Norilsk is no longer Russia’s most polluted city
By placing environmental protection at the core of its operations, mining giant Nornickel is cleaning up what was hitherto one of the planet’s most polluted areas.
Norilsk, the world’s northernmost city with more than 100,000 inhabitants, and for much of the 1970s and 1980s synonymous with severe industrial pollution, is no longer the dirtiest city in Russia, according to the German publication Blick, which cites a new report from the Russian Service for the Supervision of Consumer Protection, which classifies cities in Russia according to their respective levels of pollution.
While the report lists a number of cities, including Novokuznetsk, Omsk, Krasnoyarsk, Cherepovets and Lipetsk, as heavily polluted, the name of Norilsk no longer appears at the top of the list.
The improvement in the city’s environment can in large part be put down to the policies of Russian mineral giant Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel), the world’s largest producer of palladium and high-quality nickel and a major producer of platinum, cobalt and copper, based in the city.
Norilsk Nickel’s production sites have long brought suffering to inhabitants of the cities in which it operates and neighbouring areas, including Norwegians living close to the border Russia, but the firm is fast becoming a leader in environmental initiatives.
According to Blick, “this is a significant achievement, which became possible thanks to the long-term strategy and methodological efforts of Norilsk Nickel to reduce emissions and air pollution in the city and throughout the region. Thanks to all these measures, the ecology of Norilsk will significantly improve over the next few years and pollution will decrease significantly”.
The environment at Norilsk Nickel’s industrial sites is being improved by reducing sulphur dioxide emissions and reducing environmental impact.
This improvement is not accidental, but the result of the company’s strategic direction achieved over many years of implementation.
Environmental activists in neighbouring Finland and Norway have also welcomed the positive impact of Nornickel’s environmental modernisation.
Paul Eric Asfolm, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Bioeconomic Research, said earlier this year that, “from the perspective of nature protection, stopping sulphur dioxide and other pollutant emissions will allow nature to recover slowly”.
“Already, there are some changes in nature as a response to lower emissions since the 1990s. The process of recovery is slow but visible”.
Investment in conservation
In recent years Nornickel has made environmental protection a key part of company policy, reducing not only air pollutant emissions but also wastewater discharges.
In 2019, Norwegian news agencies reported that the country was highly appreciative of Nornickel’s protection of the environment and ecology from pollution and expressed the hope that the company will continue such effective activities.
Norway has also positively welcomed the activities of the Russian government to create and implement environmental legislation and standards, which sooner or later should ensure a significant improvement in the environmental situation.
Norilsk Nickel’s management says that it remains committed to environmental protection and is making every effort to implement its strategy.
The firm’s board of directors recently released plans to approve a new environmental strategy that includes investment of more than 5.5 billion US dollars.
According to the plans, the company plans to invest 3.6 billion US dollars in measures to reduce air emissions, 1.1 billion US dollars in measures to protect water resources, 0.6 billion US dollars to minimise harm from industrial waste, and 0.3 billion US dollars in the reclamation of lands affected by the construction and development of the company’s deposits, climate change and conservation of biological diversity.
Source: Emerging Europe
Armenian government funding for Amulsar gold mine harms country’s biodiversity
A new complaint is filed at the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, known as the ‘Bern Convention’ because The Armenian government has jeopardised three natural sites slated for protection for their unique biodiversity by moving ahead with plans for the USD 426 million Amulsar gold mine.
The complaint details how the government ignored evidence in the environmental impact assessment of the Amulsar gold mine, which pointed to significant impacts on the flora and fauna at the Djermuk, Gorhajk and Sevan Lake candidate Emerald sites, a designation given by the Bern Convention to areas of outstanding natural significance.
Construction of the Amulsar gold project started in 2016 but since June 2018 has been stopped by local protestors blocking access to the mine. The project received CAD 5.8 million in equity and a CAD 10.5 million capital increase from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in 2009 and 2016, respectively.
Already 70 per cent complete, the Amulsar project would excavate metal ore from open pits and extract gold with cyanide in a heap leach facility. The project has already damaged the Emerald sites by polluting the nearby Arpa River and could cause further damage to species and habitats through the pollution of waters that flow into the three candidate sites. Construction of the mine facilities has also destroyed surrounding lands and increased dust pollution.
Andrey Ralev, independent biodiversity expert and signatory to the complaint, said “The Amulsar mine is causing havoc for more than 70 protected animals, dozens of endemic plant species and the largest fresh-water body in the Caucasus, Lake Sevan. Do the ends justify the means?”
Fidanka McGrath, policy officer of CEE Bankwatch Network, said, “Destroying biodiversity now and paying to protect it later is a risky approach by the EBRD. The bank is bound by EU standards and its investments were supposed to offset the impacts on biodiversity. But in reality the harm to the Emerald network has been done, and the compensation is simply not there.”
Inga Zarafyan, president of ‘EcoLur informational NGO’, said: “The Armenian government should confirm its focus on European values, and comply with obligations adopted in the framework of international conventions.”
International mining companies in North Macedonia face resistance from local initiatives
Taught by examples of environmental and social harms that international mining companies leave behind in the Balkans, local communities in North Macedonia have opposed the creation of new gold and copper mines. The awards granted under the VMRO-DPMNE mandate were one of the cornerstones of attracting foreign direct investment. However, the municipalities did not accept this model.
Cities in North Macedonia have recently become the center of self-organized movements by locals, who have opposed international mining projects in the country. They share the same fears: that concessions for geological exploration and exploitation will result in catastrophic environmental and social consequences with marginal benefits for local communities, but also for the country as a whole.
