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Sweden takes an environmental lead as it rejects lime-mining application

Words:
Stephen Cousins

Lack of evidence for impact assessment sees Cementa’s limestone mining application turned down as Europe tightens the environmental screw

Cementa faces an unprecedented ban on mining limestone, a core ingredient in cement.
Cementa faces an unprecedented ban on mining limestone, a core ingredient in cement. Credit: HeidelbergCement AG

A landmark decision by Swedish courts to suspend the mining license of the country’s biggest cement maker signals a tougher stance by EU legislators on environmentally-damaging construction products.

The Supreme Land and Environmental Court rejected Cementa’s application to continue mining limestone, an essential ingredient in cement, at its quarries in Gotland due to a lack of evidence needed to assess the environmental impact of the application.

The decision could see the company, part of the HeidelbergCement Group, forced to end production at its plant in Slite on November 1.

The factory supplies 75% of all cement in the country and the move has triggered warnings of a national cement crisis and the potential loss of 400,000 construction jobs.

It is also responsible for around 3% of all carbon dioxide emissions, roughly three times that of domestic aviation. Environmental activists and sustainability-minded designers welcomed the court’s decision.

Andrew Waugh, director of Waugh Thistleton Architects in the UK, said cement-makers should see this as a warning that EU legislators are no longer willing to support industries that drive climate change. ‘Much like the first legislation against tobacco, or the first time health warnings were put on cigarette packets, this is just the beginning, this love affair with concrete has to stop,’ he said. ‘Although we will continue to need concrete for specific situations, such as for infrastructure and engineering use, wanton use of the material is an abuse of our planet.’

Will Arnold, head of climate action at the Institution of Structural Engineers, added: ‘It's a positive thing that governments are acting in accordance with the commitments they have  made. While I haven't heard anyone discussing the same sort of clampdown in the UK, people in the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and elsewhere are now talking about introducing new policies off the back of the COP26 climate conference to limit the emissions associated with certain products.’

Cementa supplies the majority of Sweden’s construction industry so the ruling has serious implications for projects.
Cementa supplies the majority of Sweden’s construction industry so the ruling has serious implications for projects. Credit: HeidelbergCement AG

The ruling in Sweden overturns an earlier decision by a lower court to grant the factory a licence to continue mining limestone for another two decades, until 2041.

Several authorities and organisations, including the Gotland County Administrative Board, submitted evidence questioning the quality of Cementa’s environmental impact assessment.

According to a report by Swedish news organisation Dagens PS, recent water sampling by Administrative Board revealed that seven out of eight had chloride levels that were clearly elevated to very-sharply elevated.

The judgment states: ‘The Supreme Land and Environmental Court considers that the environmental impact statement, even with additions made, is encumbered with such significant deficiencies that it cannot form the basis for a position on the activities' impact on the environment’.

Greenpeace activists have previously protested against the release of toxic pollution created by the incineration of waste at the Cementa factory.

Trade union Byggnads has warned that the impact of a factory shutdown would be more serious than the construction crisis of the 1990s, when 17.9% of all construction workers were unemployed.

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