European nations must confront their own faults in Amazon destruction

para contamination norway amazon A subsidiary of Norway's Norsk Hydro was fined for dumping toxic waste into the environment. Photo: Ag.Pará

In February 2018, residents of Barcarena, a town to the south of the Amazonian state of Pará, complained that pools of accumulated rainwater around the city had turned a curious shade of red. Locals blamed the nearby Alunorte alumina plant, alleging that they had been illegally dumping toxic waste into the environment.

Indeed, state prosecutors investigated these claims and found a clandestine pipeline belonging to Alunorte, which was being used to leak byproducts of bauxite processing into the surrounding area.

The company, which is a subsidiary of Norwegian aluminum giant Norsk Hydro, was handed a daily fine of BRL 1 million and forced to cut its operations in Barcarena by 50 percent.</p> <p>Alunorte has always denied the claims it purposefully dumped toxic matter into streams in Barcarena. The mining company had already been fined some BRL 17.1 million nine years earlier, for the same violation, but appealed the punishment and has not yet paid any penalties.</p> <p>In May of this year, this embargo was lifted, and activities at Alunorte were ramped up again soon after.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="barcarena amazon" class="wp-image-23383" srcset=" 640w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 640px" /><figcaption>Technician measures contamination levels in water stream. Photo: Ag.Pará</figcaption></figure> <p>Alunorte&#8217;s parent company, Norsk Hydro, is 34.3 percent owned by the Norwegian government, which has recently been <a href="">at odds with Brazil</a>. However, after the spills were uncovered, Norway washed its hands of the situation, stating that the matter should be dealt with by Norsk Hydro and the Brazilian authorities.</p> <p>Only last week, 18 months after the incident in Barcarena, the Norwegian government met with representatives of three of its largest companies operating in Brazil—including Norsk Hydro—and urged them to &#8220;check&#8221; whether they are causing damage to the Amazon rainforest.&nbsp;</p> <p>&#8220;They must be conscious of their production chains and ensure they are not contributing to deforestation,&#8221; Ola Elvesteun, Norway&#8217;s Environment Minister, told <a href=""><em>G1</em></a>.</p> <h2>Amazon: Bolsonaro v. Europe</h2> <p>Until last month, Norway had donated roughly BRL 3.2 billion to the <a href="">Amazon Fund</a>, since its creation in 2008. The fund, which finances projects to help preserve the Amazon rainforest, is the largest of its kind. With Norway&#8217;s significant carbon footprint—it is the 15th biggest producer of oil in the world—donations to the fund have served as a way to offset these activities.</p> <p>President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s decision to scrap the fund&#8217;s management committee sparked outrage from the donors, and both Norway and Germany decided to pull their annual contribution to the fund.</p> <p>The withdrawal of Norway and Germany kicked off <a href="">Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s deplorable month of international diplomacy</a>. After claiming Germany should keep its money to reforest its own country, Brazil&#8217;s president asked about Norway, saying, &#8220;isn&#8217;t that the country that drills oil at the North Pole and hunts whales?&#8221;</p> <h2>Does Bolsonaro have a point?</h2> <p>By biting back at Norway and Germany—and later, France—for their criticism of <a href="">Brazil&#8217;s environmental mismanagement</a>, Jair Bolsonaro is simply attempting to deflect attention away from the neglect of his own government.</p> <p>However, the holier-than-thou attitude shown by some European nations has rubbed some Brazilians up the wrong way, especially in light of cases such as Barcarena.&nbsp;</p> <p>Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s latest adversary, French President Emmanuel Macron, is another case in point. After incensing Brazilian nationalists by declaring &#8220;our house is burning&#8221; at the outbreak of the Amazon fire crisis, Mr. Macron was quick to point out that France does too have a stake in the rainforest, in the shape of its overseas department French Guiana.</p> <p>But <a href="">France&#8217;s own environmental record in French Guiana</a> has come in for significant criticism, with the expansion of illegal mining companies into the department&#8217;s virgin rainforest. Olivier Dabène, a political science professor from Science Po, called Mr. Macron&#8217;s stance on forest management &#8220;hypocritical,&#8221; in an interview to <em>Folha de S. Paulo</em>.</p> <p>&#8220;It&#8217;s practical for him to divert attention toward the Brazilian Amazon, while activists are protesting against licenses given to miners and extractive activities [in French Guiana], which are major pollutants.&#8221;</p> <p>During the campaign trail in 2017, Mr. Macron incorrectly referred to French Guiana as an &#8220;island.&#8221; The department is, in fact, the second-largest region of France.

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Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall. Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”