It was not known exactly how many concessions were awarded under the term of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, but at least 80 concessions were granted after 2012, when a new law was adopted, with the aim of increasing investment in the mining sector. At the time, it was clear that concessions were being divided as part of a strategy of attracting foreign direct investment.
After the change of government, we learned that 378 operating concessions were issued. The new regulation shortened and simplified procedures for obtaining mining licenses and concessions, but, more importantly, ensured the almost automatic conversion of mining exploration permits into exploitation permits, meaning that excavation work began automatically.
The situation has not changed much with the advent of the new government in May 2017, so the consequences of mineral exploitation remain the sole concern of the locals and activists. At one point, a wave of calls for local referendums seized the state, aimed at confronting politicians with this problem, and at the same time preventing or delaying the work.
The first successful referendum was held on April 23, 2017 in Gevgelija in southeastern Macedonia, at which the population voted against the opening of a gold and copper mine at two locations on Mount Kozuf. Excavation concessions were awarded to Canadian firm Nevsun Resources LTD.
The Salvation for Gevgelia initiative quickly gained the support of almost the entire municipality. According to activists, the success of the referendum in Gevgelija means that this company will not be able to turn its exploration license into a concession for the exploitation of ores. The first one is about to expire, but, they were still able to submit a request for its conversion into an exploitation concession. However, this request should be automatically rejected because of the result of the referendum, which obliges the municipal authorities to give a negative opinion to all the mines in Gevgelija.
A successful referendum in Gevgelija (turnout was 70%, 99% of which was against) prompted similar local initiatives, so two more successful referendums were held, in Bogdanci on June 11, 2017, with voter turnout of 61% and 98% of votes against. The third successful referendum was held in Dojran (51% turnout, of which 91% voted against). The referendums that followed in Bosilov, Valandov and Novo Selo failed because of low turnout.
However, given that mining companies have already invested enormous resources in the pre-excavation work, it is possible that this is just an instant obstruction.
Namely, part of these funds may be diverted to initiatives to continue mining operations.
The Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning emphasized that “the referendum does not have the binding legal power to stop projects that have already been licensed.” However, in the context of widespread corruption, the public has every right to question, even in a judicial way, the entire concession procedure, because the environmental and social consequences are too great to withdraw from a referendum based only on statements from the Ministry and the company.
However, as Minister of Economy Driton Kuchey explains, if the referendum is successful and lawsuits are filed to withdraw already granted concessions, both the legislative framework and case law will benefit the concessionaire. Despite favoring dealers, mining companies still appear to be threatened by widespread social mobilization. Two weeks after the Gevdelija referendum, Anglo-Ukrainian company Sardich MC issued a statement threatening to sue Angel Nakov – one of the most prominent activists of the Spas for Gevdelija initiative – accusing him of pointing out “false risks” over the Kazandol mine project. The real motive behind this retaliation is to halt further mobilizations, which could prevent similar projects under exploration license.
Kazandol and Illovica-Stuka mining projects
In the case of Kazandol, a concession fee of only € 45,000 a year has already been awarded in 2015 to Sardich MC, and construction work has begun to open the mine. It should be mentioned here that one of the directors of Sardich MC, Aco Spasenoski, was the Minister of Agriculture in the Gruevski government, which illustrates the close ties of domestic politicians to international capital.
Once an exploitation concession was once issued (as in the cases of Ilovica and Kazandol), little can be done to revoke it, as in that case, arbitration lawsuits could be brought against Macedonia and huge financial penalties could be imposed on it.
However, to the locals, the price of these penalties is less important than their own health and access to food and water, so this threat is not an obstacle to reinforcing resistance to mine opening.
According to a local initiative, SOS Valdanovo said they were “extremely aware of the difficulty of fighting the opening of new mines” but that they had “no intention of giving up their demands”. Their fight came to fruition in 2018, when the government withdrew a concession to exploit gold, copper and silver to Sardich MC for the Kazandol mine.
Another major mining project is Ilovica-Stuka, for which an exploitation concession was issued to Canadian-British company EuroMax Resources. They own two concessions for an area of 20 square kilometers, for which they only pay € 55,000 a year. As in other cases, the local community is organizing itself against this project, despite the fact that an exploitation permit has already been issued.
However, in the case of Ilovica, the authorities and concessionaires emphasize the safety of the project, and argue that the project involves the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which sets high environmental and social standards. The EBRD’s role in this project is twofold: they are both creditors and shareholders, as the EBRD owns 19.9% of Euromax, which would mean that one of the bank’s goals is a high return on investment rather than the social interests of North Macedonian citizens.
While there was no response from the Government, local grassroots initiatives were growing. Citizens of the Southeast Region organized two initiatives: “Zdrava Kotlina” and “Youth Against the Death Mine Stuk-Ilovica”. Protests were staged in April and May 2019, despite threats from Euromax sent to activists, including warnings to file lawsuits for posting on social media.
In 2019, the situation with the Ilovica-Stuka mine remains unresolved. According to activist Mitko Ristomanov, the government can use non-compliance with contractual terms as an argument for revocation of a mining concession: “Due to insufficient and incomplete project documentation, Euromax missed the last deadline for obtaining the necessary permits. The deadline expired on July 24, 2016, which means that their activities over the last three years are illegal. Also, the deadline for the completion of the mine, July 24, 2019, has passed.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that since May 2019, after the purchase through a private offer, the concession for the Ilovica-Stuka mine has changed its ownership structure. It is no longer owned by Euromax, but by Galena Resource Equities Limited, which is a subsidiary of Trafigura, embroiled in several controversies, including the illegal export of toxic waste from Amsterdam and the attempt to cover up an African environmental disaster. How this case develops will depend on the steps taken by the new owner, but also on the willingness and ability of the Government to act in response to the local population’s opposition to the mine, bearing in mind the negative impact it would have on agriculture in the region, as well as the wider environmental impact middle.
