UNUnited Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Press Release


Opinion of Inquiry Commission into
controversial Danube Canal due 10 July

Geneva, 4 July 2006 -- On 10 July, in Geneva, a United Nations Inquiry Commission will give its opinion on the environmental impact of a controversial canal to the Ambassadors of Romania and Ukraine and to the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Mr. Marek Belka.1 (It was the Executive Secretary of the UNECE who nominated the Commission’s president, the distinguished Dutch academic Professor Joost Terwindt.2)

The first phase of the Ukrainian project “Danube-Black Sea Deep Water Navigation Canal in the Ukrainian Sector of the Danube Delta” (the Bystroe Canal project), aimed at boosting the depressed local economy, was completed in August 2004, and a second phase is now underway. Much of the national and international controversy surrounding this project arises from its location in the Danube Delta, the second largest delta in Europe (after the Volga). The Delta, which includes UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and a World Natural Heritage site, is a wetland rich in plants (over 1,000 species), birds (300 species, including the largest pelican colony in Europe) and fish (including several endangered species of sturgeon).

Germany’s then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the European Commission’s then President Romano Prodi, the Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (under which the Delta is listed as a wetland of international importance), the UNESCO Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River, the Government of the United States and many others have expressed their concern regarding the project. Most recently, the Ukrainian activist Olga Melen received this year’s most prestigious environmental award, the Goldman Environmental Prize, for her work opposing the project.

Ukraine began development of the Bystroe Canal project without notifying Romania under the UNECE Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (called the Espoo Convention after the Finnish city where it was adopted in 1991). This Convention requires that States notify and consult each other on all planned major projects that are likely to have a significant negative environmental impact across a national border. In August 2004 Romania requested an inquiry under the Espoo Convention, believing that the Convention should have been applied to the canal project. The Inquiry Commission was then established to advise on the likelihood of significant adverse transboundary impact. It includes two scientific or technical experts, one nominated by Romania and the other by Ukraine, and a third independent expert who acts as president of the Commission.

Both Romania and Ukraine are Contracting Parties to the Espoo Convention. Romania considers that it is the affected Party for the development of the canal in Ukraine, the Party of origin, and therefore should have been notified. However, Ukraine was of the opinion that there are no significant transboundary impacts. Under the Espoo Convention, the affected Party is expected to respond to a notification by indicating whether it wishes to participate in the environmental impact assessment of the activity. If it responds positively, the Party of origin is expected to provide additional information and the Parties should together ensure that the concerned public in the affected Party can comment on and, if necessary, object to the activity.

This is the first time an Inquiry Commission has been established under the Espoo Convention, and its opinion is awaited by many international organizations as well as the two countries involved.

For more information, please visit http://www.unece.org/env/eia/inquiry.htm or contact:

Wiek Schrage
Environment, Housing and Land Management Division
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
Palais des Nations, Office 407
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Phone: +41 (0) 22 917 2448
Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 0107 or 917 0613
E-mail: wiecher.schrage@unece.org
Website: http://www.unece.org/env/eia/


1 A press conference will be held on Monday, 10 July 2006, in Salle III in the Palais des Nations, Geneva.

2 Emeritus Professor in Physical Geography, Utrecht University, and Chair of the Royal Netherlands Geographical Society.

Ref: ECE/ENV/06/P04