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Goldman Prize: the forest and EU links

Each year in April, the Goldman Prize focuses the world’s attention on environmental crises confronting communities across the globe, and the heroism of the grassroots environmental activists who take a stand, often at daunting risk to themselves. Goldman honorees provide a welcome reminder that, sometimes, bravery prevails. Since awareness and solidarity are the arms they carry to battle, Fern celebrates some of them here.

Within the EU, in central Slovenia, dangerous industrial emissions were causing chronic respiratory illnesses in children and high cancer rates. Manufacturers were relying on incentives from an EU scheme to replace coal to power industrial plants with ‘alternative’ fuels including, in the case of Lafarge Cement, petcoke – a highly polluting byproduct of oil refining. Local activist Uroš Macerl challenged Lafarge in court, and won – yet authorities failed to enforce the ruling. Macerl appealed to the European Commission, which commenced infringement proceedings against Slovenia for failure to enforce EU environmental standards, and Lafarge’s incineration finally ended in 2015.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, park ranger Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo conducted an undercover investigation into the corruption surrounding British oil company SOCO International’s operation to explore for oil in Virunga National Park – a World Heritage Site and mountain gorilla habitat. Katembo was arrested and tortured. Yet when Virunga, a film containing the footage he gathered, was released at the Tribeca Film Festival and on Netflix, public outcry forced SOCO International to back down.

The biodiverse forests of the Niyamgiri Hills in India’s Orissa state, are a habitat for Bengal tigers, a migratory corridor for elephants and home to the Dongria Kondh indigenous people. Activist Prafulla Samantara, alerted the non English-speaking indigenous people to the mining operation planned on their land, and helped them pursue the matter to landmark success in the Supreme Court a decade later.