Choice of Northvolt site | Painting yourself in the corner

The electrification of our transport is important and new battery factories will likely need to emerge. However, a project aimed at reducing our greenhouse gases should not be to the detriment of natural environments and the species that live there.

We cannot ignore the crisis of biodiversity loss and the importance of safeguarding the few habitats and wetlands that we have left, particularly in Montérégie. Moreover, Quebec has “proudly” adhered to the commitments of the Kunming-Montreal agreement to stop the destruction of biodiversity, essential to humanity. The decisions surrounding the choice of site for Northvolt contravene these commitments and the principles of Sustainable Development Act.

Only compliance with the environmental assessment procedure involving the BAPE would have ensured transparency, respect for stakeholders, and improvement of the project aimed at “avoiding-minimizing-compensating” impacts on biodiversity.

We are told that the chosen site was the only option; that there are no longer industrial spaces of this scale in the greater Montreal region. This perspective is erroneous and based on two false premises.

The first is linked to the gap between zoning and reality. Since it was abandoned, the Northvolt site has become an environment of great richness and complexity supporting the life of numerous species, several of which are threatened. Many are of the opinion that the municipalities concerned should have recognized the value of this site and changed its zoning in order to protect it and allow communities to benefit from ecosystem services (cooling, purification of air and water, landscape, pollination, etc.) that result from this. So, if we had recognized the real value of this site, it would not have been considered as an option.

Consult the agricultural community

The second false premise would be to consider that in the absence of already developed sites, it would be better to destroy a complex habitat than to build in an agricultural zone. However, with the help of industrial agriculture, the spaces in southern Quebec where our birds, fish, amphibians, bats and small mammals can still live are much rarer than agricultural land.

Preserving the forest, wastelands, wetlands and water quality of the Richelieu River would represent a significant gain for biodiversity, the future of our children, public health and our capacity to adapt to climate change.

While we must transform our economy and implement the transition, we are already at a dead end. The Commissioner for Sustainable Development tells us that the government does not ensure the creation and monitoring of compensation sites, the territories likely to accommodate replacement habitats are rare, and it is very likely that these are located in spaces already naturalized or… on agricultural land.

By breaking its own rules, the government is creating a dangerous precedent and paving the way for a weakening of the democratic process which should surround the protection of natural environments. By consulting the agricultural community, perhaps certain lands enclosed by highways or urban sprawl would have proven optimal.

Even better, if they already belong to speculators awaiting rezoning, as there still are in the greater Montreal region according to the excellent documentary Quebec: Land of asphalt. Moreover, it seems that this is the choice that was made for the Northvolt project in Heide, in Germany (location in an agricultural environment, near motorways). Why not take inspiration from it? Not to consider this option from the start, and in collaboration with the agricultural community, is to paint yourself into a corner.

Co-signatories: Éric Pineault, professor, Institute of Environmental Sciences, UQAM; Aurélie Sierra, environmental sociologist; Maxime Gagnon, urban planner; Patricia Chalifour, senior recruitment consultant; Guillaume Dostie, biology teacher, Cégep de Saint-Laurent; Katherine Collin, president, Technoparc Oiseaux; DD Pascale Bourgeois; David Roy, Director General, Workshops for Biodiversity; Emma Despland, professor of biology, Concordia University; Josée Goudreau, lawyer and biologist


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