Today, I am standing with Greenpeace activists in front of the Conference Center Laxenburg near Vienna in Austria. Tohis is the venue of the 19th International Seminar on Hydropower Plants. Several of the biggest companies involved in the construction of dams are participating in this conference, and we are calling on them to stop Amazon destruction for hydropower.
Rewind: In the summer of 2016 Greenpeace launched a global campaign against the construction of the São Luiz do Tapajós dam in the heart of the Amazon. We stood side by side with the Munduruku Indigenous Peoples, and we called on international companies like Siemens to distance themselves from this project. Over 1.2 million people across the globe joined the fight of the Munduruku against the planned dam. In August 2016 the licensing process for the dam was cancelled and an important step towards the protection of the Amazon was achieved.
So now you might ask: Why is Greenpeace protesting at this conference today? The answer is very simple: The fight to save the Amazon is far from over. The São Luiz do Tapajós dam was only one of many dams the Brazilian Government is planning to build in this fragile ecosystem. In the Tapajós basin alone more than 40 dams are planned. And although the São Luiz do Tapajós project was cancelled, Siemens, GE and Andritz – some of the biggest names in the hydropower industry – have never distanced themselves from dam construction projects in the Amazon Rainforest.
Munduruku Chiefs at Siemens UK HQ, 11 Aug, 2016
These companies need to take their responsibility seriously. Dams can have significant negative impacts on biodiversity as well as on the homes of local and Indigenous Peoples, especially in important ecosystems like the Amazon Rainforest. Experience of previous hydropower projects in the Amazon has shown that dams can wipe out huge habitats. Furthermore, the livelihoods and the health of Indigenous Peoples can be impacted by loss of fisheries and low water quality. Populations near dams are often forced to migrate to nearby towns, leaving their destroyed homes behind them. And the myth that dams are a carbon-neutral source of energy is anything but true. Dams in areas such as the Amazon can emit considerable amounts of carbon dioxide and the much more potent methane.
Dam under Construction São Manoel in Tapajós River, 14 Jun, 2016
The government of Brazil carries the bulk of the responsibility. Brazil has many renewable alternatives for energy generation, such as wind, solar and biomass. But let´s be clear here, responsibility also rests with those companies that are participating in or financing hydropower projects in the Amazon. Voith Hydro (partly owned by Siemens), Andritz Hydro and General Electric (GE) are all here, taking part in this conference. The first two have already been involved in projects within the Amazon Rainforest like the Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River, with devastating impacts.
Construction of Belo Monte Dam in Brazil, 18 Oct, 2014
So that´s why we are here: To remind these companies to accept responsibility, and to call on them to not participate in new hydro dams in the Amazon. Greenpeace will continue to help protect the Amazon from destructive dams. And we will continue to have our eyes on the major companies that are planning to be involved in the next dam building to be announced in the Amazon.
Lukas Meus is a Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace CEE in Austria