This press release is available in Spanish.
The BAC-Basque Autonomous Community (region) satisfies 83% of its demand for materials by means of imports, which greatly impacts on the environment and social situation of the supplier countries. In connection with this, several researchers from the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country are participating in a project in which they have analysed the responsibility of the Basque economy in the loss of biodiversity worldwide, and its aim now is to appeal to the social conscience. Leire Urkidi, a PhD holder in Environmental Sciences and lecturer in the Department of Geography, is one of the participants in this initiative known as BioRes, and has highlighted the fact that the BAC greatly depends on external materials: "The pollution of our water and air seems to have improved a lot over the last twenty years, but concealed behind this is the fact that highly polluting materials and manufacturing are produced externally and that we have outsourced our evils."
Urkidi is a researcher of the Ekopol group of the UPV/EHU, which studies green economics and political economy. Experts in environmental sciences (Urkidi herself), engineering, political sciences, etc. are participating in it alongside the economists. In the BioRes project, various Ekopol members are working with the Ekologistak Martxan association, funded by the BAC Government's Fund for Co-operation and Assistance.
It gets much more than it gives
"The aim was to study the BAC's environmental debt. In other words, the current relations of our economy with other countries, and how the latter are harmed on an environmental and social level by our activities and imports," says Urkidi. So they have analysed the BAC's material flows and imports, as well as their origin, and have classified the main ones into six groups: mining (minerals and energy), agro-fuels, fishing, agriculture and stockbreeding, timber and wildlife trade. "We have seen how our imports affect biodiversity, and also what investments and damage are carried out in these places by companies domiciled in the BAC for tax purposes. At the same time, we have studied the impact of development co-operation carried out by the BAC Government: whether co-operation takes place in areas of great biodiversity, and whether this is a factor that is taken into consideration, or not..," she says.
The conclusions drawn clearly show that the BAC receives much more than it gives, and very often from the countries of the south, the most impoverished ones: oil and gas from Nigeria, agro-fuels from Indonesia, minerals from Mozambique or Bolivia, tuna from Kenya and the Seychelles (while neighbouring Somalia is suffering from a dreadful famine), etc. Among these imports it is worth highlighting the extraction of energy resources (hydrocarbons, oil and gas), as 90% of the energy consumed in the BAC comes from abroad. And more than anything else, the minerals (tin, nickel, aluminium): on the one hand, because they are imported in large quantities, and on the other, because, as far as these materials are concerned, they cause great damage in the countries they come from. What is more, as Urkidi herself explains, direct external investment in no way balances this out: "85% of our companies belong to the financial or energy sector. They cause great social and environmental conflicts in these countries."
In the initial conclusions of the project, Urkidi and the rest of her colleagues at BioRes have explained the paradox that all this means: natural resources do not bring wealth to the countries of the south, in terms of their inhabitants and their biodiversity they make these countries even poorer. According to these researchers, this can be attributed to the current conditions of international exchange, the "impunity" with which many transnational companies act, and the "complicity" of the authorities. They likewise express their concern for the great external dependence of the BAC as regards raw materials, and point to the need to implement policies to produce more at home.
All this research work was carried out by BioRes in 2011, and to round off the project they have been devoting 2012 to spreading these data and to building social awareness. In connection with this, they have produced a documentary with three cases of importation which they have studied in greater depth. Firstly, biofuel production, and palm oil in particular, in Indonesia. Secondly, the mining of minerals in Bolivia; above all tin imported in huge quantities to produce the caps for the corks in the bottles of wine from the Rioja Alavesa area. And finally, fishing in Kenya and the Seychelles on the impact of the Basque tuna fishing vessels in the exploiting of the Indian Ocean. As Urkidi points out, "myself and two other researchers travelled to these places to study, at first hand, the impact and damage caused by these activities. We filmed these three studies in situ and that is how we produced the documentary."
Besides this, the work to spread the BioRes project is complemented with various conferences and courses. They are also planning to publish a report produced by means of an external assessment.