Tag Archives: Norway

Environment  Mongabay: Government takedown of illegal gold mining in Peru shows promise, but at a cost

This drone shot of La Pampa in Madre de Dios shows the widespread environmental devastation from alluvial goal mining. A few years ago, that area was entirely dense jungle. In the middle of the photo are military outposts, Peru’s unprecedented attempt to reduce gold mining in one of the most notorious regions for such illegal extraction on earth. Photo by Jorge Caballero Espejo/CINCIA

Because of widespread media attention over the past five years or more — who can resist a story that combines gold, organized crime, prostitution and environmental devastation of a pristine rain forest? — Madre de Dios in the southern Peruvian Amazon has become known worldwide as a kind of hell on earth.

But as my story for Mongbay explains, a lot can happen in a year. La Pampa, the worst but by no means only large-scale illegal mining operation, was raided and largely shut down by the national government in February 2019. And the previous month, Madre de Dios — a region about the size of South Carolina known as the most biodiverse place on earth — elected a governor who wasn’t a miner. Instead, Luis Hidalgo Okimura is intent on reducing mining, formalizing and taxing miners who remain, and rescuing his home region from further environmental destruction.

I got to interview Hidalgo with three of my students in his government conference room not far from our hotel in Puerto Maldonado. After an hour and a half, I knew I had the makings of a good story. Specials thanks to my colleague Cesar Ascorra, national director of CINCIA, for arranging the interview. CINCIA is a Wake Forest-led science project that has developed proven strategies to repair deforested tropical areas and mitigate the public health threat of 185 tons of mercury dumped a year in Madre de Dios.

It was also a pleasure to work again with Mongabay editor Morgan Erikson-Davis. She not only accepted my story pitch, she enhanced the story by both downloading and analyzing satellite images that showed expanding deforestation outside La Pampa.

Riverside alluvial gold mining continues unhindered throughout Madre de Dios, especically along the Rio Inambari and Rio Malinowski. Photo by Jason Houston
This photo was taken by a member of Gov. Hidalgo’s staff after our 90-minute interview with him. My friend and translator Marianne Van Vlaardingen is on the left, then Wake journalism minor Juliana Marino, me, Hidalgo, Cesar Ascorra, and Wake journalism minors Kat Boulton and Renting Cai.

Environment  Mongabay.com: Norway’s paradox: spending billions in oil profits to preserve forests

Per Pharo, a kind of Nordic Santa Claus for the environment. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Per Pharo, a kind of Nordic Santa Claus for the environment. Photo by Justin Catanoso

I truly stumbled on to this story. On Saturday, while finishing up an interview in a small conference room with an American NGO, he pointed out a serious-looking gentleman in the corner deep in conversation. “That’s one of the most important people at the COP,” the NGO said. “You should talk with him.”

Per Pharo is director of Norway’s Forest and Climate Initiatives. Given the billions of dollars he has at his disposal, his influence at UN climate summits is enormous. I interrupted his conversation, introduced myself and handed him my card. “Mongabay?” he asked. “Give me five minutes please to finish, and I’d be happy to talk with you.”

The interview went well. But the story grew far more interesting as I learned more about the world of contradictions that are Norway and climate policy. When you’re awash in oil money — oil burned elsewhere and contributing greatly to CO2 emissions — suddenly Pharo can be cast in a slightly different light. Influential, yes. Generous, absolutely. But with hands slightly soiled with oil profits. The story is here, perhaps my best of a busy week. Thanks to Glenn Scherer at mongabay.com for some amazing deadline editing and packaging.

Environment  Stern: “Worldwide buy-in is based on the notion that countries can make their own decisions.”

Todd Stern is President Obama's top adviser on climate the and U.S.'s  leadneogiator at COP21.

Todd Stern is President Obama’s top adviser on climate the and U.S.’s leadneogiator at COP21. Photo by Justin Catanoso.

Todd Stern has one difficult job. As President Obama’s top adviser on climate change, and the lead negotiator for the U.S. during the last seven UN climate summits, he is either marked as hero or villain, depending on what part of the world you’re from.

Yes, he represents the richest country on earth, one which could do more to alleviate the early ravages of climate changes in various parts of the globe. But it’s actually doing less than Norway. As a leader in the world’s lone superpower, he could exercise more influence on the proposed accord any time he chooses. But he knows that’s a sucker’s game, and never yields desirable outcomes.

Instead, Stern — even-tempered, soft-spoken, chummy with many long-time climate-change journalists — chooses to be clear, candid and concise. “Here’s what I can tell you; here’s what I can’t. Next question.”

Today he reminded the world’s media that the pledges of 196 countries to reduce their carbon emissions are just that — pledges, promises, not legally binding. Countries can renege, cheat or simply ignore what they said they would do. But for the world’s largest countries, the U.S. among them, transparency will be binding: strict inventories of emissions, clear reporting on actions, always open to outside review. The same strict rules will not, he said, apply to developing countries who simply don’t have the tools for such accounting.  But they will be nudged in that direction, with great assistance.

Meanwhile, Stern said, there is no reason to think that an accord won’t be struck by weeks’ end, the first time in history that all the nation’s on earth will agree to reduce their carbon emissions to slow the rate of global warming. Here’s why he’s optimistic: “Worldwide buy-in is based on the notion that countries can make their own decisions.”

In a world that suffers gravely from a lack of trust, that notion of trust that Stern describes might just end up saving the planet in the long run.