16 December 2009 | Special reports
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Despite of the fact that the name of this company honors the leader of the Uruguayan independence, Cementos Artigas is owned completely by Spanish cement companies, who, in addition to receiving profits from their industrial activity, are benefitted by the transfer of carbon credits.
This is possible through the implementation of a project in the framework of the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) established in Kyoto Protocol, which in the case of Cementos Artigas SA consists of the replacement of fossil fuel in their plant in Minas city, department of Lavalleja, Uruguay, with biomass, particularly from rice husk.
This project is one of the first in Uruguay, however, the country has not managed to enjoy its results, and serious environmental problems have been occurring near the cement plant, such as the presence of Persistent Organic Pollutants and an increase of diseases related to said industrial emissions.
Taking a closer look at this mechanism, as is the aim of this report, allows us to see that there is little of “development” and little of “clean” in this kind of projects.
Main shareholders of Cementos Artigas SA (previously called Compañía Uruguaya de Cemento Portland, CUCPSA (Uruguayan Portland Cement Company)) are Grupo Cemento Molins and Grupo Cementos Portland Valderrivas, both Spanish.
In Argentina, the company is also present, under the name Cementos Avellaneda.
In their website, Cementos Molins explains that Cementos Artigas is part of their group since 1991 and that their activity is centered in the production, grinding and trade of Portland cement and concrete.
Their main plant in Uruguay is located in Minas, 150 km from Montevideo, the capital city of the country. This huge plant disturbs a landscape of hills and mounts characteristic of Minas, one of the most beautiful places in Uruguay. It is precisely here where the fossil fuel replacement project is being carried out since 2002.
The company also owns a grinding mill in Sayago, Montevideo, and other four concrete plants strategically located.
The plant in Minas has a kiln with a gas exchange tower to produce clinker in order to produce Portland cement. In spite of being in operation for almost a century, it was relaunched in 1997 due to Molins acquisition. The modernization of the industrial plant required an investment of 60 million dollars.
Today, the plant produces up to 500,000 tons of portland cement per year, and the money invested amounts to 110 million dollars.
The company insists on highlighting their environmental “achievements” as part of their institutional marketing strategy. They claim that the company was the first to obtain the authorization of the Uruguayan Housing, Land use planning and Environment Ministry (MVOTMA) after the passing of the Environmental Impact Law.
The implementation of the CDM project in Cementos Artigas SA allowed the company, as explained later, not only to bring the level of GHG emissions down by collecting carbon credits in favor of the Spanish companies, but also to, literally, save the company from bankruptcy in times when the cement industry was collapsing.
The carbon credit market allows the countries with obligations to reduce their emissions to buy reductions to companies or other countries that do not have that obligation. These mechanisms are also an excuse to apply for funding, for instance through multilateral agencies like the World Bank.
This commercial mechanism allows to cover this type of carbon “trade”, through which companies from industrialized countries buy carbon credits from their own subsidiaries in developing countries and avoid their obligations at home.
This is one of the reasons why the CDM are highly criticized at international level and why they are considered part of the group of “false solutions” to face the problem of climate change.
In the case of Cementos Artigas SA, 10,000 tons of greenhouse gases are reduced a year through the partial replacement of fossil fuel for rice husk. According to AFP, Federico Gutierrez, head of the project of Cementos Artigas, explained that this reduction of emissions is “transferred to the Spanish companies”, Molins and Valderrivas.
Emission reductions are paid from 12 to 20 Euros per ton.
For this reason it is not surprising why Cementos Artigas gives so much importance to the reduction of GHG, but neglects the effects of the pollution caused in the area near the plant in Minas.
A study published on April, 2005, conducted by International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) and Arnika Association (Czech Republic), found traces of POP in samples gathered from the city of Minas. The work (carried out in Uruguay by RAPAL (Action Network on Pesticides and Alternatives for Latin America) and REDES-Friends of the Earth Uruguay) found traces of polybromated biphenyls and dioxins in levels that double the standards established by the European Union for this kind of substances.
Uruguay ratified the Stockholm Convention (in the framework of the UN), which was passed in May, 2004 and which has as a main goal the elimination of POPs. The substances found in the study are included in the Convention, under the substances that should be reduced and eliminated. Uruguay, then, has committed itself to carry out all actions necessary to achieve that.
Extensive studies on the area are required to provide certainty to this issue, but the government hasn´t carried out any, according to our information.
A significant amount of hyperthyroidism cases and other heath problems in Minas were known to the public in 2004. The study published a year later recommended a monitoring of the operation of cement kilns as a potential source of POPs in developing countries.
Neither “clean”, nor “development”, the mechanisms implemented in the case of the Spanish cement company offer arguments that allow us to doubt of their effectiveness to address climate change and global warming.
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