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Work on the controversial Bystroe Canal Project to be reconsidered

Geneva, 23 May 2008 -- During the Meeting of the Parties to the Espoo Convention which took place in Bucharest from 19 to 21 May 2008, the delegation of Ukraine committed to reconsider its decision to fully implement the so-called Bystroe Canal Project (the Danube-Black Sea Deep-water Navigation Canal in the Ukrainian sector of the Danube Delta). Ukraine also stated that it would not commence work on the second phase until its obligations under the Espoo Convention were fulfilled.

In a letter from the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine to the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Mr. Marek Belka, Ukraine furthermore announced that it would fully comply with the provisions of the Convention for other projects with a likely transboundary impact on the environment of the Danube Delta, such as a planned hydropower station on the border with Moldova.

On 21 May, the Meeting of the Parties took a decision stating that Ukraine had been in non-compliance with its obligations under the UNECE Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (also referred to as the Espoo Convention after the Finnish city where it was adopted in 1991) and asking Ukraine to take a series of steps in the coming months and up to the end of 2009 to bring about compliance.

The Espoo Convention requires that member States notify and consult each other on all projects that might have an adverse transboundary environmental impact.

In July 2006, a scientific group of experts set up under the Espoo Convention concluded that the Bystroe Canal Project would have “significant adverse transboundary effects” on the environment and that the provisions of the Convention should be applied. The first phase of the Project, aimed at boosting the local economy, was completed in August 2004. The final decision on the second phase was taken recently.

Much of the national and international controversy surrounding this project arises from its location in the second largest delta in Europe (after the Volga). The Danube Delta, spanning the border between Romania and Ukraine, includes UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and a World Natural Heritage site. It 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).

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

Mr. Wiek Schrage
Environment, Housing and Land Management Division
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
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/

Ref: ECE/ENV/08/P08