They’re demanding compensation for devastating pollution caused by Russia’s largest nickel producer
Across the Russian Arctic, indigenous peoples are asking Elon Musk not to buy nickel from Norilsk Nickel, one of the largest nickel and palladium mining companies in the world. For the past three months, they have been holding a media campaign trying to draw attention to the company’s environmental practices and lack of compliance with international law.
Musk, the CEO of US electric vehicle and clean energy company Tesla, addressed the world mining industry this July, saying: “Tesla will give you a giant contract, for a long period of time, if you mine nickel efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way.” Indigenous peoples of the Russian North raised the alarm, stressing that the country’s nickel plants are not environmentally sustainable and are damaging the fragile Arctic environment. Their campaign consists not only of the customary open letters, but also online flash mobs on social media: indigenous people share their own photos where they, in traditional clothes, hold posters with hashtags ‘#AnswerUsElonMusk’, ‘#NoNickelfromNornickel, and #DefendIndigenousArctic.
In Russia, this is an unusual take on environmental rights: Using Musk’s media persona, indigenous people are addressing their complaints about pollution not to the state but to a foreign industrialist, in an attempt to compel Russia to comply with their legal demands.
Be that as it may, their approach actually makes a lot of sense, says Dmitry Berezhkov, an indigenous rights activist and member of the Russian Aborigen Forum, one of several groups supporting the campaign. “We consider environmental well-being as a part of indigenous people rights. The number of ways to defend the indigenous people rights in Russia is reducing day by day, as the state together with industrial companies try to impose more control on people lives. Theoretically, indigenous people could defend their rights with the help of international organisations, appealing to international law and calling for United Nations resolutions first. But Russia stopped paying much attention to UN resolutions some time ago. Now, there are only two working solutions: European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe. That’s why we are trying to be inventive and find new ways to defend our rights. In this case, by organising international media campaigns”, Berezhkov, who is based in Tromsø, Norway, told GV in a phone interview.
Taking on Norilsk Nickel is no small feat. The company, also known as NorNickel, was established in the 1930s by the Soviet state as one of its great ‘tundra conquering’ projects. In the 1990s, the company was privatised by various means — including the notorious ‘loans for shares’ scheme — and today it is majority-controlled by the Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin, one of the richest people in the country. The company’s operations focus on two areas, both in the Russian Arctic: the Taymyr Peninsula, through its main plant in the nearby city of Norilsk, and the Murmansk region (or more specifically, the Kola Peninsula) on the very western border of Russia, where three smaller plants are located in the towns of Nickel, Monchegorsk and Zapolyarny. All these territories are also traditional homelands for indigenous peoples: the Dolgan people in the Taymyr Peninsula and the Sámi people in Murmansk Region.
On May 29, NorNickel made headlines for causing one of the worst environmental disasters in the Rusian Arctic. A corroded fuel storage tank belonging to a local power station owned by NorNickel burst open, flooding local rivers with up to 17,500 tonnes of diesel fuel which melted ice and contaminated the water. It eventually reached Lake Pyasino and the linked rivers, making its way into the Arctic Ocean. All in all, it contaminated at least 140 square miles across the Russian Arctic. The spill brought an unusual level of public attention to NorNickel: On June 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency and personally criticised Potanin on television.
On September 18, Lake Pyasino was declared “dead” as a result of the spill. Ecological monitoring results demonstrated that, alongside diesel fuel, the MAC (Maximum Allowed Concentrations) of heavy metals in the lake waters had been exceeded. That same day Elena Penzina, a Deputy of the Legislative Assembly of Krasnoyarsk Region, wrote on her personal Telegram channel that the level of concentration of pollutants in the water indicate that NorNickel had been contaminating the lake for many years. The toxic gases and heavy metal particles had also contaminated the air, she added.
Yet even after the spill, the state agency PORA (Project Office for the Development of the Arctic) ranked NorNickel third among Russian companies operating in the Arctic and seventh among international companies in their “Polar Index”, a directory of the most environmentally sustainable Russian companies.
The Dolgan people largely live along the shores of this lake and the rivers which feed it. Gennady Shchukin is a veteran Dolgan activist who has attempted to draw attention to environmental disaster and the violation of indigenous people’s rights for many years. Today, he is the chairman of the Association of Indigenous Peoples in Taimyr, executive secretary of the aforementioned Aborigen Forum, and a leader of Amyaksin, the local Dolgan community organisation. Speaking to GV by telephone, he said, “so far our appeals to Norilsk Nickel and to the authorities have brought no results. That is why we are forced to address to the possible buyers of Norilsk Nickel’s production, so they could help to bring attention to the lack of environmental sustainability of the plants. The oil spill was the last straw for our patience”.
Shchukin explained today’s indigenous communities in the tundra of the Taymyr survive from fishing, hunting and bartering, exchanging fish and meat for sugar, medications, and whatever other products reach them despite vast distances and bad roads. “There is no money in the tundra”, he says. For Dolgans, the deadly pollution of Pyasino and all the linked rivers is not only an environmental disaster but also a financial and a cultural one – families have lost their only source of income and now face either starvation or exile from their homeland at least for the next 50 years, because that is how long it could take for the affected land and waters to be restored.
A letter that Shchukin, as a deputy of a district council, sent to Norilsk Nickel and local authorities after the disaster lists 33 recommendations on how the company could make up for the lost 50 years. Shchukin’s letter, seen by GV, recommends compensating Dolgans for the cost of resettlement and providing professional education for Dolgan youths who now cannot learn their traditional lifestyle.
“In the last decade”, says Shchukin, “there was no significant activity in cleaning of refuse deposits, adding purification plants or filters, and we cannot control any changes. We have no voice on any environmental programme in the region, and even the idea of our representatives being experts on the commission is nonexistent. However, we have no choice but to fight because we simply have nowhere to go. Most of Norilsk Nickel’s workers have roots somewhere else in Russia, so they can say: ‘Let locals deal with it’ – and move elsewhere. But we live here, so we need to take action”.
