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Created on: 2021-11-02 14:51:30
Last update: 2022-04-11 15:47:50 Society for Threatened Peoples
Julia Büsser, Campaigner at Society for Threatened Peoples
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|Sector||Hydroelectric Power Generation|
|This project has been identified as an Equator Project|
About Tapajós Hydroelectric Complex and Tapajós Waterway
The Tapajós Hydroelectric Complex and Tapajós Waterway consist of plans to construct a waterway as well as seven large dam structures, including locks, situated on the Tapajós and Jamanxim rivers in the state of Pará, Brazil. The 2,000 km long Tapajós River in Brazil is one of the largest, free flowing tributaries of the Amazon, accounting for around 6% of the water in the entire basin. The complex also includes several small hydropower plants. The construction serves a dual purpose of power generation and improving navigability, as the waterway will connect large agricultural production areas in the state of Mato Grosso with the Amazon river at Santarém, partially replacing road cargo traffic on highway BR-163. The total projected power capacity of the seven large hydropower plants is 12,000 megawatts.
The shipload capacity is projected to rise from the current 900 ton to 7,500 ton per train-of-barges. The Association of Mato Grosso Soy and Corn Producers (Aprosoja) estimates that the cost of transporting a ton of soybeans would drop from R$ 227 to R$ 60 with the waterway, and will be emitting 95% less CO2. One shipload transports the equivalent of 1,050 trucks.
The planned large dams include:
The Sao Luiz do Tapajós Hydro Project (8,040 MW)
The Jatobá Hydro Power Plant (2,338 MW)
The Chacorão project (3,336 MW)
The Cachoeira do Cai project (802 MW)
The Jamanxim project (881 MW)
The Cachoeira dos Patos project (528 MW)
The Jardim do Ouro project (227 MW)
Besides these seven large dams, the inventory by the National Electric Energy Agency (ANEEL) identified 29 possible small hydroelectric projects to be included in the complex.
Green light for three large dams in the Amazon that will flood Indigenous lands and biodiversity protected areas
Why this profile?
A holistic environmental and social impact assessment for the impacts of all planned dams together is non-existent. Therefore, it is impossible to adequately assess the overall risk to the region and its people. The planned hydroelectric complex and waterway will cause irreversible damage to the Tapajós basin with devastating consequences for the world’s climate and the local communities. This profile should serve as an early warning to all potentially involved companies and financial institutions of the risks and impacts associated with the project.
What must happen
Financial institutions must engage with the companies potentially involved as project sponsors, to demand that human and Indigenous rights, including the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, are respected from the start. Financial institutions considering financing the project, or companies involved in the project, must ensure that a robust due diligence process is followed which takes into account the social and environmental impacts of the project and engages with affected communities and NGOs that represent them.
Social and human rights impacts
Impact on Indigenous lands: In order to construct the waterway, the Tapajós river will have to be deepened and desilted so that ships can use it during all tides. Along the river from Santarém to Itaituba there are many traditional communities living and surviving from the river, and the construction of the waterway will destroy not only their sacred places but also put their survival at risk. Deepening the river will likely kill many fish, meaning that local communities will no longer be able to rely on fishing for their diet or livelihood.
The planned hydroelectric plants will have a devastating impact on the region, causing flooding of local communities' homes and sacred places. A total of 78'380 hectares (ha) in protected areas would be flooded and the Chacorão dam alone would inundate 18’700 ha of Munduruku Indigenous land. The impacts of dams at the top of the river affects the middle and lower regions of the river, as it is a living organism and should be treated as such, explain the people who live there. The communities speak from experience with previous dams, such as the Belo Monte Dam, which led to the reduction of protected areas, destruction of biodiversity, forced displacement of traditional communities, water pollution and subsequently a massive decline in subsistence fishing.
Following opposition from indigenous peoples, the quilombos and the traditional communities, the São Luíz do Tapajós power plant had its licence suspended in 2016. However, the Tapajós people are aware that this is not the end for such projects and are concerned that conflict caused by these projects will have a huge impact on local communities. Indigenous communities continue to resist the planned hydropower projects and ensure that their rights are respected, including their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as set out in Convention 169 of the ILO and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Environmental and climate impacts
The impacts in the region and on the Amazon rainforest as a whole are manifold.