Environmental risks and possible different economic models
Residents have been called for a referendum by pointing out too high environmental risks, such as three kilometers wide and 700 meters deep craters, or the risks of pollution of drinking water sources that power the nearby towns of Kavadarci and Negotino.
Given the 10 tons of dust that the mines dump into the atmosphere on a daily basis, the danger also included air pollution by toxins, such as arsenic and thallium (required to extract ores from the rocks), then the production of 15 million square feet of sludge containing cyanide, arsenic and sulfuric acid. All this would not be easy and easy to repair without even greater environmental impact.
Among the most risky is the process of cyanization, that is, rinsing gold with sodium cyanide, which is the most widespread method for processing gold. Entry of this compound into the ground or groundwater causes irreparable damage as the soil and water become completely poisonous and unusable to humans and animals.
An example of cyanide soil poisoning was seen in 2000 in the case of the Baia Mare mine in Romania, when 10,000 cubic meters of cyanide-rich industrial wastewater was pumped into the soil. Chemicals have seeped into groundwater and poisoned agricultural land and drinking water for 2.5 million people in Serbia and Hungary, killing hundreds of tons of fish in the Somes, Tisa and Danube rivers.
Even the often pointed arguments of job creation should be taken with a dose of restraint. Of the 13,500 workers announced, 2,175 workers are currently employed in mining operations in North Macedonia.
Nevsun Resources LTD, a Canadian company hoping to build a mine near Gevdelija, has faced allegations made by the Guardian over “forced labor, dire working conditions and an atmosphere of fear and intimidation” at the Bisha mine in Eritrea, which is majority-owned the owner.
Another argument against mining projects is an alternative economic model that could ensure sustainable development in these regions.
For example, the city of Dorjan is located near a lake whose summer tourism potential is often highlighted as a possible economic model for the development of the area. Winter tourism could be developed in the area of Kozhuf Mountain. Valdanovo, Bogdanci and Gevgelija are agricultural areas with a Mediterranean climate and awareness of the importance of organic farming. With the aim of developing organic agriculture, more than a billion denars of subsidies have already been invested in the area, which would completely fail if the mine were opened due to environmental pollution.
In any case, employment can be taken as an advantage only if one considers the working conditions and the immediate and long-term health consequences of workers exposed to a substance such as cyanide.
Anti-mining struggles during the tenure of Zoran Zaev’s government and the SDSM
Of the 200 exploration and exploitation concessions issued by the previous government, in June 2019, only 14 licenses were started by mining operators. The 14 concessions are owned by Euromax Resources, a Bulmak company – licensed for lead and zinc in Zletov and Toranica, then Legura, which has a concession for manganese in Stogovo, for nickel in Veles, Lojani for antimony and iron in Tamjiste. In 2018, twelve dealers exploited minerals worth 180.8 million euros. Of that amount, only € 4.95 million, or 2.74%, was paid into the public budget for concession fees.
At the same time, mining companies made a profit of 38% or EUR 68.9 million. The share of the mining sector in the North Macedonian economy is 15% of industrial production and 1.5% of GDP.
Combating the exploitation of ores, as well as their outcomes, will serve as a mirror of the interactions between global capitalism and democracy in the country, but also as a test for the new SDSM government, which will have to balance in order to remain a social democratic party and devise a new model for attracting investment. which would be different from foreign direct investment in the mining sector.
Also, the role and perseverance of citizens in initiatives against such mining projects will continue to be crucial. They will combat the absolute priority of ore-driven economic growth (estimated GDP growth is 2%), to the detriment of environmental and social consequences, which are currently set as less significant.
Finally, this struggle should include arguments that will not give immunity to the government and local authorities if they fail to find alternative economic models that would develop society in a balanced way – that is, which would have positive environmental, social and political impacts.
Source: Climate and energy transition of the Balkans
Increasing concession fees for ores exploitation in North Macedonia
After six years, the North Macedonian Ministry of Economy has adopted a new tariff plan, which envisages an increase in concession fees for the exploitation of ores and geological resources. The new tariffs will apply from January 1, 2021. This decision means that more money will be poured into the budgets of the municipalities where coal, metallic raw materials, marble, granite, etc. are exploited.
One percent of the projected coal price is 780 denars (12.75 euros) per ton, instead of the current 600 denars (9.8 euros), or 3.900 denars (63.8 euros) per tonne of carbon dioxide and other gases, instead of the current 3,000 (€ 49.1). From each tonne of lead, zinc, copper, nickel or iron sold, the dealership will pay two percent to the state, and the same solution is retained here as in the current tariff system. For these metals, except for iron, the average price on the London Stock Exchange over the last three months will follow.
For the exploitation of precious and semi-precious stones, five percent of the value of the minerals sold will be paid, which is the same as it has been so far. The state will receive one percent from the sale of construction stone, assuming it costs MKD 390 (6.4 euros) per tonne instead of the current MKD 300 (4.9 euros). Mineral and groundwater drinking water will be charged one percent, assuming the selling price per liter of water is MKD 5.2 (EUR 0.09), instead of MKD 4 (EUR 0.07).
