Authorities in Portugal have latched onto the words ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ to essentially dress-up mining interventions planned across the country that are neither green, nor sustainable.
This is the opinion of GEOTA – the Grupo de Estudos de Ordenamento do Território e Ambiente – an environmental NGO that has collaborated in many ‘Herculean struggles’, including the government’s hugely-contested and ultimately failed attempt to sink oil wells off practically every inch of Portuguese coastline.
GEOTA watched keenly as the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of Europe held another of its ‘events’ last week, this one on the concept of Green Mining, designed to “promote a sustainable and responsible way” to mine in various quarters of the mainland.
The companies taking part, with the government’s approval, defended the concept guaranteeing “maximum efficiency in the use of water, energy and minerals extracted” as well as the “minimisation of social, environmental and patrimonial impacts provoked by the effects of mining”.
But as far as GEOTA can deduce, “these projects are not as sustainable as they are presented to be”. Indeed the “appropriation of terms like ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ is wrong, says the NGO. This is, in short, another exercise in “Greenwashing” (for those unfamiliar with the term, greenwashing is an amalgam of ‘green’ and ‘brainwashing’. It was ‘created’ in the early 90s by NGO’s exposing environmentally harmful practices of big industrial groups).
Environmental engineer Joanaz de Melo, a member of GEOTA and lecturer in the Faculty of Science and Technology as the Universidade Nova de Lisboa explains: “The government has supported companies that want to mine mineral resources, highlighting the economic benefits of the activity and tending to devalue the environmental and social damage. In most of the affected areas there are local civic movements that oppose the installation of this industry, due to its negative effects on the environment, society and the economy”.
GEOTA’s belief is that if any entity should discover the resources available in Portugal it should be the State, “preferably through the national laboratory of energy and geology (LNEG)”.
The group also wants studies into alternatives (to mining) undertaken on a strategic European national and local level, so that potential conflicts of interest can be gauged.
For example, the ‘zeal’ to mine and refine lithium: GEOTA suggests “lithium mining in Portugal will not be competitive in a globalised market due to the high costs of extracting it in comparison with other countries”.
This is not the first time ‘experts’ have warned against the folly of viewing lithium as the next el Dorado.
Says Joanaz de Melo: “A strategic environmental impact study must be carried out on the range of exploration possibilities. Lithium should be seen as a potential strategic resource for the country, not a mere financial asset that can be exploited in the short-term at any cost.
“The environmental impacts of a mining operation can be substantially mitigated with good installation, operation, monitoring and inspection practices, however extractive activity will always carry significant negative impacts. Careful analysis is essential. (This analysis) should consider both the interests of local communities as well as the strategic value of other natural resources, namely biodiversity, water, soil and the landscape”.
GEOTA’s stand comes as in parliament this week environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes has been accused by minority party MPs of “closing his eyes” to the environmental problem of the proliferation of greenhouses in Odemira which (at last) local power is addressing.
A new law regulating mines was recently published by the current Socialist executive, and has been “roundly contested by environmentalists as well as some municipalities that object to having no ability to counter central decision-making”, wrote Expresso on Tuesday, adding that “for the minister projects of national interest do not have a binding opinion from local authorities, as they never have in their lives”.
Indeed Mr Matos Fernandes considers the law regulating mining represents “an enormous leap in environmental rigour and quality”. Says Expresso, as far as he is concerned, “there is no decarbonisation without lithium”.