Impacts on hydrologic resilience: One of the most immediate and direct effects of any dam is the obstruction of water: downstream flow, seasonal fluctuations, and natural flood pulses are all diminished and controlled by dams and reservoirs. Dams interrupt essential natural connections, blocking the flow of nutrients, sediments, and aquatic life between headwaters and river channels downstream.
Another impact is water table contamination, due to the concentration of mercury in the reservoirs. To make the river navigable with big ships, it will be necessary to dredge it, destroying all life in the water and around it. In a region where illegal gold mining is omnipresent, the risk is high that by dredging of the riverbed, mercury in the riverbanks spreads further. Once consumed by fish, the toxin bio-accumulates up the food chain; those at the top, such as large predators and people, consume the highest quantities of this toxic metal which poses a serious health risk.
All of these negative hydrological impacts are compounded and magnified when multiple dams are built in series along the same river, or in a river system, which would happen all across the Tapajós Complex.
Impacts on biodiversity: Construction of the dam would have profound effects on the species living within the freshwater ecosystem: big diversity losses for native aquatic species and the shrinking of Conservation Units, stemming from connectivity and water chemistry changes.
Philip Fearnside of the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA), an Amazonian dam expert, explains that when free flowing rivers are transformed into standing water, most of the range of species adjusted to the old currents, water composition, and flow is wiped out. That fact is chilling, considering that the Tapajós is home to 325 fish species alone, 65 of which are endemic.
Changes in fish populations will be felt by their predators, including two species of river dolphin (tucuxi and pink river dolphins). Freshwater dolphins also risk population fragmentation and isolation by some of the planned dams. Not only dolphins, but turtles will lose habitats and nesting beaches to dam reservoirs. Some species, such as the giant Amazon river turtle migrate hundreds of kilometres to return to their historic nesting beaches over their 80-100 year lifespans. The destruction of these sites will affect the integrity of these populations and disrupt the ability of the species to find mates.
Furthermore, several threatened species in the region will be affected including the giant armadillo, giant anteater, white-cheeked spider monkey, and oncilla (little spotted cat).
Impacts on climate: The Amazon's living forest usually acts as a carbon sink, sequestering CO2 and keeping it out of the atmosphere. Dams, especially in the tropics, are far from green: carbon dioxide and methane - a greenhouse gas more than 20 times as potent as CO2 - are both released in significant amounts from organic matter in submerged soils and decaying vegetation. Combined deforestation impacts, including that of the Tapajós Complex, can potentially push the whole system beyond the tipping point, the time at which the Amazon rainforest as a whole stops sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and ceases being a carbon sink, and instead becomes a carbon source, sending the greenhouse gases long held in its trees into the sky.
It is unclear which impact the different dams together might have on the region, since impact assessments have only been carried out for each project separately. However, risks are high that the sum of adverse impacts is much higher than estimated single impacts.
Although the Brazilian government have not included the project in its National Energy Plan by 2030 (PDE 2030) and licences for the project have not been granted, affected communities are on high alert due to the unpredictable actions of the government. They are concerned that the project will be developed despite its impacts on local communities and the environment.
Applicable norms and standards
Green light for three large dams in the Amazon that will flood Indigenous lands and biodiversity protected areas
Three large dams will be built on the Jamanxim River, a tributary of the Tapajós River, a major tributary of the Amazon River. Government authorities are counting on the enactment of President Jair Bolsonaro’s Law 191/2020, now rapidly progressing in the National Congress, to open indigenous lands to hydroelectric dams, as well as mining, logging and agricultural work by non-indigenous entrepreneurs. President Bolsonaro even used the war in Ukraine as a justification for opening indigenous lands to mining by approving Bill 191/2020, which would also open them to dams. The false excuse that such a law should be passed so that potassium could be extracted on indigenous lands to replace imports from Russia succeeded in winning approval by the House of Congress to waive the bill’s “urgent” status and bypass the committee’s actions, allowing it. The bill itself will be voted on by mid-April.
The Brazilian presidential administration shows no hesitation in that the National Congress will pass President Bolsonaro’s bill to open indigenous lands to hydroelectric dams, and perhaps also that dam construction can continue without consulting the affected indigenous peoples.
The decision also shows that Brazil’s electrical authorities continue to ignore information about climate change, the financial viability of Amazon dams and their many social and environmental impacts, as well as the country’s better energy options.