It also increases the concession area usage fee, to MKD 312,000 (EUR 5,100) per square kilometer for coal and other fossil fuels and MKD 234,000 (EUR 3,830) for metal ore, while quartz sand, marble and granite exploitation will cost MKD 130,000 (2,130 euro) per square kilometer. It will cost as much for sand and gravel, and for mineral water as MKD 156,000 (2,550 euros).
The fees for carrying out detailed geological surveys will also rise in price, amounting to MKD 156,000 (EUR 2,550) for energy minerals as well as for metallic minerals, while currently they amount to EUR 2,000.
Economy Minister Kresnik Bektesi launched an initiative to change the tariff system for paying concession fees a year ago. Comparative analysis with countries in the region and EU countries showed that fees should be increased.
Collection will start from 2021, as concessionaires’ budgets and investment plans for this year have already been prepared.
There are currently 362 concession contracts for surface and underground exploitation in North Macedonia.
Zijin Company in Bor, environmental issues lead to court in Serbia
The Ministry of the Environment initiated proceedings against Zijin Bor Copper for the release of hazardous substances into the air in November 2019 and January 2020. The ministry has controlled the company several times, and at least five times it has identified failures since the mining basin was privatized in late 2018. While the authorities shift responsibility to each other, the lives of 45,000 Bor citizens are endangered.
At the end of one working week, an employee at Zidjin, formerly RTB Bor, waited for an unpleasant surprise at the door of the administration building – their fellow citizens whistled and shouted: “You betrayed the city. ” With the support of residents of the surrounding towns and political activists, on November 15, 2019, part of Bor residents protested over months because of pollution coming from the mining basin. With the message “Our Health or Your Profit” and with face masks, the Chinese investor was asked to reduce production volumes and thus the air pollution that suffocates them.
“Sulfur dioxide directly damages the health,” Dr. Dragica Radosevic addressed the event. Heavy metals such as arsenic, which can also lead to malignant tumors, are even more dangerous, he explains.
Katarina Vaskovic, a protest participant, complained to the media that life in Bor was quarantined.
“Our children live in quarantine, we can only take them outside when we estimate that there is not so much smoke. Every other kid in the neighborhood gets an asthma pump, ”Vaskovic said.
The protesters supported the speakers for a full two hours.
However, on the day of the protest, Bor was not contaminated. The air did not scratch his throat, and eyes did not tear, as Bor residents otherwise claim, and there was no need to close into homes. Local clean air is explained by the decline in Zidjin’s production of copper and precious metals – because of protests and television cameras.
Data obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting in Serbia (CINS) confirms that there was no excessive pollution on the day of the protests, as well as for the next five days, but then came back – stronger than the Air Protection Act allows.
One week after the protest, environmental inspector Emila Tosic visited Zidjin and found that sulfur dioxide (SO2) concentrations had gone up to 4.6 times the statutory limits during those two days, November 21 and 22. In some hours, the amount of SO2 in the air was 8.3 times higher than allowed, according to the inspector’s report. SO2 is a gas of sharp odor that causes frequent coughing and pharyngeal irritation. It is the cause of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and is most harmful to children, the elderly and people with chronic lung diseases.
Pollution was measured just a five-minute walk from the mining pool gate, at a station maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) in the city park.
In January 2020, the inspection controlled Zidjin and found the same omissions, the documentation obtained by CINS shows.
Due to the release of hazardous substances into the air and the company did nothing to reduce pollution, the proceedings before the Commercial Court in Zajecar against the company Zidjin and the deputy head of the TIR branch causing the problem, Boban Todorovic. They are charged with an economic offense for which a fine of between 1.5 and 3 million dinars has been imposed, and the court can impose a sentence commensurate with the damage done.
Nataša Djereg from the NGO Center for Environment and Sustainable Development (CEKOR) believes that such punishment does not help:
“Our fines are ridiculous – of course it pays for all polluters to continue to pollute, especially at such large plants, to pay the fine and move on. A fine is not a measure, the penalty would be to stop production. ”
Former head of the TIR branch, Paun Jankovic, in an interview with CINS, said stopping production was not in the interest of the majority owner – currently China’s state-owned Zijin International Finance Company Limited (63%), while the Serbian government is the second largest co-owner with 36.9%. Cessation of work means less income, but it can affect problem solving, Jovanovic explains:
“There are technical solutions – to urgently eliminate the causes of this bad show. If necessary, stop production for a week, two weeks, mechanically repair what is needed and then go back to normal. ”
Zijin’s earlier omissions
This is not the first time that Zijin, formerly RTB Bor, has not adhered to the rules. Since the privatization of the mining basin, in December 2018, Inspector Tosic has noticed at least five times various omissions.
As early as April 2019, the inspector had ordered the company to take action against air pollution of the environment, human health and the environment, because it emitted excessive SO2, reports CINS reported. Zijin then explained in a letter to the Ministry of Environment that the power outage had caused pollution.
However, control a few months later, in August, showed another omission – Zijin did not have a system for wet dust removal during the transportation of tailings on the Bor mine, which also threatened human health and the environment. Zijin was ordered to solve the problem, and the company later told the Ministry that a dust suppression system had been installed, which was put to trial.
In November 2019, CINS sought an interview with Zidjin on the topic of air pollution, to which the company responded with a press release. It says that by the end of the year, the company will have a total of five SO2-neutralized dust spray machines. Documentation obtained by CINS shows that by that time, two of the machines purchased had been in operation for about two months, but pollution data showed that it had no significant effect on the reduction of sulfur dioxide – in October the number of days with more SO2 in the air it was slightly smaller.
Zijin announces other investments – a dust and exhaust gas collection plant, and by the end of 2021 the construction of an additional facility to ensure that “the emission of gases is always and fully in line with the prescribed standards”.
