By BOLORMAA Purevjav
A “National Program for renewable energy 2005-2020” of Mongolia was adopted in 2005 planning the development of feasibility studies for the construction of large hydropower plants on the Selenge, Eg and Orkhon rivers. The Government of Mongolia planned 3 water development projects, namely Shuren Hydropower plant (HPP), Egiin Gol HPP and Orkhon -Gobi projects.
The Shuren HPP project is located on the Selenge River, 360 km upstream from the Lake Baikal. Its main goal is to address the growing electricity demand in the country. The Egiin Gol HPP project is located on the Eg river, a tributary of the Selenge River 580 km upstream from Lake Baikal. Its main goal is to respond to peak seasonal demand for electricity in the central part of Mongolia. The Orkhon-Gobi project aims to transfer water from Orkhon River to the Gobi Desert via pipelines to support mining developments in the Gobi region.
Because of the cross-boundary implications of these dam projects, the Government of Mongolia intensified discussions with the Russian Federation since 2013, and the cooperation agreement between Government of Russian Federation and Government of Mongolia in the field of electric power industry was signed on 24 April 2018. However, the construction of hydropower dams within Selenge, Orkhon and Egiin River basin have not proceeded as planned. So, what should be considered in the future to move forward?
“Lake Baikal” is the key factor of Russia-Mongolia negotiation in water development projects.
The Selenge river-Baikal Lake is a transboundary river basin. Any planned infrastructure projects in transboundary river basin should be guided by Water Convention principles. The 1992 Water Convention requires Parties “to prevent, control and reduce transboundary impact, use transboundary waters in a reasonable and equitable way, and ensure their sustainable management.” Parties bordering the same transboundary waters must cooperate by entering into specific agreements and establishing joint bodies. Article 9 of the Water Convention is on Bilateral and Multilateral Cooperation, touches many aspects of the tasks to be done by both parties. Russia is a party to the Water Convention; Mongolia is a not a party to Water Convention. One of the requirements for transboundary river basin is to have a joint body on conducting environmental impact assessment. The Irkutsk Scientific Centre identified several challenges, including funding of such projects by one party as one of core issues in the preparation of joint Russian-Mongolian mutually satisfactory development plans in the Lake Baikal basin; in addition to it, the existing bilateral agreement of 1995 lacks mandatory provisions in project planning in transboundary basin of the Selenge River.
Feasibility studies and impact assessments for the Shuren HPP and Orkhon Gobi project have been conducted by Mongolia’s Mining Infrastructure Investment project with funding from World Bank and the commitment to develop a basin-wide transboundary approach to the joint use of water resources by Mongolia and Russia is at best evolving and emerging.
Lake Baikal is registered as a World Heritage Site
In this regard, in 2015 the World Heritage Committee (WHC) mission to Mongolia have recommended to both parties, Mongolia and Russian Federation, to jointly develop and implement strategic environmental assessment for any future hydropower and other large water
management projects that would potentially affect the lake, taking into account all planned and existing infrastructure in both countries. WHC mission provided separate recommendations for Mongolian Government and for Russian Federation.
WHC required a joint work and collaboration on environmental impact assessment. Following the WHC recommendation, working groups have been established however, there is no publicly available information on a joint work and collaboration on regional environmental impacts assessment. To proceed with WHC approval, the requirement for joint work must be meet.
Non-governmental organizations and public consultations
The main opposition on hydropower plans stemmed from Rivers Without Boundaries, a network of organizations and experts to preserving the health of transboundary river basins in northeast Eurasia. In February 2015, representatives from communities in Mongolia and Russia, submitted a request for inspection to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel. The request highlighted several concerns including the potential impact of the proposed projects on the hydrological flow and water levels in the Selenge Delta and Lake Baikal (and thus the impact on the ecological health of these ecosystems) and the need for a basin-wide approach to the joint use of water resources by Mongolia and Russia; the impacts of the proposed projects on the livelihoods and cultural heritage of communities living adjacent to the Delta and Lake; and the lack of information and public consultation.
These concerns are relevant and need to be addressed. Addressing these concerns in collaborative way with relevant parties from both, Mongolia and Russia, will be a critical step to move forward to build one water development project out of proposed three.
Bolormaa is a researcher at N.B. Keevil Mining Engineering Institute, UBC. Research interests include Integrated Water Resources Management, mining, community engagement and sustainable development.