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ENVIRONMENT

Norsk Hydro seals deal with Brazil over environmental dispute

Norwegian metals group Norsk Hydro said on Thursday it has reached agreement with the Brazilian authorities following a dispute over the discharge of untreated water from its aluminium factory Alunorte, the largest in the world.

Norsk Hydro seals deal with Brazil over environmental dispute
Norsk Hydro's headquarter in Oslo. Photo: Vidar Ruud/NTB Scanpix

Brazilian authorities had accused Norsk Hydro of having contaminated the Baracena municipality's waters with bauxite residues which they claimed had overflowed from a deposit basin at the Alunorte plant after heavy rainfall on 
February 16 and 17.

They slapped Norsk Hydro with two fines of 10 million reais (€2.5 million, around $3 million) each and ordered the aluminium supplier to halve its production at the site and suspend the use of the basin. 

“On September 5, Alunorte signed two agreements representing a milestone to resume normal operations at the alumina refinery in Para, Brazil,” Norsk Hydro said in a statement.

Under the terms of the two agreements signed Wednesday in Brazil, Norsk Hydro has committed to paying a total of 160 million reais in fines, investments and food coupons for local communities.

The group also pledges to pour another 150 million reais into local development projects that will benefit communities living near Alunorte.

Norsk Hydro said no timeline has yet been set for the resumption of full operations.

“Neither of the agreements signed include provisions or establishes a timeline to resume normal operations at the refinery. However, Hydro consider the agreements as an important step towards resuming operations,” theNorwegian company said.

'Completely unacceptable'

According to an institute reporting to Brazil's ministry of public health, the discharge into the local river posed risks to fishermen and other local communities living near the Amazon as the water they drink and bathe in has high levels of aluminium and heavy metals. 

Norsk Hydro denies any toxic spill, but admits there was an unauthorised discharge of untreated rainwater.

“Internal and external reviews confirm that there was no overflow from the bauxite residue deposits or harmful spills from the February rain event,” the company said.

Norsk Hydro had in March apologised for the discharge, adding that it was “completely unacceptable and in breach with what Hydro stands for”.

The company will likely benefit from a return to full production capacity, after seeing its second quarter profits hit by the Brazil dispute.

Investors welcomed news of the agreement, bringing Norsk Hydro's share price up 4.5 percent in Thursday mid-morning trading.

CLIMATE CRISIS

Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.

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