Bor residents are not satisfied with communication with the Ministry, as they do not receive answers on measures taken to reduce air pollution.
From a recording of a phone conversation between activist and chairman of the Dveri District Committee, Sasa Stankovic, with Aleksandar Blagojevic of the Ministry’s inspection sector, posted by Bor activists in October 2019 on Facebook page 1 of 5 million Bor, it appears that the inspection does not go out on the field exploration at all but to notify Zijin about the pollution by phone as part of the procedure.
Blagojevic explained that the inspector “called the company and told them that there were exceedances of one-hour values and that they should reduce production or put more fresh raw material than slag.” He also stressed that there is a legal obligation for the City of Bor to adopt a Short-term Action Plan that specifies when Zijin should stop production for several hours or days.
From Municipality they say the Short-term Action Plan has nothing to do with the work of the Republic Inspectorate.
“The inspectors are known to work. When any accident occurs, the inspector goes out to see what is going on, the real record, measures are taken regardless of the Short-term Action Plan. We will see when we come up with a Plan, how much we will be able to influence the work of the company, “said Ljiljana Lekic of the City of Bor’s Environmental Protection Office.
She explained that they started drafting the Plan and that representatives of local environmental associations, including those organizing protests, are involved. Still, Lekic says the plan will only provide guidance for solving the problem.
Toplica Marijanovic, formerly Deputy Director of Environmental Protection at RTB, says the action plan is not binding, and even the inspector cannot ask the polluter to implement it.
“This is an effort for the Ministry, or the state, to shift all responsibility for the state of air quality to local self-government, and local self-government has no power or ability to react in any way in industrial and mining facilities for which the state license is issued,” Marijanović said.
In the meantime, pollution is still present in Bor. SEPA issued a warning that they were dangerous to human health on January 24 and 26 due to the concentration of SO2 at two measurement sites.
While Aleksandar Milikic, Bor Mayor and SNS official, says the pressures are political because the protest is led by Alliance for Serbia member and Dragan Djilas associate, Irena Zivkovic, she, along with three other activists, including Sasa Stankovic from of the Dveri movement, in late November, filed criminal charges against the director of Zijin Bor Koper, Long Ji, the mayor of Bor, and the Minister of the Environment, Goran Trivan.
The Ministry did not respond to CINS’s questions regarding local government control over the adoption of the Short-term Action Plan, or whether it would be able to order production to be halted in Zidjin.
New owner – new pollution
According to the regulations, SO2 in one measuring point may be exceeded only three days a year. It has not been respected in Bor for years. The metering station in the city park, near the mining basin, showed SO2 pollution for an average of five months in 2014, to a total of 13 days by 2018, and then jumped to 40 with a Chinese investor, SEPA data shows.
The findings of the Bor Mining and Metallurgy Institute’s 2018 report are not encouraging. There were more than allowed SO2 and harmful PM10 particles on an annual basis, most commonly affecting blood and respiratory diseases. Arsenic was 24 times more than allowed in Bor. Pollution in Serbia is in many places above the legal limit.
High concentrations of pollutants affect the health of Bor residents.
About two-thirds of pre-school children and half under the age of 18, who in 2014-2018 sought the help of a doctor, had problems with their respiratory organs. They most often suffered from sore throat and tonsils, according to data on the health status of residents of the town of Bor published by the Institute for Public Health Timok in Zajecar.
These inflammations are the second most common disease in adults, with nine cases in every 100 inhabitants.
Although dominant, these diseases have a slight downward trend over the five-year period, coupled with declining production of the mining basin and a decrease in air pollution.
After the privatization of RTB Bor, pollution increased again.
Polish and Czech dispute over Polish lignite mine and power plant
Poland has some of the worst air quality in the European Union, so it is no wonder why Poland’s planned expansion of its Turów lignite mine on the Czech border is straining bilateral ties and raising questions about compliance with European Union regulations.
Turów’s licence expires in April and Polish state-owned utility PGE hopes extraction will continue until 2044 and expand to within 100 metres of the Czech Republic’s border and close to German territory.
In Bogatynia, the Polish town closest to the mine, PGE is the largest employer.
PGE’s 1.3-gigawatt power belches pollution across the border and a new 450-megawatt plant is due to begin operations this year. The site supplies approximately 8 per cent of Polish electricity.
Environmentally ruinous coal currently makes up about 80 per cent of Poland’s energy generation – the highest coal dependency in the EU – and it is only expected to fall to 50 per cent by 2040. According to the European statistics agency, Eurostat, renewables made up 10.9 per cent of Poland’s energy mix in 2017, which will need to increase to 15 per cent this year to comply with the EU’s environmental targets.
It has been estimated in a European Commission report that around four-fifths of Polish coal mines are unprofitable.
The populist Law and Justice Party administration has maintained support for the coal sector and provides government subsidies to preserve the industry.
Rising carbon emission costs and volatility in the energy market, however, have made that commitment less popular among voters.
The municipal government in Liberec on the Czech side of the border said the brown-coal, opencast mine and plant endangered the water supply for 30,000 Czechs. It has filed a complaint in Brussels that says the site contravenes EU trans-boundary environmental rules and that PGE has failed to consider Czech interests.
“The water crisis caused by decades of Turów mining activity is already happening. The prolongation of mining can make it significantly worse,” said Martin Puta, the Liberec governor. PGE was playing “roulette with our water resources”, he added.
PGE said it monitored groundwater and water in the Czech border town of Uhelná “may be impacted”. The firm added that it was working on a subterranean cut-off wall to “limit the impact of the opencast mine on this water intake”.
