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Brazil: Nature and Mining - A Photo Diary

3 October 2023

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting one of the wonders of the natural world, the Amazon. I was there to visit our member Norsk Hydro’s Paragominas site, and in the Brazilian city of Belém to speak at EXPOSIBRAM and The Amazon and New Economies Conference.

By Rohitesh Dhawan, President & CEO, ICMM. 

There’s no comparable forest, let alone nature documentary that can prepare you for encountering  the “lungs of the planet”, with trees spreading as far as the eye can see. The state of Pará alone, where I visited, which is only one of nine Brazilian states in which the Brazilian proportion of the Amazon sits, could fit all of Angola. The sheer size of the Amazon is only surpassed by the abundance of life that call it home. Covering 1 per cent of the Earth’s surface, the Amazon is home to 10 per cent of all wildlife species and 47 million people, including 2.2 million Indigenous People (WWF).

Despite its vibrancy, it is clear that the Amazon is reaching a tipping point. My visit showed me the level of urgency for action required by us as human beings to revitalise what is an essential life force. The sense of dread and concern about the state of the forest was palpable; illegal and irresponsible mining, logging and farming could destroy what precious little is left, with devastating consequences for people and nature.  But rather than leaving me feeling downcast, I am hopeful. The visit has seeded within me hope that done responsibly, the mining and metals industry can be a force for good in Brazil, and in the Amazon in particular where 60% of the rainforest sits. I spoke and met with inspiring individuals, workers, representatives of communities and leaders who all had the same message to share with me - if we are responsible and thoughtful in our approach then we can ensure people and nature prosper. And this is what the Amazon requires of us as the planet’s vital life source.

This is the kind of thoughtfulness that I saw in action at Hydro’s Paragominas site. This like other steps being taken by ICMM company members shows that it is possible to mine with principles. If we are to tackle the climate crisis, we need to protect the unequalled richness of our world, starting with the Amazon, and of the people that maintain it.

I have left Brazil with purpose, and I hope it was one that is conveyed here.

Here’s a photo diary of some of my trip highlights and the stories behind them.

My trip began at EXPOSIBRAM – the Brazilian Mining Congress held annually by our association member IBRAM. I was delighted to join the stage and open with Ana Cristina Cabral, Eduardo Bartolomeo, Raul Jungmann, Ana Paula.

We opened with a discussion on mining challenges and opportunities in Brazil. As one of the world’s leading mining countries, Brazil is on the centre stage for understanding the challenges facing our industry and its interactions with people and nature.

As a mining industry, at a really fundamental level, we extract resources from nature. And to be the leading partner of the sustainable world that the world needs us to be, we need to learn from the communities in and around nature and the connections they have. This is a critical component in restoring nature. Nature, the Amazon, is of vital importance to all of us – globally and locally. These challenges are not limited to Brazil but one that involves all of us - we all depend on nature, in particularly the Amazon, to help stabilise the climate through the critical role it plays in carbon and water cycles both globally and regionally. And I am convinced the mining industry will have leading role to play in this.  

After only the first day I could feel hope, energy and passion alive in Brazil.

My visit to Norsk Hydro’s Paragominas site only cemented this feeling.

Paragominas is a bauxite mine site, producing the aluminium essential to our energy transition journey. The bauxite is crushed and transported through a 244-kilometer-long pipeline to Hydro Alunorte, refined to alumina and then shipped to aluminium producers.

It was remarkable to see the transportation process. Through this pipeline, Hydro ensures their mines operate with lower emissions by foregoing truck transportation, not to mention improved safety for people and the environment.

Alongside this, the use of tailings dry backfill removes the need for tailings dams. To learn more about this do read my blog ‘A little thought goes a long way in restoring nature’. But in a nutshell, tailings from bauxite mining are chemically and physically similar to the materials originally removed from the Earth. No chemicals are required to process the bauxite. This means that once the tailings are dried they can be returned to the pits from which they came from, and later be rehabilitated and reforested; returned to nature without significant  impact to the environment.

Aluminium is critical to our transition to a low carbon world. A wind turbine alone requires three tons of aluminium and with the IEA forecasting global wind and solar energy capacities increasing 95% every year until 2025, we cannot underestimate the critical role Hydro’s mine plays in our planet’s future.

My visit to Paragominas also included a visit to the Amazon Rainforest. It was inspiring to see the proactive work Hydro is doing, over and above the reforestation work on their own site, to ensure they maximise the mining sector’s contribution to a nature positive future.

Here they show me the different tree types they are planting in the surrounding area. Before allowing me to take part of this important activity.

These trees have amazing properties, including medicinal uses.  

I was even told there had been a jaguar sighting nearby. Sadly not on the day I visited. But thankfully, the snakes seemed to be in hiding too!

Hydro’s work in the region is not limited to their impact on nature. I also visited the ‘Usina da Paz’ which translates to the ‘Peace Plant’ and functions as a large community complex.

Hydro, in partnership with the State of Pará runs an initiative which aims to encourage social development in the region. The centre offers a range of services for free, including medical, dental and psychological care, legal advice, issuance of documents and support around this, sports activities, training and professional courses.

The Paragominas visit was a great way of preparing for the Amazon and New Economies Conference. Seeing firsthand the impact of mining in the Amazon and the way the industry can be well-placed in having a transformative effect on nature and the planet allowed me to speak with certainty on how mining can be a true ally of communities and planet.

Here I am with the Governor of the State of Pará Helder Barbalho at the opening of the conference.

The conference is critical for enhancing discussions on the issues important to the Amazon itself, and its inhabitants. Particularly important, the audience and speakers were not limited to our typical mining and metals crowd.

I believe as miners we have to learn to be partners in creating this sustainable world and I am optimistic, by my trip, that it can happen.

Brazil has shown me that if we mine responsibly we can make great leaps in changing this world. To protect nature, we know we need to go further in contributing to halting and reversing nature’s decline globally, and collaboration is going to be key to making this happen. And Brazil has shown me that that can happen.