VATTERN CASE

Introduction

Lake Vättern is the second largest lake in Sweden. It provides drinking water for more than 250 000 people, a number that may increase substantially in the future as both Örebro and Stockholm, and even Denmark and Germany, are looking at Vättern as a source of water.

The communities living in the lake Vättern area have mobilised against the environmental destruction of Vättern and surrounding ecosystems for many years. Aktion Rädda Vättern (ARV) and Urbergsgruppen Grenna  are two of many organisations and networks which have continued to protect Vättern and surrounding ecosystems in the wake of pollution of the lake by corporations and the Swedish state.

In 2018-2019 Swedish Earth Rights Lawyers drafted a declaration of the rights of lake Vättern with assistance from the U.S. based organisation Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). The declaration was adopted by the Earth Rights Conference 2019 and it is the foundation of an emerging coalition for the rights of lake Vättern. 

Presentation

Violation of the rights of nature:

The aquatic ecosystems in lake Vättern are threatened by past, ongoing and planned activities. These include activities such as a zinc mine leaking heavy metals into the lake, planned mining for rare earth minerals, a large paper mill and the Swedish defense forces military use of the lake for shooting exercise, both from the air and by heavy artillery from the shores.

In 2019 the Swedish Armed Forces were granted permission to expand Karlsborg military airport and extend shootings into the lake. Extended shootings in the lake will harm the water, affect nature experience, cause noises, harm the wildlife and harm activities by the lake such as farming, tourism and fishing. The air will be polluted by CO2 as well as other polluting gases. The water and land will be polluted by lead and chemicals. Furthermore, lake Vättern is a specially protected area according to Natura 2000 and has also received status of National Water Protection Area. 

Studies of wildlife have shown that birds are severely affected by the shootings. There are many protected species within the affected area. The expansion of Karlsborg airport will entail a higher risk of contaminating lake Vättern with chemical products and hazardous waste, thereby harming the diverse fish fauna. The expansion will also negatively affect the sensitive bat colony in Karlsborgs fortress. 

Mining concessions for exploration and exploitation of minerals have been granted to venture capitalist companies such as Tasman Metals AB and European Cobalt ltd at Norra Kärr and Havsmon nr 1, close to Vättern.

Tasman Metals exploration concession was extended by two years in August 2019, and the company is currently completing their Natura 2000 application for a renewed mining lease. 

Watch an expert from the Tribunal on the rights of lake Vättern held at Earth Rights Conference 2019 in Sigtuna, Sweden.

International Rights of Nature Tribunal

The proposed mining activities will result in increased risk of toxic contamination of lake Vättern, noise, negative impacts on rare and endangered species and surrounding Natura 2000 area. These activities will exacerbate the existing pollution of the lake by heavy metals, chemicals and radioactive materials.

The Injured Party

The Case Presenter

International Rights of Nature Tribunal

Arci Pasanen

Arci Pasanen is a communicator and organizer with focus on people’s movements such as the transition network and rights of nature. She has worked with rights of nature since 2014 on a local level in Gothenburg, Sweden and is part of the national Network for the Rights of Nature Sweden.

From 2019 she is also involved with the lake Vättern process. Her work is based on the conviction that rights of nature is the game-changer we need in order to restore the human-nature relationship.

The Injured Party

International Rights of Nature Tribunal

Carina Gustavsson, Lake Vättern Academy

Carina Gustafsson was born and raised by the shores of Lake Vättern. Her family have lived by Lake Vättern since time immemorial and were always taught to appreciate the crystal-clear springwater. As a Child she often Heard warnings to respect the strong and wild spirit of the lake. Carina has worked with Indigenous peoples rights and environmental issues for 25 years.She now finds herself fighting here at home, to protect that which is closest to her heart: Lake Vättern.

The Expert

International Rights of Nature Tribunal

Eva Charlotta Helsdotter

Eva Charlotta Helsdotter have more than three decades of experiences of water resource management, as a researcher, teacher and consultant. Her PhD in land and water resources management  focused on the pollution of metals in ground and surface water and she has been working together with indigenous people in protecting their land and water. She is currently working as Associate Professor at Uppsala University in Sweden in the Dálkke-project where she analyzes consequences of climate change, how different political actions within the energy sector claimed to mitigate climate change and how animal, forest, lands and waters are affected.

