27 June, 2002
WWF condemns plans by aluminium giant Alcoa that would destroy great Icelandic wilderness
Geneva, Switzerland - WWF, the conservation organization, today called on Alcoa, the world’s largest aluminium producer, to live up to its own environmental standards and pull out of a project that would destroy Dimmugljúfur Canyon, one of Iceland's great wilderness areas.
The project would see Alcoa, well-known for household brands like Reynolds Wrap® and Baco ® foil building a giant aluminium smelter in Eastern Iceland. At the same time, the Icelandic government would construct a major dam complex to power the smelter. Alcoa claims that leadership in environmental, health, and safety performance is inseparable from its aspiration to be the best company in the world. However, this joint project will submerge parts of Dimmugljúfur canyon, and breeding grounds for pink-footed geese and reindeer under a 57 square kilometre reservoir and three giant dams, and involve building kilometres of new roads and tunnels. The project will also dam and divert two of the three main river systems in the area, cutting off the vital arteries that feed streams, wetlands and habitat for wildlife.
"Alcoa's performance in environment, health, and safety has qualified the company as a member of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (DJSI)," said Samantha Smith, Director of WWF's Arctic Programme. "Although they publicly emphasize their environmental principles a decision to build this smelter would help destroy one of the last great wilderness areas of Western Europe. WWF is calling on Alcoa to live up to its environmental principles and back out of this devastating project."
Alcoa's move is all the more surprising given that it follows a decision by the Norwegian multinational, Norsk Hydro, to withdraw from the project after substantial criticism from environmental groups and an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that concluded that the project would have huge and negative consequences on the area. On the basis of the EIA, the Icelandic Planning Agency ruled that the project should not go forward. Subsequently the Icelandic government overturned that ruling, and allowed the project - a decision that has now been challenged in court.
WWF is calling on Alcoa, which has 129,000 employees worldwide and last year generated revenues of USD 22.9 billion, to live up to its environmental principles and back out of its joint plan with the Icelandic Government. The Alcoa board will take a final decision on the project on 11 July. The CEO of WWF-US, Kathryn S. Fuller, sits on Alcoa's board and has raised WWF's opposition to the project with the company at the highest level.
WWF is supporting calls by Icelandic NGOs for the Eastern Highlands to be declared a national park. Such a park would ensure long-term protection for the highlands that risk to be affected by the Alcoa project. This could create more jobs through tourism than will be generated by the power and aluminium development, at much lower cost.
"Everywhere we look, the Arctic is under pressure. From the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the Barents Sea, and now the Dimmugljúfur Canyon, governments and industry see the Arctic as a new frontier for large-scale industrial development. What they don’t see is that the Arctic is one of the last places left on earth where nature still works as it has for centuries. When we lose this, we’ll never be able to get it back," Samantha Smith added.
For further information:
Samantha Smith, WWF Arctic Programme, tel: +47 22 03 65 18/00, +47 45 02 21 49, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kyla Evans, Head of Press WWF International, tel: +41 22 364 9550, email: email@example.com