In their last statement, released on September 15, PORA claims that their research found 700 indigenous people personally affected by the spill and eligible for compensation. When asked about PORA’s fact-finding mission, Shchukin said: “They contacted me not as a representative, but as an individual. However, the expertise they were providing was ethnological, not ecological one. It is also important, but not the same”.
The campaign is also supported by the Sámi people, who live in the Murmansk region where NorNickel operates its western division. As Sámi politician Andrey Danilov told GV, the aim is not to bring NorNickel to their knees but to establish constructive communication on environmental issues and give indigenous representatives a voice in the company’s planned activities, in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “Honestly, it is a unique situation” says Danilov, “when two different communities of indigenous people from two regions thousands of kilometres apart have joined together in an attempt to provoke and establish a dialogue with the same company — the dialogue they have the right to by international law”.
“It’s a funny thing”, Danilov continues, “as soon as we started the campaign, the local press started talking about how much NorNickel supports the Sámi community. We, on our end, remember only two such projects: a celebration in honour of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and a book in the Sámi language, full of grammar and spelling mistakes”.
Ecological concerns have also been raised in Murmansk region for many years. NorNickel’s products (nickel, copper, and cobalt) are all produced from a type of ore that usually contains a large proportion of sulphur. This means that the extraction process is associated with high concentrations of sulphur dioxide (SO2). The company website acknowledges that for 2019, emissions from all NorNickel plants reached 1,953,000 tons of sulphur dioxide per year – this is approximately five thousand tons per day and an increase on the previous year. When that gas is released in the humid Arctic air, it reacts with water droplets and produces an unstable version of sulphuric acid, leading to acid rain. Consequently, as a recent Novaya Gazeta article about NorNickel put it, the nickel plants are surrounded by a “lunar landscape” which stands in stark contrast to the Arctic tundra. A recent research paper in dendroclimatology showed serious consequences of NorNickel’s pollution for boreal forests, as well as for the climate in general.
Andrey Zolotkov, who heads the environmental organisation Bellona-Murmansk, explained in a phone interview with GV that air pollution has been a thorn in Russian-Norwegian relations since the 1990s. One of NorNickel’s plants is visible from Kirkenes, a Norwegian border town. There’s even a popular environental movement in Norway, established in 1990, called “Stop the Soviet death clouds”. In 2016, the movement tried bringing the issue of NorNickel pollution to the attention of the main nickel buyers: Apple and Tesla. The last international scandal happened in January 2019, when a cloud of sulphur dioxide drifted over the border and forced the Norwegian municipal authorities to trigger a health-warning alarm.
Zolotkov agrees that there has been some progress. In 2016, NorNickel modernised the processing at its plant in Zapolyarny, bringing pollution levels almost to zero. Over the last 18 years, the quality of air in Monchegorsk has reached acceptable range again – except for two separate episodes in the last two years. According to NorNickel’s May 2020 report, the company officially promised to close its melting workshop in Nickel by December 25, 2020. Furthermore, in 2019 NorNickel launched the “Sulphur Project”, a drive for sustainable development which promises an 85 percent reduction of total sulphur dioxide emissions from the company’s Kola division by 2021 and a 90 percent reduction from the Taymyr division by 2025.
Indigenous Sámi people are not yet convinced by these promises. But many international organisations are on the campaigners’ side. On September 7, the Saami Council – an NGO representing indigenous people based in Finland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden – put out a rare statement in support of indigenous peoples of the Russian Arctic and their campaign against NorNickel. Furthermore, the indigenous rights organisation Cultural Survival is gathering signatures for an open letter to be delivered to Tesla’s offices in Palo Alto, California. More than 70 indigenous, clean energy, climate, and mining justice organisations around the world support their plea, which in turn leads to the hope that this campaign could set a precedent.
Meanwhile, on September 26 Vladimir Potanin gave an interview to the Vesti news programme to clear his company’s name. He explained how NorNickel paid for cleaning procedures after the spill. He complained that the record $2.1 billion fine imposed on the company by Rosprirodnadzor, Russia’s environmental watchdog, was too high.
He also expressed confidence that Russia’s response to unprecedented ecological disasters unprecedented ecological disasters like this, “confirms its right to hold a chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2021-2023”.
Humanity today face multiple crises. A pandemic grips societies around the globe and with each passing year greed, poor governance, and naivete push us further toward a climate change forced sixth great extinction and the collapse of ecosystems. It may already be too late to prevent the looming catastrophe of climate change. But there is an overlooked and undervalued blueprint for our survival. We must turn for help to the Indigenous Peoples who have, for millennia, provided effective stewardship of our planet.
Most of humanity have been grossly negligent in our use of the Earth. Businesses run according to self-interest have ignored the warnings of scientists to the detriment of a global community of bystanders. Governments have failed to attend to the long-term environmental and climate effects of those actions through necessary regulation and enforcement. And urban individuals and families continue to make choices with little if any understanding of how their consumption impacts the planet and our future on it.
Our planet has experienced five previous extinction events—the most recent responsible for the disappearance of the dinosaurs. If we are to minimize the impact of growing threats to the ecological systems essential to human life and prevent the planet’s sixth mass extinction, we need to protect the last remaining areas on earth that are relatively intact.
When we say “intact” we mean those dwindling places that still retain almost complete assemblages of native plants and animals, and where species are still interacting at ecologically functional population levels. Intact places resist climate change because they have multiple, redundant networks for capturing, using, and reusing energy. They better conserve plant and animal species and their complex ecological interactions, than degraded areas, when impacted by floods, fires and droughts. They sequester massive amounts of carbon and they keep wildlife pathogens out of reach of humans for whom they pose a deadly threat.