The Legal Advisor

International Rights of Nature Tribunal

Mariam Carlsson Kanyama, Swedish Earth Rights Lawyers

Mariam Carlsson Kanyama holds an LLM in international environmental law from Lund University, Sweden. She has worked with the International Environmental Law Research Center (IELRC) in Nairobi, Kenya and is a member of Swedish Earth Lawyers ( SERL). Her work at IELRC focused on climate finance and her contributions within SERL center on anticolonial and antiracist practices of environmental law.  As a member of SERL she is one of the lawyers who drafted the bill of the rights of lake Vättern, adopted at the Earth Rights conference 2019.

Legislation

We ask:

That the Swedish parliament recognize the rights of lake Vättern according to the Declaration of the rights of lake Vättern.

That the Swedish state restore all natural water functions, all populations of organisms, soil and terrestrial and aquatic sub-ecosystems in lake Vättern.

That the Swedish state provide rehabilitation and satisfaction to communities that have been adversely affected by the above mentioned activities.

That the swedish state provide means for sufficient surveillance of the health of Lake Vättern, with adequate testing of pollutants, also deep/close to the lakebed and increase the number of substances to test for.

That the polluting industries that operate close to the lake, be ordered to install state of the art purification facillities/treatment plants.

That Sweden adopt measures, such as the establishment of an Ombudsman for the Rights of Nature so as to adequately uphold, protect and implement the rights of Mother Earth according to the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth into Swedish law.

Take Action

Act for the Mer de Glace by joining us! 

Join and support the growing Rights of Nature network in Sweden

Read more about the Declaration of the Rights of Lake Vättern

WHEN LIFE TAKES YOU ON A JOURNEY THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING

By Carina Gustavsson

 ” If they can do it to us – they can do it to you”. Quote by Dineh Matriarch and resistance leader Roberta Blackgoat, when she visited us in Sweden in May 2001, to tell us about her Dineh ( Navajo) Peoples long struggle against forced relocation and the huge open pit coalmine with the long slurryline that transported huge amounts of pristine springwater from the high desert plateu, for more than 30 years, that is on their beautiful Mountain Black Mesa, in northeastern Arizona.

The visits on Big Mountain and the work we did together with the traditional Dine and Hopi peoples on Big Mountain/Black Mesa, has become my university. These people have changed my life in so many ways and they have taught us so much. It feels surreal to me, still, to think about everything that has happened and all the wonderful People ive met. All the heartwrenching stories ive listened to, the destruction we have seen, caused by the mine, the hardships these People have endured, very few truly understands.

Water is the fundamental prerequisite for life: Precious Freshwater Lake Vättern

I never thought I would experience the day when this Beautiful lake would face such serious threats, as is reality today. Vättern means Water. Lake Vättern has sustained East and West Gothia regions, along with Närke and Småland regions that borders the lake and also far beyond, since the inland ice, melted.

As long back in time as we know, my ancestors have depended upon and cherished lake Vättern. My Grandmothers family have lived on the small island Visingsö, for countless generations. My great grandfather sailed his own cargo ships, back and forth on lake Vättern and out to the Atlantic ocean along the west, south and east coasts of Sweden, through Göta canal, carrying different cargos. Thats how he provided for his family and himself, after watching his parents leave for America, when he was only 12 years old. They meant to send for him, but that never happened.

Growing up at the shores of lake Vättern, has taught me a deep respect for the lake, aswell as a deep love and appreciation for her beauty, strenght and at times; great fury. There have always been a certain sense of magic, surrounding this deep, rather narrow lake. The old ones used to tell tales about the lake, out on the island, in the evenings by candle light. I remember going to bed at my grandmothers familys farm, scared from listening to frightening tales, of a large  “monster” living at the bottom of the lake, and occasionally coming up to the surface. Come morning, and watching the sunrays glittering on the watersurface at sunrise, the fear was quickly forgotten and replaced by joy.

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Roberta Blackgoat Dine, in Sweden 2001

International Rights of Nature Tribunal

    View over Lake Vättern and Visingsö, facing south from Brahe castle, at 120 meters height above the lake

The island of Kings and legends; Visingsö

People have lived on Visingsö since the stone age. The little island used to be a central power site, in the old days. Many regional leaders have lived on the island, and later on the so called Peoples Kings of East and West Gothia. In 1912 the island hosted a very rare event at the time; a Peace conference, with delegates from far away countries. This Peace conference were founded by a Madame Tingley from the east coast of USA. Madame Tingley visited Visingsö many times over the years.

