On Wednesday 15th June, Greenpeace launched a campaign to save the Tapajos region of the Amazon rainforest from a proposed mega-dam that would flood an area of forest bigger than Greater London. From 27th June, Greenpeace will be targeting Siemens, who are in the running for building some of the mega-dam.
Some Facts About Siemens
- According to CEO Joe Kaeser, the company stands for fairness & integrity, ingenuity & quality & innovation. These values, as well as sustainability and responsibility, are supposed to shape their actions in the future.
- In the run up tot he UN Framework Convention on Climate Change COP in Paris (2015), Siemans announced it’s plans to be climate neutral by 2030.
- Siemens has committed to a wide range of environmental & human rights policies. If the company had applied them then Siemens would never have got involved with the Belo Monte project, let alone the Tapajos.
- In November 2006 a large-scale raid against Siemens offices and homes of senior management uncovered about 4300 illegal payments and more than 330 dubious projects on the company’s books. A total of €1.3 Billion had been paid.
- In Brazil, Siemens received a 5-year ban in 2014 on bidding for or signing federal contracts following accusations that Siemens had paid to obtain contracts from the Brazilian Post Office & Telegraph Corporation between 1999 and 2004.
The Tapajos River is the last major river in the Brazilian Amazon free from hydro-electric dams and is one of the most threatened regions. The threat of illegal logging, cattle ranching and soya farming are now joined by a new threat; a series of vast hydro-electric dams that will flood an area bigger than that of Greater London.
In addition to its incredible diversity of plants and animals, including endangered species, the Tapajos basin is also fundamental to the Munduruku people, who have lived in the area for thousands of years – using the forest and river for food and transportation. Their demand is simple; they want the right to determine their own future and what happens on their land.
Greenpeace, together with the Munduruku people, are calling for the Tapajos mega-dam project to be scrapped. Siemens is likely to be a major player in the building of the dam, so my first step – as a Greenpeace activist – is to put pressure on Siemens.
Sao Luiz do Tapajós is the first hydro-electric dam planned for what what the Brazilian Government calls the Tapajos Hydro-dam Complex. The complex provides five dams planned in the Tapajos river and it’s tributary, the Jamanxim. The area flooded will be greater than London.
What are the Environmental Consequences?
The Brazilian Governments own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – criticised for being an inadequate assessment – found an enormous variety of species in the vicinity of the dam site, including 1378 plant species, 553 bird species, 352 fish species, 109 amphibian species, 95 mammals and 75 reptiles. Many of them were endemic to the region and / or threatened with extinction. On the same surveys, species new to science were discovered – including a new monkey and five new bat species.
How many hydropower plants are planned for the Tapajos Basin?
43 Hydropower plants are being planned for the Tapajos Basin, including the Tapajos Hydro-dam Complex, including all the dams in different stages, such as large plants, small plants, plants being mapped, planned or already operating.
The number of dams planned for the Amazon Biome is 70.
Why target Siemens?
As the example of the Belo Monte mega-dam has shown, once contracts are signed to build the dam, it becomes next to impossible to stop it whether it is actually legal or not. Therefore, if key companies refuse to engage in such destructive projects, it puts important question marks behind the feasibility of the project and will ultimately make the dam more difficult to build.
Siemens-Voith is one of the world’s largest suppliers of large hydro turbines and generators – critical parts in any hydro electric dam. Greenpeace hae already publicly called on the other two leading suppliers (at their AGMs) to withdraw any plans they might have to be involved in the Tapajos dam. If these companies pull out it will be very hard to build the damn.
Why Is The Tapajos River So Important?
The Tapajos is considered an Amazon conservation hotspot. Some scientists believe the Tapajos to host the greatest Biodiversity int he Americas. Especially in regards to feline species. It is also home to 12000 Munduruku Indigenous people, who have lived in the Tapajos region for millennia. The building of the dam will affect their ability to fish and to hunt – in particular migratory fish and animals. Their sites would disappear. Such huge construction would attract thousands of temporary, migrant workers which would have significant social impact.
Are they really destroying so much forest?
Despite the area to be flooded, and therefore destroyed, being 376km2, there will be an estimated indirect deforestation (from new roads / people) of 2235km2 which represents almost half the annual deforestation rate.
Why tie this in with the human rights tag on your blog, Andy?
This may be a Greenpeace campaign. but, the issue of human rights has always been prevalent in in Greenpeace’s Rainforest campaigns; indigenous populations such as the Munduruku are the best forest guardians we have. I recognise their fundamental role in the preservation of the forest.
I thought all you lefty type sandal wearers like hydro electricity?
Hydroelectricity power can be considered as renewable energy, but is far from being a clean and harmless source when built in a fragile eco-system such as the amazon.
Hydro dams can emit vast amounts of greenhouse gases – both carbon dioxide and the much more powerful methane – as a result of the decay of flooded vegetation and soil. A study suggests that the Tapajos dam’s contribution to global warming could be as much as the equivalent of half a gas fired power station – and far more compared to wind or solar energy over a 20 year period. Which is the timescale within which decisive action is needed to prevent dangerous climate change.
If the river flows are affected due to climate change, so is the generation of hydroelectricity in hydroelectric plants. Even the storage of water in big reservoirs would be affected if water flows are different. A study commissioned by the Brazilian Government has indicated that by 2040 the river flow for the Tapajos could be reduced by 20% to 30%.
If it isn’t environmentally friendly – why build so many dams?
An investigation into corruption at state-run oil company Petrobras and major construction companies has shown that big construction in Brazil is riddled with corruption, including the major dams in the Amazon.
What about much needed jobs?
If we take the example of the Belo Monte dam the social cost are much higher than the capital benefits. Altamira (town) became engulfed in chaos with 50% more residents and huge social problems. There was an increase in deforestation with illegal opening of roads and invasion of indigenous lands bu miners, hunters and loggers.
Don’t the indigenous tribes get consulted about their land?
Brazil has signed Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which guarantees to indigenous and traditional communities the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). However, the Brazilian Government to date has steadfastly refused to follow this convention and other legislation that guarantees indigenous and traditional communities their rights.