Residents in the German border town of Zittau also say PGE has failed to address cross-border pollution and noise from the mine and power station.
“In our opinion, this environmental impact assessment wasn’t made to fulfil laws, it was just made up,” Zittau’s mayor Thomas Zenker told the media.
“We try to be honest, but not too harsh. Because the problems on our side are not comparable to the Czech side. So we try to support the Czech side without taking away from the Polish side every chance for development,” the mayor added.
How a rising anti-mining movement is challenging Portugal’s ‘white gold’ rush
Throughout Portugal, people are organizing to stop a boom in lithium mining, as the government rushes to become Europe’s top supplier of the valuable mineral.
The global transition to renewable energy and electric vehicles — technologies that are currently powered by lithium-ion batteries — is creating a high demand for lithium, popularly known as white gold, among other minerals. In Portugal, where some of the largest reserves of lithium in Europe are located, the government recently launched a strategy to increase mining and supply of the mineral for this emerging market. However, residents and organizations throughout the country are questioning the impacts of that large-scale mining plan and who will really benefit from it.
“Lithium mining in Portugal involves large open-cast mines that rip open huge tracts of land-destroying soils and ecosystems,” said Laura Williams, a resident based in central Portugal, who is having to deal with lithium mining activities on her doorstep. “It uses huge amounts of water in the processing, which then contaminates ground and river water. The huge machines that are used have a massive impact in terms of noise and vibrations on local communities.”
In August, Williams helped to organize a creative protest at the highest point in mainland Portugal, on Serra da Estrela mountain. About 400 residents gathered to create an art image with their bodies — of a tree and water circle — to send a collective message: “No to Mines, Water is Life.” The demonstration was filmed with drones and distributed across the media to raise awareness about the environmental and social impacts of mining for lithium and other minerals, which are often not officially disclosed.
“I do not campaign on this issue simply to get mines out of Portugal and send them somewhere else,” Williams explained. “For me, the real issue is that attempting to solve an ecological problem with a solution that involves more extraction — in this case, mining for lithium to make electric cars to reduce CO2 emissions — is not a solution. In fact, it is heading in the opposite direction of what is called for at this time: to protect and restore ecosystems.”
In the last three years alone, Portugal has received hundreds of requests for prospecting and exploration of lithium by national and foreign companies. Today it is estimated that lithium prospecting already covers more than 10 percent of the country’s territory. And in some cases, proposed areas of exploration are adjacent to protected or classified sites, which is fueling opposition.
In the Serra da Estrela region, for example, several requests for the prospecting of lithium and other minerals were recently made. However, the area is surrounded by sites of cultural, ecological and geological importance, such as the Serra da Estrela Natural Park, which is in the process of being classified as a Global Geopark by UNESCO. As a result, four local organizations issued a joint written statement to express their “deep concern” and reasons for opposing the mining interests in that area. The groups also declared that they are preparing to give “more rigorous and detailed technical advice on this issue” and urged the local authorities to make their position clear as well.
“We have been working in unison with other associations that are struggling with the same problem,” said Maria do Carmo Mendes, a member of the Guardians of Serra da Estrela, one of the groups confronting mining in sites of community importance. She said that the group has already sent a letter of complaint to the Directorate General for Energy and Geology, the administration that oversees mining developments in Portugal. And together with other local organizations, they are pressuring the directorate for “absolute transparency in the process of granting mining licenses,” in addition to having an outside entity conduct environmental impact studies before a decision is made.
In the north of Portugal, in a rural town called Covas do Barroso, a group of residents has united to defend their land and livelihoods from big mining interests. They came together after finding out about requests for open-pit lithium mining in their area, which is classified as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. A spokesperson from the Association United in Defense of Covas do Barroso, announced that the local community realized they would have to fight “powerful economic and political interests.” Therefore, they decided “to unite and speak in unison” to ensure that the rights and needs of the community are respected.
The group has been working to educate the community and has organized protests to persuade the national government to withdraw lithium prospecting concessions in Covas do Barroso, which is already causing environmental and social problems. Last month, after a visit from the state secretary for energy in the City Hall of Covas’ municipality, dozens of residents surrounded the secretary’s vehicle making it difficult for him to leave. As they held posters with messages against lithium mining in the area, protesters shouted: “No to the Mine, Yes to Life.”
Also, citizens from two neighbor municipalities in central Portugal have united to defend the preservation of the Serra da Argemela region and to “protect the environmental, health, economic and cultural heritage” of its community. The Group for the Preservation of Serra da Argemela, or GPSA, has organized several demonstrations, public meetings and interventions against mining for lithium and other minerals in the region since 2017. This year, following a petition that gained the signature of many residents, organizations and representatives of local government, the group persuaded the national authorities to reject current mining requests in the Argemela (at least, until an Environmental Impact Study is officially presented by mining companies).
“A big victory would be if citizens could rest assured that their rights will always be defended by the state,” GPSA member Ana Morão said, when asked if the Portuguese government’s move was a victory for them. “Until then, in addition to the right to demonstrate, the GPSA will exercise its rights of reply and contestation, particularly in the context of the public consultation that will be carried out alongside the Environmental Impact Study.”
Residents across the country have also been organizing online, through Facebook groups, for instance, to exchange information about the mining development plans and their implications, and to mobilize offline demonstrations.
The Movement Against Mining Beira Serra, is one of the Facebook groups created this year in response to the lithium mining boom, which now has over 5,000 members. Nik Völker, an administrator of the group, said that they are currently focusing on raising awareness around the issue, but have already taken part in local and national demonstrations, information sessions and campaigns in cooperation with other similar movements.
