Aerial view of a tailings mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Photograph: Bloomberg
Norway and Turkey were the only two of 53 countries to vote against an international ban on the dumping of mining waste at sea, at a major conservation summit in Hawaii during September 2016.
Even big mining nations including China and Russia voted in favour of the resolution at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) congress.
The proposal, put forward by Iran, the Czech Republic, the Philippines and several other countries, called for “all states to ban marine disposal of mine tailings for new mines as soon as possible, and to plan a stop to ongoing marine disposal sites.” The proposal will still pass despite the two votes against, but is not legally binding.
“Norway is the worst of the worst environmental offenders,” said Silje Lundberg, head of Friends of the Earth Norway. “Not only do we stand for half of all mining waste deposits in the sea already, we are planning new ones,” she said, referring to plans to dump mine waste in Førde fjord on the west coast and the Reppar fjord in the far northern county of Finnmark.
The IUCN is the advisory international body that meets every four years and decides the global conservation agenda for the next period. Norway is represented by its Department of Climate and Environment and the Environment Agency, both of which voted against a ban.
“This shows that Norway stands completely alone internationally, only being joined by Turkey. Mine waste dumping in the sea is a horrible practice because you lose all control of where it ends up,” said Lundberg.
Vidar Helgesen, the country’s minister of climate and environment defended the stance. He said Norway has more than 30 years of experience of mining waste disposal at sea, both in Norway and internationally, and the environmental requirements for this practice have been tightened.
“Norway is a very special case because of its topography with lots of fjords surrounded by high mountains. There is no evidence to support that deposits [of mining waste] on land are generally better than those at sea,” he said.
He claimed that it takes between five and 10 years for the fauna on the sea floor to rejuvenate.
Lundberg added: “Norwegian fjords are what we are famous for, and now we are about to fill them with tailings and mine waste. Norway has been known internationally as an environmental frontrunner, but that is a reputation that is in serious tatters.”