The current health, economic and environmental crises are shifting public opinion around the world about our role in damaging our Planet. Today there is a growing willingness to take decisive actions that are vital for humanity’s future.
Effectively and equitably protecting at least 30 percent of the world on land and sea by 2030, is one such way forward. But we need to be very clear that attaining this goal of “30 by 30” cannot happen unless governments, businesses, grant makers, and civil society respect and protect the territorial rights and traditional stewardship of Indigenous Peoples.
Wise stewardship of natural resources by Indigenous Peoples within their traditional territories has had a profoundly positive impact on the conservation of plant and animal species on land and in rivers, lakes, and coastal waters.
The decisions Indigenous Peoples have made over generations have done more to protect the planet’s species and ecological systems than all the protected areas established and managed by individual countries combined. The majority of our planet’s last wild, ecologically intact places on land exist because Indigenous Peoples rely on them for their wellbeing and cultural sense of self.
John Fa and his colleagues have estimated that 36 percent of ecologically intact forests lie within Indigenous Peoples’ territories. And Stephen Garnett and his colleagues note that though Indigenous Peoples represent less than 5 percent of the human population on earth, they currently manage or have rights over “many of the world’s most sparsely populated, intact places.” And just last week, Chris O’Bryan and his colleagues showed that 646 mammal species—around 14 per cent of those assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)—have more than half of their ranges within these lands.
That said, we know that these preliminary assessments grossly underestimate the extent of Indigenous Peoples’ territories. If you were to map the areas in which the loss of species and ecosystems has not occurred or is minimal, it would align with those last ecologically intact places on earth and the territories of Indigenous Peoples.
If we are to minimize species loss and a collapse in ecosystem function, we must do all we can to support Indigenous Peoples’ rights and their efforts to protect their lands and waters. This means respecting and enforcing their territorial rights and ensuring that they can exercise their legitimate authority to determine who has access to and can use their resources.
International conservation organizations should and do play a role in providing on-the-ground assistance to Indigenous Peoples.
Working respectfully with Indigenous Peoples to support their efforts and hear their concerns is both a moral imperative and one of the most effective pathways to achieve the 30×30 goals, protect and conserve the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystem functions, and ensure a sustainable, healthy, and equitable future for all of humanity.
David Wilkie is Executive Director for Rights + Communities at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society); Susan Lieberman is Vice President for International Policy at WCS; James Watson directs the Science and Research Initiative at the Wildlife Conservation Society and is a professor of conservation science at the University of Queensland. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) actively engages with 205 groups of Indigenous Peoples in 39 countries around the world to help them protect their lands and waters.
Global upswell of civil society organisations, communities and academics tells EC to align raw materials sourcing plans with the interests of people and planet.
Over 230 civil society organisations, community platforms and academics are urging the European Commission to reassess its plans for sourcing the raw materials it claims Europe will need to realise energy, industrial and military transitions.
The Commission’s plans risk destroying climate-critical ecosystems and sowing social conflict in Europe and in the Global South, authors of a collective letter that has received global support have warned.
The letter comes in response to the Commission’s forth September announcement of a new Raw Materials Action plan, which sets out how to meet Europe’s growing demand for ‘critical’ raw materials, such as lithium and cobalt, used in renewables and other strategic industries.
While the Commission speaks of its plans in terms of sustainability and a green recovery, the letter raises serious concerns that Europe’s current plans for sourcing critical minerals and metals will be far from sustainable.
Instead, the authors argue, plans to intensify resource extraction to meet growing demand, if realised, will place communities, biodiversity and even climate action at risk.
Guadalupe Rodriguez, who works on forest and extractive issues for Spanish NGO Salva La Selva, said: “The European Commission’s plans are encouraging mining projects in both the Global South and in European countries like Portugal and Spain, which we could call the ‘South of the North’.”
“In these places mining is causing ecological devastation, while new mining proposals are full of irregularities, lack transparency and are faced with growing resistance from local citizens, which is being ignored.
“Far from achieving a ‘green transition’, the Commission’s current plans effectively push for business as usual in line with European interests, at the cost of communities and the Earth.”
Plans to expand mining globally to meet the massive projected growth in mineral and metal demand, partly driven by transitions to renewable energy, could undermine climate change mitigation efforts by destroying biodiverse ecosystems essential to the functioning of the global climate system, the latest scientific studies show.
A new paper published in the prestigious Nature Communications Journal this month found that: “Mining potentially influences 50 million km2 of Earth’s land surface, with 8 percent coinciding with Protected Areas, 7 percent with Key Biodiversity Areas, and 16 percent with Remaining Wilderness … Most mining areas (82 percent) target materials needed for renewable energy production”.
These numbers are set to increase in a global, market-led rush for so-called critical minerals and metals. The authors of the study conclude that, if this boom goes unchecked, “new threats to biodiversity (from mining) may surpass those averted by climate change mitigation.”
Hal Rhoades, northern European coordinator of the Yes to Life, No to Mining Network, said: “We cannot mine our way out of the climate crisis.”
“To display true climate leadership, the EC needs to establish and put in place policies for a low-energy, low-material transition in Europe, with a far greater focus on demand reduction and recycling. It also needs to contribute a fair share of support to Global South nations to redress the relentless, centuries-long extraction of wealth from the South to Europe.”
By refusing to consider options for de-growing Europe’s material consumption and alternative means of measuring wellbeing and progress other than GDP, the authors argue that the European Commission’s latest action plan represents business as usual and a threat to ambitious climate action.
While the European Commission’s new Action Plan does mention the importance of recycling and a circular economy, the authors of the open letter challenge the fundamental logic of economic growth that underlies the plans and policies.
