In response to a Public Civil Action filed by indigenous and environmental organisations, the Brazilian Justice on Friday, February 21, 2020 ordered the temporary suspension of the environmental licensing process of a project that aims to install the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America, called Mina Guaíba.
The project calls for the installation of the mine in an area of more than 10,000 acres, located less than 18 miles from Porto Alegre, one of the largest cities in Brazil, and within a Metropolitan Region that is home to 4.5 million people. In addition to the risk of air contamination, the mine, it was gathered, would be set up close to the State Park of Delta do Jacuí, considered crucial to the conservation of watersheds that supply this population.
The enterprise, observers said, would also represent a blow to the Brazilian efforts to reduce its emissions. It would produce a total of up to 166 million tons of coal, along 27 years, and would be the first step to the installation of a pole of factories whose power would be supplied by the coal mine, according to the company responsible for the project, Copelmi.
In case all the coal that might be extracted in the mine was used, it would lead to the emission of up to 4.5 Gtons of CO2, which is equivalent to almost 10% of the global emissions in one year, according to an estimate made by Dr. Rualdo Menegat, a professor linked to the Institute of Geoscience of UFRGS, a prestigious university in Rio Grande do Sul, the Brazilian state where the mine would be located.
The civil action was filed by the initiative of the Arayara Institute and the Poty Guarani Indigenous Association, with the support of 350.org and the Mineral Coal Observatory. One of the main problems pointed out by these organisations was that the compulsory environmental impact report presented by Copelmi to the federal agencies ignored the presence of indigenous villages in the area directly affected by the project, notably the Tekoá Guajaiyvi Village of the Mbyá-Guarani people.
Since the mine may affect these indigenous communities directly, they should have been consulted “through appropriate procedures”, as defined by the Convention C169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), of which Brazil is a signatory.
The Brazilian Justice considered that the licensing process should be interrupted and that it can only continue after conclusive analysis of the impacts over the Indigenous communities by the government agency responsible for indigenous affairs, Funai.
This legal fight is part of a set of actions taken by the communities living near the area of the mine project. The mobilisations included street demonstrations, participation in public hearings and legislative sessions, community environmental education campaigns and legal measures against the irregularities committed by Copelmi, as in the case of the absence of consultation with the Indigenous Peoples affected.
Nicole Oliveira, 350.org’s Director in Latin America, said: “The fossil fuel industry plans have just been crushed by a court decision acting on behalf of Indigenous’ interests. This mine would be installed on top of the Latin America’s most important organic rice production by re-settled farming communities and would harm important artisanal fishing areas and Indigenous villages.
“This victory belongs to the people, the indigenous communities, farmers, activists and fishers, who did not fear the size of the fossil fuel and financial industries and joined forces to defeat the coal giant. Coal Golias has lost.
“Even if the company responsible for the mine tries to appeal, this victory is important because it delays an enterprise that goes against the interests of millions of people and shows that this project is legally vulnerable. Investors should know that they are putting their money in a promise that might never be fulfilled.”
Juliano Bueno de Araújo, Director of Campaigns for 350.org in Latin America, said: “The indigenous people who live in the region are already being affected by the mine, when those responsible for the project try to erase their existence and bypass the mandatory consultation they should do, but the communities will not let this happen. They are fighting the fossil fuel industry and winning big.”