Baikal and Baikal natural territory

World Natural Heritage Site

Following the adoption of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage in 1972, the United Nations (Department for Education, Science and Culture) started to form a list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which includes the most significant objects of nature, history and culture and areas of outstanding global natural resource value that require careful treatment and preservation for future generations.


At least one of the following four criteria should be fulfilled in order for an object to be listed therein:

• an object is an outstanding example representing major stages of Earth's history and significant geological processes;

• an object is an outstanding example representing most significant ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of eco-systems and communities of plants and animals;

• an object contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;

• an object contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation. Baikal is unique in this sense as it meets all the criteria of the Convention. Among thousands of natural objects contained in the List of World Heritage Sites, only around a dozen meet all four criteria.

On 5th December 1996, following a decision of the 20th session of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, held in the Mexican city of Merida, Baikal, together with its coastal zone with a total area of about 8.8 million hectares, was included in the List of World Heritage Site of UNESCO.

The total area of the World Natural Heritage Site (WNHS) “Lake Baikal” amounts to 88 thousand km2, of which 31.5 thousand km2 is the surface of the lake, and 19 km2 are occupied by 3 natural reserves (Baikal-Lena, Baikal, Barguzin) and 3 national parks (Pribaykalsky, Zabaykalsky and partially Tunkinsky).

5 urbanized and industrialized areas have been excluded from the Site: the towns of Baykalsk, Slyudyanka, Kultuk, Babushkin and Severobaykalsk.

In the decision adopted by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO it is specified: “Lake Baikal is a classic case of a world heritage site, meeting all four natural criteria. The lake is located in the Central part of the site. The features of the lake, mainly hidden by water, represent the main value for science and conservation. The lake is surrounded by mountain-taiga landscapes and protected areas, mainly preserved in their natural state and representing additional value.

Lake Baikal is a limnologic wonder and territory with the following outstanding qualities:

The geological rift system that gave rise to Lake Baikal was formed during the Mesozoic period. Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest lake on Earth. Various tectonic forces are still active, as evidenced by the outputs of the heat flow from the depths of the lake.

Evolution of aquatic organisms, occurred during this long period, led to the formation of exceptionally unique and endemic fauna and flora. Lake Baikal is referred to as “the Galapagos Islands of Russia” and represents exceptional value for the study of evolution.

The picturesque landscape around Baikal basin with mountain ranges, boreal forests, tundra, lakes, islands and steppes provides for the exceptionally beautiful surroundings of Lake Baikal. Baikal is the largest reservoir of freshwater on Earth (20% of the world reserves), which further characterizes the lake as a unique phenomenon.

Lake Baikal is one of the most bio-diversified lakes on Earth, giving home to 1,340 species of animals (745 of them are endemic) and 570 species of plant (150 of them are endemic). The forests surrounding the lake are home to 10 species of plants listed in the Red book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and represent a full composition of typical boreal species.

In addition to fulfilling one of the four criteria of the Convention, a willingness to protect and preserve the site is required from the country where it is located.

The management of the World Heritage Committee requested the Government of the Russian Federation to meet the following requirements:

1. To ensure final adoption of the Law on Lake Baikal by the State Duma;

2. To convert BPPM so that it ceases to be a source of contamination;

3. To reduce the discharge of pollutants into the Selenga River;

4. To allocate additional funds for the support of the activities of nature reserves and national parks;

5. To ensure and enhance support for research and monitoring activities on Lake Baikal.

The list of environmental activities, ongoing and already implemented by the leadership of the Russian Federation to meet the requirements of the management of the World Heritage Committee to the Government of the Russian Federation, set forth due to the assignment of the world natural heritage status:

1. The Federal law on the Protection of Lake Baikal dated 1st May, 1999 No. 94-FZ has been adopted.

2. The legislation has been amended with clauses regulating relations in the field of protection of Lake Baikal:

- boundaries of water protection and fish conservation zones of Lake Baikal are established by the Government of the Russian Federation;

- state record-keeping of facilities that have a negative impact on the environment of the Baikal Natural Territory has been introduced;

- construction of new commercial facilities and reconstruction of existing commercial facilities shall be prohibited within the Baikal Natural Territory, unless a positive conclusion of State Environmental Expert Review of design documentation of such facilities has been received, while any disposal of I – III hazard class production and consumption wastes shall be prohibited in the Central ecological zone of this natural territory;

- a possibility to transfer the forest land occupied by protective forests to the land of specially protected territories and facilities for the creation of specially protected natural territories has been provided;

- Water Code of the Russian Federation, Town Planning Code of the Russian Federation, Federal laws “On Environmental Expert Review”, “On Fisheries and Conservation of Aquatic Biological Resources” have been aligned with the changes made to the Federal law "On the Protection of Lake Baikal".

More information about the laws and regulations, according to which environmental protection measures are implemented, can be found in the section “Laws”.

3. In 2008, the BPPM (Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill), at the request of Rosprirodnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resource Usage), suspended production of bleached pulp and shifted to the production of less profitable unbleached pulp using the technology of closed water circulation, which eliminates any possibility for release of even treated wastewater into the lake.

The plant ceased its operation on 25th December, 2013. On 28th December, 2013, the Prime Minister of Russia signed an order on the creation of the Exhibition centre “Nature Reserves of Russia” within the territory of the closed plant.

4. The Selenga Pulp and Paper Mill terminated the discharge of industrial wastewater in the Selenga River on 1st August, 1990.

5. In 2008-2010 the international research expedition “Mirs on Baikal” took place which involved 160 dives on deep-submergence vehicles “Mir-1” and “Mir-2”. According to the results of the International conference in the headquarters of UNESCO “Baikal – the World Treasure”, an increase in the intensity and quality of scientific research aimed at the preservation of the ecosystem of Lake Baikal has been noted as well as the significance of the results of the international research expedition “Mirs” on Baikal”, where scientists from 12 countries took part; a significant contribution of this expedition to the development of Russian and world fundamental science, such as geology, geography, limnology, geochemistry, geophysics, biology, etc.; large amounts of data obtained in the course of the expedition, allowing to significantly expand the understanding of the genesis of Lake Baikal and the modern processes occurring therein.

6. State funding for the protection of Lake Baikal and the Baikal Natural Territory is ensured by means of the Federal Target Program “Protection of Lake Baikal and the Socio-Economic Development of the Baikal Natural Territory in 2012 – 2020”, approved by the RF Government decree dated 21st August 2012, No. 847. (See the section “Implementation of the Federal Target Program measures”)

The following sources have been used during the material preparation:

Baikal studies : teaching aid / N.S. Berkin, A.A. Makarov, O.T. Rusinek. – Irkutsk : Publishing house of the Irkutsk State University, 2009

Volkov, S. Along Baikal / Sergei Volkov. – M. : AST : AST Moscow, 2010. – 568 pages