They lay out a series of alternative recommendations to the Commission which could help put Europe on course for a truly just, green and sustainable future, including:
Speaking to these recommendations, Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice and new economies campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “Europe’s desperate plunder for more raw materials must stop. We need a truly just and equitable transformation to a 100 percent renewable energy future and an economy within environmental limits. This means rich countries must reduce our consumption of resources, respect communities’ right to say no to mining, and end exploitation.”
Marianne Brooker is The Ecologist’s content editor. This article is based on a press release from Yes to Life, No to Mining.
The UN Secretary-General released his annual report today on reprisals and intimidation against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the UN on human rights. Once again, the report identifies a very concerning number of threats and attacks aimed at silencing human rights defenders in retaliation for engaging with the UN, with evidence that a number of States have a strategy or systematic approach to obstructing and punishing those who give information, evidence or testimony in relation to human rights.
‘The Secretary-General’s report is appalling. Human rights defenders are integral to the international human rights system. If they are not able to safely share information about violations and abuses taking place in their countries, the entire system is undermined,’ said Madeleine Sinclair, New York Office Co-Director and Legal Counsel at ISHR.
ISHR contributed to the report through a submission documenting a number of cases. These demonstrate a disturbing pattern. Cases of reprisals featured in the submission range from States dangerously maligning defenders to killing them. In Venezuela, increased monitoring of the situation by the UN has been met with increased risk, stigmatisation and harassment of defenders working with the human rights mechanisms. In the Philippines, human rights defenders continue to be vilified by the government and accused of being terrorists. Defenders in Honduras, India, Thailand, Cuba and Yemen continue to be threatened and harassed. In Russia and Cameroon, defenders who engaged with the UN have been refused entry to the country. Defenders working on China continue to be smeared and discredited and there continues to be no investigation into the death of Cao Shunli, who was jailed and died in custody for trying to provide information to the UN. Defenders in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia remain in jail because they dared to engage in international advocacy. Other countries cited in ISHR’s submission include The Bahamas, Brazil, Burundi, Mexico, Morocco, and the United States.
‘Around the world, human rights defenders continue to work tirelessly for a society that is more free, equal, just and sustainable. Because of their work, defenders continue to face unacceptable risks. They are threatened, harassed, stigmatised, attacked, jailed, even killed— there is much work to be done to ensure defenders can safely engage with the UN,’ added Sinclair.
The SG’s report documents cases from 45 countries. The vast majority are countries that have been cited in the report before. New countries cited this year include Andorra, Cambodia, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Laos and Libya. The report also documents a much larger number of countries where a pattern of intimidation and reprisals is occurring (11 this year, compared to three last year). These include Bahrain, Burundi, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Israel, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Venezuela. Nearly all cases addressed in previous Secretary-General reports have not been adequately resolved.
‘Is this report working as a means of addressing the problem if the cases and number of perpetrating States remains so high, and there is little to no satisfactory resolution of cases once they’ve been documented? What does seem to ‘work’ is reprisals – they dissuade engagement, and perpetrators are emboldened when nothing is actually done about these attacks’, said Sinclair.
‘Documenting reprisals in a report is important but it’s only the first step. The UN and Member States must do more! We need consistent and meaningful follow up and we need more States speaking out loudly and often about these shocking cases. The report is presented every year to States: States should use that opportunity to hold their peers accountable, speak out about specific cases, push for accountability, an end to impunity, and reparations for victims,’ Sinclair concluded.
The International Energy Agency (IEA), together with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), proposed a sustainable recovery plan to world governments. There will be no better time to move the economy into a green direction, experts say. Representatives of the Russian Socio-Ecological Union, who’ve launched an initiative to collect proposals for a green recovery from the crisis, agree with them.
Since the signs of the economic crisis began to manifest, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has repeatedly called on governments to make the recovery as sustainable and green as possible. That is, to emerge from the global recession through cleaner and safer energy systems. In recent months, energy economists have also joined in searching a way to recover from the pandemic.
A remarkable tandem, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have released the Sustainable Recovery Plan. As the developers of the document say, they are driven by the “sense of urgency of the moment”. “Governments have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reboot their economies: they can turn 2020 into a year, when the world starts to win both climate change and coronavirus,” says Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency.
The Sustainable Recovery Plan offers governments a three-year roadmap in the energy sector to stimulate economic growth, create millions of jobs and reduce global emissions. The energy policy transformation in response to the economic shock caused by the Covid-19 crisis should accelerate the introduction of modern, reliable and clean energy technologies and infrastructure changes, the plan says.
“Together with the IMF, we have reviewed all possible energy strategies and focus on those that will meet three objectives: stimulate economic growth, create jobs and avoid a recovery in greenhouse gas emissions. And we put forward three proposals: first, to improve energy efficiency, especially in the construction sector; second, to promote the use of renewable energy sources; and third, to modernise and digitize electricity networks,” explains Fatih Birol.
The Sustainable Recovery Plan is based on detailed assessments of more than 30 specific energy policy measures in three categories: electricity (including renewable energy), expansion and strengthening of electricity networks, development of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, energy efficiency measures in buildings, industry and transport, and a separate category for “new technologies,” such as energy storage systems and hydrogen. The measures in the plan will require a global investment of $1 trillion. One third of the funding is expected to come from governments and the rest from private sources.
According to the IEA and IMF Plan, global economic growth would be, on average, 1.1 per cent per year higher than without green recovery measures. At the same time, about 9 million jobs will be created and retained annually, and by the end of 2023, emissions will be 4.5 Gt lower than at present. Implementation of the plan will also contribute to achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals: improving air quality by 5%; providing access to clean energy for 420 million people and electricity for 270 million.
The global energy sector will also become more resilient, which will make countries more prepared for future crises. If the Plan is implemented, 2019 will be the last peak in global emissions, enabling the global community to meet long-term climate targets and the Paris Agreement.