“Our main demand is the right to free, prior and informed consent of any local community being considered for any new mineral exploration or exploitation project,” Völker said. “As long as these conditions are not met, both companies and government will have to deal with our local and national peaceful protest, and possible legal interventions in the near future.”
Vítor Afonso, one of the members from the Movement Against Exploitation of Mineral Resources in the Municipality of Montalegre, a Facebook group with more than 3,600 members, created in May 2019, explained that he is against open-pit mining for lithium and other minerals not only in his area but throughout the country. “It’s not a desirable or sustainable development model,” he said. “The planet has no capacity to regenerate if it continues to be exploited the way it has been.”
As a form of protest against the lithium mining plans for Montalegre, residents decided to boycott the European elections in May and the local elections in October. In addition to demonstrating on the streets during election day, they also placed banners that read “No to the Mine, Yes to Life” in front of the City Hall and across public spaces.
A national platform called Say No To Mines was recently created to facilitate the learning and cooperation between activists and movements that oppose the mining plans, especially for lithium, adopted in Portugal. Yet the Portuguese people are far from being alone in this endeavor. Yes to Life, No to Mining is a global network of and for communities that are battling against destructive mining projects and seeking life-sustaining alternatives.
Contesting the political economy strategy
The exploitation of lithium — considered a fundamental step for an “energy transition” by the Portuguese government — has been systematically contested by the National Association for Nature Conservation, called Quercus. The organization publicly requested an “immediate suspension of the government’s strategy for lithium,” after conducting a study that concluded the process of mining for lithium, a non-renewable resource, will result in “high levels of CO2 emissions.” They estimated that each lithium mine will emit an additional 1.79 million tons of greenhouse gases per year, which means it’s an energy development plan that’s still environmentally unsustainable.
Quercus also organized the first National Forum on the Environment and Lithium, on June 22, that was attended by several representatives of movements, organizations and political parties, who are concerned about the consequences of lithium mining. The event was developed in partnership with the organization Environment in Uraniferous Zones, which has been fighting for the environmental recovery of abandoned uranium mines that still affect the health of local populations in various parts of the country, since 2002.
Alternatives to lithium mining were also discussed in the forum, including the various technologies that can support a sustainable energy transition and electric mobility, such as the use of hydrogen and biogas fuel, which are renewable and generate low or zero carbon emissions. The next steps agreed upon at the event include organizing a formal meeting with all political parties, the minister of environment and energy transition, and Portugal’s president to debate problems with the lithium mining strategy and potential alternatives.
The anti-mining movement that is emerging in Portugal, and growing globally, is a clear sign that a “business as usual” development model — oriented to the ever-increasing exploitation of natural resources and unfair economic practices — is no longer accepted by society. And decision-makers will have to respond accordingly.
“Article 66 of the Portuguese Constitution states that ‘everyone is entitled to an environment of human life, healthy and ecologically balanced, and the duty to defend it,’” Afonso said. “The duty to defend our territories will certainly be exercised [by the people].”
Serbia is suffering an enormous damage from the uncontrolled exploitation of ores
Serbia is suffering enormous, and especially environmental, damage from the uncontrolled exploitation of mineral resources, and the State Audit Institution (SAI) recently pointed out the problem of calculation and collection of ore annuities, said economist at the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy, Petar Djukic.
He pointed to insufficient environmental or green funds, which should be used to remedy the environmental consequences of mining.
Djukic cited the example of Lazarevac municipality, which, due to coal mines and TPP Kolubara, has many environmental problems and which until 1991 had so-called An annuity fund, which has been used for environmental protection, protection of public health, restoration of green infrastructure and reclamation of the area.
Since 1991, that fund has been terminated for Lazarevac as a suburban municipality and transferred to the Environmental Protection Fund for the city of Belgrade.
“What to do today in Lazarevac, Kostolac, Bor and other municipalities in a time when environmental and other damages from the extraction of mineral resources have become enormous”, Djukic asks. He also warned about the fact that the rent for oil extraction in Serbia is much lower than abroad.
Djukic said in particular that domestic research from the early 21st century shows that the environmental damage from the extraction of mineral resources in Serbia is at the level of one and a half to two billion euros a year.
Foreign research has shown that these damages are at the level of 6-12 percent of Gross Domestic Product, and that they are up to 20 percent of GDP in underdeveloped countries that do not have developed infrastructure.
Serbia is closer to the latter category and in our country these damages amount to between 10-15 percent of GDP, Djukic points out.
He points out that in poverty it is difficult to be fair and efficient and that it is difficult to capture a part of the income that would fully cover the environmental and other damage caused by the exploitation of mineral resources, as it could lead to the collapse of these companies and the loss of jobs.
This requires laws, political will and independent institutions.
It is positive that the State Audit Institution pointed to the problem of calculation and collection of ore annuities, Djukic points out and recalls that SAI announced that revenues from fees for mining of minerals in 2018 amounted to six billion dinars, and that the debt earlier this year it amounted to 2.6 billion according to the Serbian budget.
Zijin copper mine in Serbia, environment impacts of Cukaru Peki
An Environmental Impact Assessment Study of a mining project at the Chukaru Peki site near Bor is under public discussion and public insight. This document can be found on the official website of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and on the premises of the City Administration in Bor, and public access and commenting are possible until February 5, when a public hearing will be held on the premises of the City Administration in Bor.