The island have a way of staying inside the hearts of people, that visit there and have always attracted people from all over.

As I remember growing up, life on the little island went by at a slow pace, following the seasonal duties of small farming. The farmers exchanged goods and food between each other. One farm for instance, would have a lot of hens and produced enough eggs to trade for milk, grain/flour aso, with the farm nextdoor, while another farm would specialize in growing potatoes, and so on. The islanders were industrious and inventive in finding ways  to survive. In summertime many of the farmers took to the tourist buisness, as they pulled out the old horsecarriage with two long sofas on it and two of their sturdy horses ( ardenner or the northswedish horse) and trotted down to the harbor to meet the ferries that came from the little town Gränna, loaded with tourists, schoolchildren on outings and locals that had to go to the mainland for some reason. These horsecarriages, called remmalag,  are still in full swing today, giving tourists a sightseeing ride on the beautiful, pastoral island, that has an amazing and exciting history.

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Australia is one of many countries that have experienced shortage of water in many regions, due long periods of draught

Fishing was of course, also an important way of making a living, on the island. Still today the old practice of keeping village  boats, are kept alive, and every summer, these village boats are sailed to the western shores of lake Vättern, carrying potatoes, strawberries and many other local produce from the island Visingsö, to be sold in the small town harbor of the little town Hjo, West Gothia.

I am so very grateful to have had the chance to experience and see the kind of lifestyle that existed on the island, growing up. It worked for a very long time….thousands of years.

Do we really understand how fortunate we are to have such good drinkingwater?

The water in the lake is crystal clear and cold springwater. It takes approximately 60 years for the water to turn over/renew, and thus the lake is very sensitive to pollution. Today, app 300 000 people get their drinkingwater from lake Vättern, and if you count the cities that takes drinkingwater from Motala stream that comes from Lake Vättern, the numbers are even higher.

As the world increasingly lacks clean drinkingwater, we are truly blessed to have such good water. Many more people hopes to get their drinkingwater from lake Vättern in near future, for instance the town Örebro and possibly in the future, Stockholm and other large cities and heavily populated areas.

International Rights of Nature Tribunal

When one realizes that only 2,5-3% of all the water on the planet, is sweetwater/freshwater, it becomes very clear that we have to do everything we can to protect that water and use it with care.

THE THREATS

Today, lake Vättern faces several threats and its very hard to come to terms with the facts that what many of us thought could not happen, actually are in the process of manifesting! Here are two of several threats:

  • The Swedish military airforce wants to expand their lowflying military exercices over the lake, shooting and dumping ammunition into the lake. The increase of military activity as applied to the Swedish environment court, is from todays 1000 fired shots per year, to nearly 80 000 fired shots per year.
  • The second threat is the Canadian based REE mining company Leading Edge Materials Ltd with swedish subsidiary Tasman metals AB;s far reaching plans of starting up a open pit Rare Earth Elements mine, very close to the eastern shore of lake Vättern, and close to the beautiful little town Gränna. The mining area would be placed app 1,5 km from the steep shoreline of Lake Vättern, on 120 meters height above the lake.

This area is very rich in cultural history and recieves a huge amount of tourists on an annual basis. Its is an extremely beautiful area with a unique environment that in fact is protected as nature reserves, UNESCO biosphere area, ÉU Natura 2000 area, EU Water Directive aso. But in spite of all these protective measures, the mining industry have been granted permission to testdrill, testmine and was granted mining lease for exlusive rights to these minerals. In 2016 the Swedish High Administrative Court  issued a verdict that meant that the company lost their mining lease and had to reapply and complete a EU Natura 2002 EIS process, to get the lease back. This was a requierment from the start of the application process, but the company never carry out this requierement or submitted the Natura 2000 EIS. To add to the injury, the Swedish mining inspectorate along with the Swedish Government gave the company a green light, even though they had not followed the proper steps to fulfill the  mining leases requierements.

Good thing that the highly accomplished environmental lawyer and environmental organisations, landowners and concerned citizens, submitted an appeal to the Swedish high administrative court, and won!