In their document, the IEA and IMF highlight key aspects of the current situation that make it unique: “Compared to 2009, we have at least three main advantages. First, the cost of clean energy technology is now much lower. Secondly, this year’s emission reduction is very steep. And thirdly, many governments around the world are taking environmental climate issues much more seriously today than they were a decade ago. So we hope that governments will pass the test this time,” says Fatih Birol.
“Even if we forget about the climate and environment, the implementation of the strategy presented by the IEA and IMF creates jobs and helps to lift the economy,” write the developers of Sustainable Recover.
During the IEA Ministerial Summit in early July, leaders from four-fifths of the world’s energy consumption were invited to discuss ways to accelerate the clean energy transition and a recovery plan. According to experts, Europe has already developed a very strong incentive package for renewable energy. Canada and Japan have also taken steps in this direction.
Civil society representatives have also stressed the need for green recovery strategies. The Russian Social and Ecological Union (RSEU) together with non-governmental organizations of the world within the framework of the Just Recovery initiative addressed politicians, economists, governments and banks demanding that they use only environmentally friendly and socially responsible ways out of the crisis. Recently, Greenpeace Russia and the RSoEU have jointly launched a platform to put together proposals for a green recovery.
The United Nations is marking its 75th anniversary at a time of great challenge, including the worst global health crisis in its history. Will it bring the world closer together? Or will it lead to greater divides and mistrust? Your views can make a difference.
Covid-19 is a stark reminder of the need for cooperation across borders, sectors and generations. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has said:“Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and the many other global challenges we face.”
Your responses to this survey will inform global priorities now and going forward.
Every year in August and September, the people of Ust’-Avam, a remote indigenous community located in the Taimyr region of the Russian Arctic, toss nets into the Avam River to catch tugunok fish, an important traditional food. This year, the community stopped fishing early, around the start of the month. There were no tugunok to be found. Nor could locals find the fish at other common sites along the river basin fed by Lake Pyasino, which lies just a few miles north of the industrial city of Norilsk.
Gennady Shchukin, a member of the Dolgan ethnic group, has little doubt about the culprit: In late May, a reserve fuel tank at a power plant near Norilsk burst open, flooding local waterways with an estimated 23,000 tons of diesel oil. The spilled oil drifted for miles, turning part of the Ambarnaya River that feeds Lake Pyasino bright red. Norilsk Nickel, the Russian nickel mining company responsible for the spill, says it acted swiftly to contain the pollution. But Shchukin worries the contamination is far more widespread than the company claims, and that his people will be living with the consequences for years.
“We expect that the river was poisoned for a long period,” Shchukin told Grist in Russian via a translator. “Maybe for several years there will be no fish in these rivers, and in the lake. This is very difficult, of course, for indigenous people.”
But Shchukin isn’t sitting idly by. Last month, Aborigen Forum, a group of Russian indigenous activists and leaders that Shchukin heads up, launched a campaign to raise awareness of Norilsk Nickel’s impacts on their communities and to demand restitution. Rather than focus on an obscure Arctic mining company, Aborigen Forum is appealing to someone more likely to grab international headlines: Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla.
Nickel is a key ingredient in the cathodes of electric car batteries, allowing them to store more energy more cheaply. Tesla, and other EV makers, need lots of it. But Aborigen Forum wants Musk to commit that his company won’t buy any nickel that can be traced to Norilsk until the Russian megapolluter cleans up its act.
“We don’t want the next industrial revolution of electric cars and clean energy developed for the price of indigenous peoples’ rights and traditional lands,” said Dmitry Berezhkov, a member of the Aborigen Forum network and the coordinator of a social media campaign to get Musk’s attention. “We think if Tesla could elaborate strategy and rules for itself in the field of human rights and indigenous peoples’ rights with regards to nickel, it could be a good opportunity to influence the general nickel market.”
Aborigen Forum’s appeal to Musk was inspired by an appeal from the Tesla CEO himself. In a second-quarter earnings call in July, Musk was asked what are the biggest constraints to Tesla’s battery production capabilities. His response: nickel.
“Any mining companies out there: Please mine more nickel,” Musk said on the call. “Tesla will give you a giant contract, for a long period of time, if you mine nickel efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way.”
Norilsk Nickel, also known as Nornickel, is one of the largest nickel producers on Earth. It claims to be the largest producer of so-called class 1 or high-purity nickel, the type coveted by battery manufacturers. Demand for high-purity nickel is predicted to surge as the electric car market grows. While it’s not clear how much of Nornickel’s product currently winds up in car batteries, it’s “definitely a direction” producers like it are looking at in terms of growth, said Allan Ray Restauro, a metals analyst at the clean energy consultancy firm BloombergNEF.
In 2018, Nornickel signed an agreement with BASF to supply nickel to a battery materials plant the German chemical company would be constructing in Finland. Once up and running, the plant is expected to furnish the European auto market with enough battery materials to support the production of 300,000 new EVs per year. Nornickel also has “a number of private contracts” with battery makers elsewhere around the world, according to Greg Miller, a nickel analyst at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a lithium battery research firm.
It is unclear whether that includes contracts with any companies supplying Tesla, such as South Korea’s LG Chem or Japan’s Panasonic; neither company responded to a request for comment on the matter. Tesla and Nornickel also didn’t respond when asked about their relationship. But many Russian indigenous activists feel that Tesla shouldn’t be sourcing from Nornickel now, especially if it’s interested in nickel that is being mined, as Musk put it, in an “environmentally sensitive way.”
