Environment News Service, October 18: Swedish pension fund authorities have followed the lead of counterparts in Norway and New Zealand in divesting all holdings in the American company Freeport McMoRan, which operates the world’s biggest copper and gold mine in the contested province of Papua, in Indonesia.
Following the recommendation of their ethical advisory council, Sweden’s state-owned pension “buffer funds” AP1 to AP4 elected to exclude shares of the Phoenix, Arizona-based company from their investment portfolios on environmental grounds.
In a statement the Ethical Council said Freeport was “linked to serious adverse environmental impacts that contravene the UN Convention on Biological Diversity” through its mining operations in Papua.
“Freeport’s Grasberg mine in Indonesia is located in an area of high biological diversity and is adjacent to Lorentz National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. The Grasberg mine releases large quantities of mining waste into a nearby river,” the statement said.
The Grasberg mine is located in the remote highlands on the western half of the island of New Guinea. Mining operations began in 1973 and are expected to continue until 2041.
PT Freeport Indonesia disposes of tailings from its “Grasberg minerals district” high up in Papua’s central mountain range directly into a natural river system.
Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of processed ore are dumped every day into the Aghawagon River, and make their way down a steep valley into a “sacrifice zone” in the coastal lowlands.
Environmental groups claim the waste – which is visible from space – contains unacceptably high levels of copper, mercury, arsenic and cadmium and has smothered and poisoned the rivers and surrounding forest.
Indigenous inhabitants of the area have long complained about impacts on their health and livelihood.
According to the “New York Times,” a report prepared for Freeport by American consultants in 2002 noted that the rivers and wetlands affected by the waste were “unsuitable for aquatic life.”
Freeport McMoRan says its “riverine tailings disposal” system was decided on after intensive assessment and review processes and is approved by the government of Indonesia.
“More conventional management systems were rejected due to the extreme terrain in a seismically active area with high precipitation, which created unacceptably high risks of catastrophic failure,” the company states on its website.