Winner of the Whitley Award donated by The Shears Foundation
Eugene Simonov is a Russian environmentalist who literally crossed an entire continent to help create a network of stakeholders interested in river conservation along the Chinese and Mongolian borders, where dam building on a monumental scale threatens fragile wetland ecosystems in the birthplace of the legendary Genghis Khan.
The Amur River basin is the largest still free flowing transboundary river system of Asia and is internationally recognised for the importance of its migratory fish and floodplain wetlands, of which 17 are designated Ramsar sites. Millions of waterbirds breed or migrate along mighty rivers with wide floodplains sustained by monsoons, while in periodic droughts semi-nomadic herders bring their livestock into river valleys and lake shores, where they compete for space with cranes and geese. Known as Black Dragon River, the Amur River is also home for the largest sturgeon and salmon in the world (Kaluga and Siberian Taimen respectively).
In 2009 Simonov was instrumental in the foundation of the Rivers without Boundaries Coalition (RwB) by NGOs from Russia, China, Mongolia and USA to campaign for the protection of the free flowing transboundary rivers of north Asia as scarce and precious natural resources, not to be wasted just for power generation but used for conservation and multifaceted sustainable development. Large hydropower construction projects pose the greatest threat, with freshwater ecosystem biodiversity disappearing at a much faster rate than their terrestrial or marine equivalents.
Despite widespread questioning of whether hydropower on this scale is actually a renewable and clean energy source, large-scale dam building to support domestic energy and export trade continues to be planned by Chinese, Russian and Mongolian governments, despite local opposition and the environmental damage it will cause to fragile ecosystems. Simonov and his associates continue to successfully challenge ill planned investment proposals using advocacy to foster dialogue on alternatives. Simonov believes that his task is to promote methods for discerning bad projects from the worst when it comes to water infrastructure development and to advocate effectively for clear and strict limits for allowable change agreed for each river basin. In this way the RwB Coalition is uniting citizens from transboundary regions in one movement, so that they can better protect themselves and access the best available knowledge and assessment techniques.
Eugene’s Whitley Award winning project aims to:
- Provide stakeholders with tools to assess hydro projects and the means to minimise impact.
- Safeguard two rivers from damming and use these as case studies in Asia.
- Develop a multi-lingual, information based approach to support cooperation between countries.
Why it matters:
- 17 wetlands in the Amur basin are Ramsar sites of International Importance.
- The Amur River is home to the critically endangered Kaluga, the world’s largest sturgeon, and the world’s largest salmon, the taimen.
- Freshwater biodiversity is disappearing at a faster rate than terrestrial or marine equivalents.
2018 Continuation Funding
£70,000 over two years
Keeping rivers free and wild in the era of “Belt and Road”
Eugene Simonov and the Rivers without Boundaries coalition (RwB), formed by 35 members, are protecting transboundary rivers in multiple countries such as Russia, China, Mongolia, and most recently expanding into Central Asia (Irtysh, Balkhash and Aral Basins). Freshwater biodiversity is disappearing faster than terrestrial or marine species populations and habitats, with unsustainable and poorly planned development of water infrastructure among the leading causes for degradation of aquatic ecosystems.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken with implications for massive river alteration at the scale of transboundary basins. The BRI presents an international development opportunity and it is vital that it is implemented in a way that takes the environment into account. As BRI policies are currently under formation, now is the critical time to advocate for sustainable development. Continuation Funding will enable Eugene and RwB to continue to oppose unsustainable and irreversible destruction of key freshwater habitats, whilst introducing alternative energy options and pathways into transboundary water policy dialogues and encourage green investment from financiers. Delivery of this momentous project will impact the global agenda by setting the standard for clean development.
2021 Continuation Funding
£70,000 over two years
Safeguarding Siberia’s Waterways
In Russia and Mongolia, hydropower forms a key part of national renewable energy strategies, with dams often financed by international institutions. However, largescale damming of lakes and rivers is causing ecosystem degradation and manipulating water fluctuations by artificially raising or lowering water levels. Doing so threatens biodiversity, interrupting wildlife migration pathways, eroding the shoreline and damaging wetlands and peatlands beyond transnational borders, which intensifies greenhouse gas emissions. This conflict between ‘climate action’ and nature conservation is rapidly unfolding in two World Heritage Sites in Russia and Mongolia: the 0.9 million ha Landscapes of Dauria, and Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, home to up to 4,000 species, with many found nowhere else on earth.
2013 Whitley Award winner Eugene Simonov, together with 2010 Whitley Award winner Vadim Kirilyuk, will use Continuation Funding to protect these irreplaceable sites. Through the NGO Rivers Without Boundaries, they will steer governments, companies and financial institutions towards nature-friendly climate action that takes the environment into account. They will make stakeholders aware of the climate-related risks of dam building and develop evidence-based safeguards to reduce harm to biodiversity and coastal communities. Environmental impact assessments and research will be conducted on water infrastructure construction to strengthen their case, and Eugene will raise awareness of their cause through public campaigns and advocacy, working at both the grassroots and political level. With Mongolia’s Blue Horse programme planning 33 largescale dams on natural rivers across the country, Eugene and Vadim’s work in Lake Baikal and Landscapes of Dauria will form the blueprint to tackle further damming projects and convince governments and international finance institutions to support nature-friendly alternatives.