Even before this year’s oil spill, Nornickel was one of the biggest polluters in the entire Arctic. Its nickel production sites on the Taimyr Peninsula and its refineries on the Kola Peninsula are both enormous sources of regional air pollution; the Taimyr operations alone are responsible for roughly double the annual sulfur dioxide emissions of the entire United States, according to a figure Greenpeace Russia attributes to The Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring. Discharges of contaminated wastewater from Nornickel’s industrial facilities have resulted in severe heavy metal pollution in nearby water bodies and soils. Locals, Shchukin says, call the area around the city of Norilsk — a vast wasteland of dead trees and mud — “poison territory.”
When a diesel storage tank at a Nornickel-owned natural gas power plant ruptured on May 29, a chronic environmental affliction became an acute crisis. The leak, which prompted Russian president Vladimir Putin to declare a federal emergency in early June, has been described as the second-largest oil accident in modern Russian history; Greenpeace has compared it to 1989’s infamous Exxon Valdez spill. In July, Rosprirodnadzor, Russia’s federal environmental watchdog, estimated the spill had caused some $2.1 billion in environmental damage. (Nornickel disputes this figure.)
In response to the accident, Nornickel claims it has taken a number of steps. In June it set out containment booms on the Ambarnaya River, which it says prevented the oil from seeping into Lake Pyasino, and removed 185,000 metric tons of contaminated soil. By mid-June, the company says it had removed 90 percent of the leaked fuel; by the end of October, Nornickel plans to have collected the rest and treated contaminated river shores.
Members of Aborigen Forum, however, are doubtful of Nornickel’s rosy appraisal of the situation—based both on what they’ve witnessed on the ground and on their long history of dealing with the company. And while Nornickel also launched an “ethnological expert review” to assess the spill’s impact on local indigenous communities and created a new department for indigenous interactions, activists believe these measures are a sham. They say that indigenous voices critical of the company are routinely ignored. Nornickel didn’t respond to a request for comment on these claims.
“I fear that the extent of the problem isn’t truly represented and the spill is much more dangerous than what is being portrayed to us,” said Pavel Sulyandziga, a member of Aborigen Forum who lives in the United States, via a Russian translator. Sulyandziga runs the Batani Foundation, an indigenous rights group. “There will definitely be an impact on the traditional way of life, especially fishing.” Shchukin and others in the indigenous community also fear that reindeer, another traditional food source, could be poisoned or driven away by the contamination.
Independent researchers share these concerns. Writing in the Conversation in July, three Arctic researchers warned of potentially widespread ecological impacts due to the accumulation of toxins in the water and soil — even water and soil that were purportedly cleaned by the company. “Over months and years, these toxins will build up within the food chain, starting with the microscopic organisms and eventually causing health problems in larger organisms such as fish and birds,” the researchers wrote.
After hearing Nornickel claim that it had removed 90 percent of the spilled fuel by June, Elena Sakirko, an energy campaigner with Greenpeace Russia, decided to travel to Norilsk to conduct her own analysis. Her team’s results were inconclusive. Although the soil, water, and sediment samples they collected from Lake Pyasino and the Pyasina river didn’t show high levels of pollution, Sakirko and her colleagues were unable to sample in the locations where they expected to see severe contamination based on satellite data, due in part to police interference. Several months later, Sakirko remains doubtful that Nornickel has done as complete of a cleanup as it says, but admits it’s hard to prove anything without a more rigorous analysis.
“I think an accident of such scale, happening for the first time in this region, we can’t have the full picture of possible consequences without proper research,” Sakirko said.
It’s against this backdrop that, when Aborigen Forum learned that Tesla’s CEO was calling for more environmentally friendly nickel mining, the group decided to hold the billionaire to his word. On August 6, the form released an open letter to Musk asking that his company boycott nickel and other products from Nornickel until the company conducts a “full and independent assessment” of the damage from its past operations and the recent oil spill, compensates indigenous communities for damages, implements an environmental remediation plan for lands it has degraded, and develops guidelines for community engagement that are informed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Those guidelines should include obtaining “free and informed consent” prior to embarking on projects that will impact indigenous lands, something the Russian government hasn’t exactly made a priority.
The goal of the letter was to “use a public name like Elon Musk as an instrument to attract more attention to the Arctic issue, and to the Arctic pollution and the rights of indigenous peoples,” said Rodion Sulyandziga, a member of the Aborigen Forum and the director of the Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North. As one of the world’s top so-called green companies, he said, Tesla can “show and demonstrate a new approach in terms of environmental nature rights and local indigenous peoples’ rights.”
Thea Riofrancos, a political scientist at Providence College in Rhode Island who studies conflicts around the extraction of metals required for green technologies, says that Aborigen Forum was smart to focus its campaign on Musk, both because of Tesla’s market power and because of the perception that sustainability is baked into its DNA.
“Literally EVs are about decarbonizing,” Riofrancos said. “So ‘are they good for the environment,’ ‘are they good for the climate,’ ‘are they good for local communities’ are much more charged and salient questions than [in] industries that don’t have any claim to helping confront the climate crisis.”
Tesla did not respond to Grist’s request to comment for this story. So far, neither the company nor Musk himself has made any public responses to Aborigen Forum’s appeal. But activists aren’t giving up: A week after the letter went live, Aborigen Forum asked the public to help signal boost it by posting supportive messages within their social networks using the hashtags #AnswerUsElonMusk, #NoNickelfromNornickel, and #DefendIndigenousArctic. Berezhkov, the social media campaign director, says that Aborigen Forum is also reaching out to indingeous communities around the world, as well as youth activist groups, to garner additional support.
The group’s efforts are paying off: On September 7, the Saami Council, an NGO representing a group of indigenous people who live in Finland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden, put out a statement in support of Aborigen Forum’s appeal. Indigenous rights organization Cultural Survival, meanwhile, is currently gathering signatures on its own open letter asking Tesla not to associate with Nornickel, which it delivered to the Palo Alto, California-based company on September 16. More than 70 indigenous, clean energy, climate, and mining justice organizations around the world have already signed on.