Project for three mega plants in the amazon advances after 10 years
After 10 years of suspension, three mega-hydroelectric projects in the Brazilian Amazon - Jamanxim, Cachoeira do Caí and Cachoeira dos Patos dams and hydroelectric plants - shall now be implemented. State-owned Eletrobras and its subsidiary Eletronorte received approval from the National Agency for Electric Energy (Aneel) to go ahead with the plan to build three large hydroelectric plants in the Tapajós River Basin.
At the End of January 2022, ANEEL approved the request of the state companies to elaborate the technical and economic feasibility studies.
The project is still in the preparatory phase and direct financing has not been arranged yet.
The Society for Threatened Peoples conducted an assessment identifying the stakeholders that showed interest in participating in the projects and researched the financing of these potential project stakeholders. Most potential stakeholders in the Tapajós Hydroelectric Complex and Tapajós Waterway are energy companies.
The potential stakeholders in the Tapajós Hydroelectric Complex and Tapajós Waterway include: Cemig, China Three Gorges, Copel, EDF, Eletrobras, Enel, Engie, Iberdrola, Mover Participações, and OAS. (For more details see 'Companies'.)
In total, 148 financial institutions were identified that provided credit to the potential stakeholders in the Tapajós projects, with a total value of US$ 279 billion. The largest creditors are Santander, BNP Paribas, and Crédit Agricole. Five development finance institutions provided credit to the selected companies, with a total value of US$ 11 billion. Investments in the potential stakeholders have been identified with a total value of US$ 126 billion. The largest investors are Capital Group, BlackRock, and Vanguard.
The potential stakeholders in the Tapajós Hydroelectric Complex and Tapajós Waterway are listed below.
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In 2009 Eletronorte, Camargo Corrêa and CNEC Engenharia undertook hydraulic inventory studies of the Tapajós and Jamanxim Rivers, which were approved by the Brazilian Electricity Regulatory Agency (ANEEL). By 2010 the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) had started the licensing process for five dams on the Tapajós with a total reservoir area of about 2,000 square kilometres (770 sq mi).
Studies of the project and its impact halted in June 2013 when locals opposed to the Tapajós developments took hostage three biologists working for Eletrobras. The three researchers were released after two days on 23 June 2013 after the federal government promised that the Eletrobras research projects would be suspended and the Indians consulted. On 12 August 2013 the Tapajós Study Group, which is responsible for analyzing the environmental viability of the hydroelectric projects on the river, was authorized by the federal government to resume research on the fauna and flora of the region. Electrobas, which coordinates the study group, confirmed that it planned to submit Environmental Impact Studies to IBAMA for the São Luiz do Tapajós and Jatobá hydroelectric plants in December 2013.
On 29 July 2013 the Federal Public Ministry recommended suspension of licensing of the Cachoeira dos Patos hydroelectric plant for the same reasons as other planned hydroelectric plants on the Tapajós, Teles Pires, Jamanxim and Juruena rivers: they had not undertaken an Integrated Environmental Assessment and had not consulted with the affected indigenous peoples, both legal requirements.
In 2016, the licensing process for the Tapajós Complex was suspended by IBAMA due to a request made by the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio, FUNAI) because lands belonging to the Munduruku tribe would be directly impacted and do not feel adequately consulted. Protected areas and indigenous territories occupy 40% of the Tapajós hydrographic basin.
In March 2019, the Federal Court ruled that the environmental licensing for two dams - the Braços Leste and Oeste dams - should be granted by the federal environmental agency IBAMA and not by the local agency Semas (State Secretariat for the Environment and Sustainability of Pará). The court further ruled that the environmental impacts of the Tapajós Hydropower Complex projects should be assessed as a whole, instead of conducting an impact assessment and licensing process for each dam separately. The ruling might be significant for the licensing of other dams within the complex.
The new 10-Year Energy Plan for 2030 (PDE 2030) does not include the building of the hydropower plants on the Tapajós river. Social and environmental issues, lengthy environmental licensing processes (due to the complexity of operations and construction sites), the impacts on indigenous lands, lower deployment costs of alternative energies such as wind and solar power, and changes in rainfall patterns in northern Brazil (including a potential reduction in river flows during the increasing periods of drought) are the main justifications in PDE 2030 to change the Brazilian government’s strategy regarding the use of hydropower plants as the main source of electrical energy.