conditions, isolated from other lakes, unique endemic organisms have been developing for millions of years. Unique representatives of flora and fauna live in the lake and are very significant for the science of evolution. 15% of vegetation and 60% of animals are endemic. As a result now scientists know more than 2,000 endemic species living in Lake Baikal and nowhere else.
Therefore, because of its main peculiarities as a natural object such as the age, the size, the depth of the cavity, the depth of the crystalline bed, the stock of water, its clearness and transparency and diversity and endemism of the organic life, Lake Baikal is an exceptionally unusual fresh water lake, more than that, the majority of its peculiarities are unique in the world. This fact makes Lake Baikal one of the greatest nature landmarks of the world significance.
On including the lake into the list of the world heritage the UNESCO Committee changed its borders in comparison with the original ones and defined them within the borders of its central part with exclusion of five industrially developed territories, such as the Baikalsk cellulose and paper making plant and the town of Baikalsk. The UNESCO Committee gave special recommendations:
- to adopt the complete variant of the law on Lake Baikal by the State Duma;
- to convert the Baikalsk cellulose and paper making plant;
- to reduce wastes thrown into the Selenga river;
- to provide the activity of nature reserves and national parks around Lake Baikal;
- to support scientific research and monitoring of Lake Baikal.
Only the first recommendation has been realized by now. On May 1, 1999 the Law on Lake Baikal was signed by the Russian Federation President and came into force at last after ten years of struggle for its adoption. It was the event of great positive meaning because it gave the legal ground for economic activity near the lake and correspondingly the background for the sustainable development of the Baikal region. In accordance with the law the concept of the Baikal nature territory was introduced.
The factors of the man influence on the ecosystem of the lake are specific for different parts of the Baikal nature territory. The Federal Law “On Lake Baikal Preservation” highlights three ecological zones, and for each of them its own order of economic activity is designed: the central, the buffer and the zone of atmospheric influence (though there is no clear definition of the zone borders in the Russian legal documents yet).
The central zone is the water zone of Lake Baikal itself, together with islands adjacent to the lake from the coast line to the coastal mountain ranges, as well as preserved nature territories near Lake Baikal. In this zone economic activity is most strictly limited.
The buffer zone is the territory outside the central zone, it includes the water collection territory of Lake Baikal within the Russian Federation territory.
The zone of atmospheric influence is the territory outside the central zone, it includes the zone of Irkutsk industrial agglomeration at the distance of 200 km away from Lake Baikal.
Taking into consideration the specific nature of each territory in each zone the problems should be solved which depend on the peculiarities of the ecological zone and the degree of the anthropogenous influence on Lake Baikal ecosystem.
Thus, the main problem of the central ecological zone the complex of which is the main preserved object, a part of world heritage, and is considered to be the source of the complex influence on Lake Baikal ecosystem, is economic activity in the coastal zone which needs conversion in accordance with natural peculiarities and the requirements of nature preservation.
Thus, a special order of economic and other activity is established with priority given to the activity which does not lead to the lake ecosystem violation. Chemical pollution, physical change of the lake condition, biological pollution, construction and expansion of the economic objects without positive conclusion of the state ecological expert examination are prohibited. There is also prohibition to raise the level of water in the lake higher or lower the maximum and minimum figures. The executive power organs define the maximum quantity of the endemic water animal species which are allowed to be caught and water plants which are allowed to be collected.
Generally speaking the law considerably limits the anthropogenous influence on the lake ecosystem but it is necessary to admit that after a year there are no serious changes of the situation for the better. For example, the Baikalsk cellulose and paper making plant does not cease to pollute the lake. Every year the number of accidents increases because of the worn out equipment.
The struggle with the activity of the Baikalsk cellulose and paper making plant as the main lake polluting agent which damages the lake irreparably, has been going on for more than 30 years. The people living near the lake, scientists and writers have been fighting persistently for the Baikal.
For seven years the optimists had been fighting for the adoption of the law which could have prohibited the production of cellulose at the Baikalsk cellulose and paper making plant, as the activity incompatible with the preservation of Lake Baikal. Several federal state programmes of the plant conversion had been adopted. But every time the problem was not solved because the state could not solve the social and economic problem of the town of Baikalsk. The matter is that conversion or opening of new industrial plants instead of the existing ones also needs considerable financial support and the population employment.
Of course, the matter is not in the fact that the federal officials do not want to do this job, but in the difficult financial and economic state of the country. The law as well as many other legal documents is not supported financially from the budget. But the adoption of some limiting acts on the federal level is a great victory of the community.
Reducing water pollution with wastes of the economic objects, improvement of nature preservation with the help of organizing the Baikal ecological network, ecological optimization of the natural resources usage structure are the main problems the solving of which can help reduce the anthropogenous influence on Lake Baikal ecosystem in the buffer zone.
Providing the level of Lake Baikal, bearing in mind the ecological requirements and consistent reduction of atmospheric wastes, are the main problems of the zone of the atmospheric influence. Alongside with the specific problems of the concrete ecological zones there is a number of problems common for the whole Baikal region:
- support and development of Lake Baikal as a world and national treasure;
- preservation and balanced usage of Lake Baikal natural diversity;
- organized access to the accumulated information on Lake Baikal ecosystem and its effective usage for solving the Baikal problems;
- research on the problems of preservation of Lake Baikal ecosystem biological diversity.
As for the third requirement of the UNESCO Committee, the present-day situation around Lake Baikal is becoming more and more difficult. Financial support of the natural reserves has been reduced more than twice this year. The monitoring system of the Russian hydro- and meteorological committee has been practically destroyed because of lack of finance. Besides there is barbarous forest cutting within the lake water collecting basin in Buryatia, and the forests burn in the coastal zones. But the state has no force or will to oppose it.
Nevertheless even the adoption of only one federal law “On Lake Baikal” has caused several positive factors, though chronologically these processes have been taking place since 1996. We can highlight the following factors:
- the federal programme on making the Republic of Buryatia a model territory of sustainable development has been started;
- social ecological movement and ecological education innovations has become very active;
- there are considerable changes in the minds of the community including the leaders of economics who understand the necessity to introduce the nature preservation technologies.