Berezhkov is hopeful that Tesla’s long-anticipated Battery Day, slated for Tuesday, September 22, will draw additional media scrutiny to the campaign. For months, industry watchers have speculated that Tesla will announce new details concerning its efforts to produce cobalt-free batteries, part of the company’s response to widespread concern over environmental and human rights abuses documented at cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“We’ve seen shockwaves of scrutiny around cobalt sourcing having massive, sector-wide impacts,” said Benjamin Hitchcock Auciello, a campaign coordinator at environmental nonprofit Earthworks, which signed the Cultural Survival letter. The fact that a grassroots effort to raise awareness of abuses in the nickel sector is now piquing the public’s interest, he said, “really shows that there’s some momentum here.”
If the campaign causes Nornickel to lose out on a massive nickel contract, Auciello believes that will have an impact “not only on their policies, but on the sector more broadly.” It could, perhaps, be the first step toward the development of international standards for what responsibly sourced nickel looks like.
But whether any of that comes to pass is still a big if.
“In the context of whether Tesla or battery manufacturers can sideline Nornickel, I think that’s going to be very difficult still because there’s already a tight market,” said Restauro, the BloombergNEF analyst. And companies producing nickel from laterite ores in the South Pacific are likely to score just as badly if not worse in terms of their impact, Restauro said, because the process of refining these ores into high-grade nickel produces toxic waste tailings that may wind up getting disposed of at sea.
That said, on September 11, Reuters reported that Tesla was in talks with Canadian miner Giga Metals about helping it develop a low-carbon nickel mining operation, suggesting the electric carmaker indeed may be focused on procuring nickel from more environmentally-friendly, and local, sources.
To be clear, Aborigen Forum isn’t asking that Tesla or the larger EV industry boycott Nornickel forever. The group just wants to have a say in how the company conducts business on indigenous lands. Shchukin said that the best result of the campaign would be for Nornickel to organize a “real negotiation” with indigenous peoples that results in greater indigenous participation in environmental monitoring and in Nornickel providing more essential services, like healthcare and education, to local communities.
“Right now, Nornickel has a chance of really building a good model of interaction and work with indigenous communities,” said Sulyandziga of the Batani Foundation. “I’m very skeptical that they will do so, but I still hope for that.”
The Lhaqtemish people of Lummi Nation have lived in a reciprocal relationship with Xw’ullemy (the Salish Sea bioregion) since time immemorial. They are people of the sea whose culture, sacred sites, and life ways are tied to their territorial waters, and to the orca whales and salmon who share those waters.
The Lummi term for “orca” is “qwe’lhol’mechen,” which loosely translates into “our relations under the waves.” Lummi teachings hold orca whales are simply people in whale regalia, and that Lummi people and the resident orcas are bound by ties of intermarriage, society, and spirit. Lummi and qwe’lhol’mechen cultures mirror each other in many ways: we both rely on Chinook salmon; our teachings and rituals are passed down through the generations; and our families are tight.
Another way in which Lummi and qwe’lhol’mechen experiences are similar is the trauma of colonization and child abduction. Many Lummi children were stolen from their families and placed into boarding schools where they were forced to hide their language, culture, and spirituality. Our qwe’lhol’mechen also went through a time when their children were stolen.
50 years ago, a young qwe’lhol’mechen was violently taken from her family in the Salish Sea. She was stolen from her mother, from her resident orca relations, and from her Lummi relations. She was captured by men and sold to the Miami Seaquarium. Her captors called her “Tokitae;” the Miami Seaquarium gave her the stage name “Lolita.” Her Lummi name is Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut.
She has been held in a tiny concrete tank for 50 years and made to perform daily for her food. For decades, many people and organizations have fought to free her, but have been unsuccessful in their attempts. Now, however, two Lummi women are invoking their unique legal rights as Indigenous people, as well as their cultural, spiritual, and kinship rights, to bring Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut home to her Salish Sea family. Squil-le-he-le (Raynell Morris) and Tah-Mahs (Ellie Kinley) are backed by the expertise of the Earth Law Center and the Whale Sanctuary Project.
Bringing Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut home will help heal her, her family, the Lummi people, and the Salish Sea. This act of healing will resonate with other acts of healing throughout the world, wherever Indigenous people are working to save the lands and waters they call home. This is not simply practical or legal work, it is spiritual work. For this reason, we are holding an international, collective ceremony for Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut.
We are respectfully asking if you might hold ceremony, in your own cultural way, for Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut. For Tah-Mahs and Squil-le-he-le, holding ceremony for Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut means placing cedar boughs on the sea waves and saying a prayer for Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut, but we honor whatever way you hold ceremony, and are grateful for your spiritual and cultural support. We would be further honored if you might video your ceremony and allow us to share a clip during our virtual event on September 24th, as well as post it on our Ceremonies for Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut Facebook page.This way, people around the world can witness one another’s ceremonies, and we can send a collective prayer to her.
Hy’shqe! (Thank you).
Facebook page “Ceremonies for Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut”: https://www.facebook.com/Ceremonies-for-Skalichelh-tenaut-111624844000057
Compilation and maintenance of the list of small-numbered indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation became another function of the governmental system of monitoring in the sphere of interethnic and interreligious relations and early conflict prevention to be operated by FADN (Federal Agency of Ethnic Affairs). An appropriate ruling was signed by the Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin.
The system of monitoring of the interethnic sphere was launched at the end of 2016. By the end of 2017, it was implemented in all regions of the Russian Federation. At the same time, the Government approved the goals and objectives of the monitoring system in the sphere of interethnic relations.
According to the new amendments, “one more function of the monitoring system, besides the identification of and response to the conflict situations, will be “registration of persons belonging to the small-numbered indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation” and “compilation of the list of persons belonging to them.”