The study foresees, among other things, that the future Zidjin mine will employ 1,205 workers and that the exploitation will be non-destructive, and the mining corridors will be filled with a mixture of tailings and cement at the end of the mine, so that most of the tailings will be returned to the mine and there will be no collapse of the terrain on the surface.
However, this mine will also have negative effects that will result in environmental pollution, the study estimates.
This is primarily reflected in the formation of tailings ponds that will permanently destroy land, ecosystems and change the landscape. Also, the average flow of the Bor River will be reduced by about 8 l / s, and the Brestovac River by about 2 l / s in the entire mine operation period. Surface flows are estimated to return to baseline 30-40 years after mine closure.
Debris will be formed in the upper part of the Grcava stream basin, while in the lower part of the stream there may be a decrease in flow. The construction of the tailings pond will result in the loss of 2 km of Grcava in whose upper part of the basin will be formed tailings ponds, 2.8 km of tributary habitats associated with Grcava and indirect loss of habitats downstream.
The loss of habitat downstream can be extended by another 1.5 km to the confluence with the Bor River. This will result in a total loss of 6.3 km of habitat. Direct habitat loss will be permanent.
The mine will cover an area of approximately 1,014.99 ha of land, and it is planned to purchase an additional 243 ha. Eight households, with 23 members, were or will be physically displaced.
The estimated amount of ore in the Upper Zone of the deposit is 45 million tonnes of dry ore, with an average copper content of 2.71% and an average gold content of 1.7 g / t. This practically means that it is expected that one and 250 thousand tonnes of copper, 78 tonnes of gold and 150 tonnes of silver can be extracted from its exploitation. The average sulfur content of this ore is about 16.67, and arsenic is about 0.13 percent, or 1295 grams per ton of ore.
Local campaigners going from strength to strength against gold mining company
The communities in the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains in the north of Ireland are under threat from a multinational goldmining company Dalradian Gold Ltd. But despite the resources the mining company has to hand, local people are standing up for their communities and their campaign is showing progressive signs.
The campaign against gold mining in the Sperrin Mountains has been underway since local communities became aware of Dalradian’s plan to mine. The company first arrived in the area in 2009. The campaign then intensified when Dalradian submitted its formal mining request in November 2017. And despite experiencing setbacks, the campaign to protect this community from the damage caused by mining is going from strength to strength.
In January 2019, police arrested local campaigner Cormac McAleer following a dispute with the driver of a waste truck removing waste from the proposed goldmine site. Then in February, campaigners were dealt a blow in the courtroom when they lost a judicial review against the goldmine company. This was followed by worrying news in June, as police contacted campaigners to tell them to increase their security as death threats had been made against them. However, none of these incidents derailed the campaign in any way.
The campaigners remain undeterred. In May this year they saw they had significant local support when anti-mining campaigner Emmet McAleer, became the first candidate to be elected at the local council elections. More importantly this was achieved in an area that has always voted along clear traditional political lines in the past. So his election shows the depth of support their campaign has.
On 13 August, the goldmine company announced it would no longer use cyanide in the goldmining process. The use and local storage of cyanide has been a cause of major concern for local people. However, campaigners said they were ‘sceptical’ of such a move as they felt it would be reintroduced at a later stage. In any case it shows the effect a strong local campaign can have.
More recently on 5 November this year, campaigner Fidelma O’Kane was successful in the Belfast High Court. O’Kane took a judicial review against the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) for a Discharge Consent it granted to Dalradian. This Consent allowed the company discharge nine heavy metals — arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium, copper, zinc, nickel and iron — into the local Owenkillew river. Because of its freshwater pearl mussels, salmon spawning and otters this river is designated as a Special Area of Conservation.
And the campaign against pollutant goldmines isn’t just local, it’s international. Campaigners were buoyed by recent news that Eldorado Gold Certej goldmine in Romania was blocked. This goldmine also proposed using cyanide in the extraction process. The environment in Romania has suffered greatly from polluting goldmine companies. In January 2000, Baia Mare suffered a cyanide leak which wiped out 80% of the local fish population.
The Rosia Montana copper mine used cyanide in the 1970s, so a nearby village was evacuated and flooded to store its cyanide-contaminated waste. It has been submerged under toxic waters ever since. The communities in the Sperrins are very conscious of this and are determined it will not happen here.
Additionally, the campaign group Save Our Sperrins (SOS), are forming international alliances with other ‘earth protectors’. People from Papua New Guinea, Central America, Turkey and all over Asia are defending their communities from the damage the mining industry can inflict.
Earth strike rally
Both SOS and fellow campaigners in Campaign Against Mining in Omagh (CAMIO), are participating in the global Earth Strike rally on 29 November. They’re doing to to stand in solidarity with the rest of the world and to demonstrate locally how a toxic goldmine is related to climate change. As stated on their campaign social media account:
“Locally, communities are threatened with the introduction of toxic extractive industries like fracking and gold-mining.”
They are reminding local organisations of the damage a goldmine could do to their community. This is particularly important as the mining industry in general is responsible for 20% of global carbon emissions. Campaigners want to encourage people in the Sperrins area to stand together and to have their voices heard.
The campaign goes on
And while they have scored some victories recently it still doesn’t mean the struggle is over. This mining company will do all it can to commence mining in the area and local campaigners have already witnessed testing being carried out for gold at sites nearby. But this matters little, as campaigners continue to oppose all stages of Dalradian’s planning permission.
Very hopeful signs
The experience of campaigners at Eldorado Gold Certej in Romania shows what can be achieved when a community stands together. This community in the Sperrins is resilient and it has the community’s best interests at heart. While there may be difficult times ahead, the future of this campaign certainly looks bright.