UN Mission to Sochi failed to build dialogue between public and Sochi-2014 organizers
The UNEP Mission was in Sochi October 17-23 to establish dialogue between the public and officials on environmentally sensitive issues. According to WWF, Environmental Watch on North Caucasus, Greenpeace and other green NGOs, the dialogue failed: as during the previous Mission, officials either ignored the meetings, or impeded public participation in them, or sent representatives who are not decision-makers.
For example, on Monday October 18, Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee, which was to organize a roundtable for Russian environmentalists and UNEP, started the event at 11:00 instead of 14:00, and did not inform the NGOs in advance about this change. On Wednesday October 20, UNEP, NGOs, and local people arrived at the scheduled meeting with the Sochi branch of Russian Railways at the constructing road from Adler to Krasnaya Polyana – one of the most controversial Olympic objects, both for social and economic reasons. But the railroads did not send their representative to the meeting.
In the report after a Mission in January 28-30, UNEP admitted that Olympic construction has a serious negative impact on the Caucasus environment – a region with high biological diversity. However, UNEP publicly have made very positive remarksabout Sochi-2014 organizers.
Theodore Oben, head of the Outreach Unit at the United Nations Environmental Progamme (UNEP), said on August 18, in a blog post following an inspection visit to Russia, said that he has “a strong feeling that Sochi 2014 will be successful” in environmental protection. “Everybody that I have talked to, not only within the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee but also the State Corporation Olympstroy, the Ministry of Natural Resources and other involved parties are keen to cooperate and unite efforts in greening the Games”. He said he was confident that while delivering the Olympic project involved many challenges he was confident that the leadership and staff would be successful in achieving their ambitious environmental protection goals.
According to WWF, now that the Olympic construction has already negatively affected the nature, the most important measure is compensation. The Sochi-2014 impact could be partly compensated by extension of protected areas. The organizers promised to increase the area of the Caucasus nature reserve by upper Mzymta River and Sochi National Park by former Loosky forestry.
“We are still waiting for these promises to come true. Moreover, Krasnodar Krai administration agrees to give the Sochi National Park 10 thousand ha of the forestry land, which legally can’t be used for construction anyway, only on condition that the park concedes an area of about the same size near the Black Sea coast and around Krasnaya Polyana, to destroy their protection status for construction purposes”, says Suren Gazaryan, of the North Caucasus Environmental Watch.
NGOs also criticize the Olympic organizers for complete absence of an overall monitoring plan of the construction impact on the environment. The Olympstroy recently concluded a contest on the implementation of this impact assessment. But WWF and Environmental Watch on North Caucasus are skeptical about this step. “The research they’re going to implement doesn’t include field expeditions and will be done in a matter of only 3 months. Olympstroy is trying to receive a formal report for appearances sake”, says Roman Mnatsekanov, WWF-Russia biodiversity coordinator in the North Caucasus.