Norilsk, the world’s most northern city, has been dubbed one of the world’s most polluted cities by experts. The small city of about 176,000 started experiencing its pollution during the early days of the Soviet Union. As an area rich with precious metals, Norilsk remains a hotbed of mining at the expense of the ecosystem.
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An investigative series on the city done by Inside Climate News in association with NBC News and Undark Magazine established that the majority of pollution affecting Norilsk is produced by one major company, Norilsk Nickel.
Norilsk Nickel is the world’s leading producer of palladium and high-grade nickel. The company also produces platinum, cobalt and copper, among other minerals. This single company has been blamed for the pollution affecting the city. Built during the Soviet Union era, the center has made and processed metals for over 80 years.
Over time, the company has turned the once blossoming environment upside down. The Daldykan River, once fishing heaven for the locals, has been declared unsafe by the government. Its water has turned grey with heavy pollution. Years of activity have carved a barren landscape of dead trees out of the boreal forest. Glacial rivers have turned red, and the air is highly polluted with sulfur dioxide.
The town’s extreme pollution has led to the start of a worldwide movement calling for the criminalization of ecological malpractice. The proposal to entrench ecocide in the law would see those who commit such serious acts of pollution face criminal charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Hague. Unfortunately, even if such recognition is adopted, the world’s leading polluters, such as the U.S. and Russia, may not be affected since they are not members of the ICC.
What is more perturbing is that some of the world’s leading governments protect the interests of polluters. For instance, Russian President Vladimir Putin shares the ambition of developing the northern region economically by investing in more metal processing with Norilsk Nickel. The company has pledged to invest billions in rehabilitating the environment, a promise that residents are skeptical about.
The company’s spokesperson told reporters that they will be embarking on rehabilitation projects in 2021. “This will be rolled out across all of Nornickel’s operations starting from 2021, with a clear focus on generating measurable and achievable results to significantly improve the company’s environmental performance,” the spokesman said.
Lead image via Nina