There are now just a few steps left in the applicationprocess, before Leading Edge Materials Ltd out of Vancouver Canada, might be able to again, start up their industrial mining project, blasting up huge amounts of bedrock and releasing a lot of substances that has been safely embedded in the mountain for billions of years.

REE mines are very hazardous and poses great healthrisks to people and surrounding environment, with special emphazis for high risk of contamination of water. The company gives different information on their swedish website versus on the canadian web for investors, when it comes to the amount/concentration of uranium and thorium in the bedrock.

Outside the eastern shore, very close to the planned open pit mine, in the bottom of the lake, runs a faultline that played a big role in the creation of this lake, a long time ago. Geologists and seismologists have estimated that an event occured here, long ago, when the inland ice had melted and the icewater lake/sea parted from this area and flowed out toward the Atlantic Ocean. When that water dissapeared,the weight that was lifted off the land, caused an eartquake of the size 7.5 on the Richter scale, along this faultline. The faultline is still active, but have not produced such a large event as the 7.5 since that time, but it has produced noticable events in our time.

In the area where the mining company plans to start up their buissness, there are several hundreds of houses and  farms. The industrial mining area are estimated to cover 10 square kilometers.  Some of these families have called this area home for generations….upon generations. Now they face seeing their homes destroyed forever. Some may accept compensation or being bought out, and be ok with it, others are heartbroken and suffer from sickness due to the worries and stress. Some feel like they have betrayed friends, neighbors and family, and some feel betrayed. Some feel they can make a profit on this debacle, while others will loose everything. It sure is a recipie for disaster when it comes to human relations in what has been a beautiful rural living home area…and an extremely special place.

In this area, that lies 120 meters above  and very close to lake Vättern, there would be an enourmous open pit mine, clearingsponds and tailingsponds, millingbuildings, chemicalsstorage and several waste storage areas, very broad roads, it will cover a large area.

The natural way for rainwater to run off the mountain is down…and that means down into lake Vättern och other lowlying waterways. The mining company says they will turn the wastewater from the mine around so it will flow the other direction, meaning eastward. In that direction are also several protected rivers, lakes and waterways that now face the same threat of being contaminated. Extracting  these rare earth minerals, produces huge amounts of waste, as the concentration of the desired minerals within the bedrock, is very low. In the extraction/milling process, we have learned that traditionally large amounts of sulphuric acid and other chemicals have been used on site. All of this has created a lot of concern and worries.

Some time ago, i called a representative of the mining industry. He asked in a very condecending tone; – Who are you? Well, i told him, im a concerned citizen and im calling to see if you can give me some answers and make me less concerned. I can tell you that he could not give me the answers i needed to be less concerned. Noone has yet been able to guarantee that a tailingsdam cannot break and its toxic and radioactive waste,not crash down into the lake. Nor have anyone been able to guarantee that toxic sustances would not leak into the surrounding waterbodies, as such leaks occur naturally, both from the tailingsdams and from the industrial area. Further the mine would use Lake Vätterns pure springwater for their industrial process. This seems like a grave abuse of such valuable and good freshwater, to me.

I figured…my mandate is, to stand with Honor for the Ancestors and look out for Future Generations. I am here, beacuse of them and this lake.

Working nonprofit together with Indigenous friends over the years, have taught me, that not much good comes from big corporations that are on a mission to exploit what they call natural resources, to fill up their bank accounts. Very often they exploit resources on other peoples landbases, and most of the time, it is the people whos landbase and often water that are being exploited/destroyed, that pays the heaviest price.

You all know that too well, my relatives, friends, sisters and brothers in Sapmi, Big Mountain/Black Mesa, Oak Flat,  Four Corners area, Pine Ridge and Rosebud in South Dakota, Standing Rock in North Dakota, Canada and Alaska – in so many places on Turtle Island and Abya Yala, on Hawaii, in Australia and New Zeeland. All over the Earth, so many caring and responsible People fight greed of the worst kind.

Thank You, Dear Ones! Our Prayers and actions continue to join yours for the children, for all our relations, and for coming generations!

In Solidarity Always!

Carina in Sweden

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Learn more About the tribunal

The European Tribunal for Aquatic Ecosystem aims to demonstrate the legal effectiveness of the Rights of Nature movement and make recommendations for the protection and restoration of the water cycle.

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