These amendments concluded the many years of work aimed at creating united registry of the small-numbered indigenous peoples of Russia, which was handed over to the Federal Agency of Ethnic Affairs last June.
The authors of this governmental ruling assume that the registry will resolve one of the main problems of indigenous peoples by simplifying their access to the natural resources they traditionally use. They would also not have to collect and submit documents every year because the list will contain all relevant information.
This will be the first example of compilation and maintenance of a nationwide list of the small-numbered indigenous peoples in Russian history. Historically such registers existed locally in some regions only.
Compilation of the indigenous peoples’ registry was actively supported by the Russian Association of indigenous peoples of the North (RAIPON) and its president and deputy of the RF State Duma Grigory Ledkov. In one of the interviews, he said that “this federal law will let the Association pursue systemic activities to improve the lives of indigenous peoples.”
It should be noted that the development of monitoring the sphere of interethnic and interreligious relations was started in 2015. In February 2016, the President of Russia instructed the FSB (Federal Security Service), General Prosecutor’s Office, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications, Roskomnadzor, and FADN (Federal Agency of Ethnic Affairs), with other Federal Government stakeholders, to submit their proposals on the organization of information threats’ monitoring on the Internet.
This instruction was given to Alexander Bortnikov, FSB Director, Yuri Chayka, RF General Prosecutor, Alexander Konovalov, Minister of Justice, Nikolai Nikiforov, Minister of Telecom and Mass Communications, Alexander Zharov, Roskomnadzor Director, Igor Barinov, Director of the Federal Agency of Ethnic Affairs. However, Alexander Bortnikov, FSB Director, was appointed an official in charge.
According to the Federal Agency of Ethnic Affairs, the national system of monitoring the inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations and early prevention of the conflict situations created by FADN is designed primarily to identify illegal online activities. All regions of the Russian Federation are connected to the system; 48 of them had their municipal units connected to it, which, according to FADN, enables the maximum use of artificial intelligence.
Among the system users are the Administration of the Russian President, the institute of President’s Representatives in Federal Districts, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, the National Antiterrorism Committee, the Russian Ministry of Defense. The system’s database includes over 25 mln. entries. It has information on 90 thousand media, 220 thousand NGOs, 3.2 thousand Cossack organizations, 2.1 thousand communities of the small-numbered indigenous peoples (data as of 2018).
It should also be noted that no such indigenous peoples’ registries exist in international practice. The only similar local population registry was created in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China (earlier Eastern Turkistan) populated by the Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking people belonging to the Sunni branch of Islam.
Source – iRussia
Amid the pandemic, six Indigenous villagers, including Kinipan community leader Effendi Buhing, and two Indigenous youth, were arrested by the Central Kalimantan Police, in Indonesia, for defending their customary forest against the expansion of PT Sawit Mandiri Lestari (PT SML), a palm oil company. Buhing was arrested on August 26, while the other five were arrested on August 15.
All of them were released, but are now facing criminal charges for the alleged theft of chainsaw owned by the palm oil company. This chainsaw was confiscated by the villagers to stop the PT SML from further destroying their customary forest.
Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI) and Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara – AMAN (National Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago – Indonesia) strongly condemn these recent arrests and criminalization of the Kinipan villagers, which violates their internationally recognized right to their lands, territories, and resources.
The unwarranted act by the police was in retaliation to the protest actions and growing resistance of Kinipan villagers against the forcible eviction from their lands by palm oil company.
In response to the encroachment of PT SML into Laman Kinipan customary territories, the community registered their customary territories to the Customary Territory Registration Agency in March 2017. A certificate for the land was also given to the Laman Kinipan Indigenous Peoples community on July 27, 2017.
According to AMAN, the Laman Kinipan community found out that their forest was being taken over by PT SML in April 2018. Consequently, the community imposed customary sanctions against the company after it destroyed their customary territory, and filed complaints to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, National Human Rights Institution Komnas HAM, and the Office of the Presidential Staff (KSP).
The complaints of the Laman Kinipan people are yet to be acted upon. However, when PT SML filed unwarranted charges of theft against Indigenous leader Buhing and the other five villagers, the police were quick to make the arrest and file the charges.
The arrest of Kinipan Community Leader Buhing clearly shows the double standards of the police forces. The arrest is used as a tactic to criminalize legitimate dissent so as to push for the illegal operations of PT SML into Laman Kinipan Indigenous Peoples customary lands. This tactic is being used globally to silence Indigenous Peoples in the face of the onslaught against their rights.
Even during Covid-19 pandemic, several Indigenous Peoples communities have become targets of criminalization and violence to give way to the operations of large-scale projects involving agribusiness and extractive industries.
If PT SML will have its way, 190, 000 hectares of forest will be lost; thereby reducing one of the biggest rain forests in Southeast Asia and causing severe damage to climate, biosphere, and ecosystem.
Laman Kinipan Indigenous Peoples have long been protecting their forest and environment from total destruction, yet they constantly face threats and violence, arrests and detentions, and criminalization for defending their lands, forests, and territories.
We call on President Joko Widodo, the Minsitry of Environment and Forestry, Ministry of Agrarian and Spatial Planning, the Indonesian Parliament, and the Indonesian Police:
If you are interested to be a signatory, please sign on this petition or send your FULL NAME, TITLE/POSITION, and ORGANIZATION/AFFILIATION to email@example.com or IPRIsecretariat@gmail.com.
You can sign on as an organization or as an individual, please indicate which options you are amenable to. Sign ons will close on September 15, 2020 at 16:00 (GMT +7), 05:00 (EST), 02:00 (PST), 17:00 (GMT +8).
NOTE: You are not required to donate to this petition.
(Photo credit: Laman Kinipan Community)