Dirty Energy at the Climate Justice Meeting

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The theme for Day 2 of our Climate Justice meeting that happened last week was Dirty Energy. The topics ranged from oil and gas to coal and waste management.

The day started with an input by Makhoma Lekalakala on the impacts of coal mines and coal-fired power stations in South Africa, but which happen around the world. These include water pollution from acid mine drainage, which continues even after the operations are over, because they are either not decommissioned or not closed properly. There is major air pollution, with nearby communities struggling with breathing. In fact, health degradation is the worst impact, and is an externality not included in the price of coal. Another issue is food insecurity, as people are displaced from their farmlands and water sources.

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Perito Alper Tarquinho talked about the situation of coal mining in Mozambique. When companies talk to communities about new coal operations, they say that this ‘development’ will bring them direct benefits and bring money to the country and the people. But this ‘development’ actually harms people. People are not respected in the companies’ decision making processes. What is most important to them is to satisfy their shareholders.

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Verónica da Silveira Reino took this further by giving the example of Vale who mines coal in Tete province in Mozambique. It doesn’t consult and forces community members to sign documents which will agree to their forced removals from their homes and their fertile land.

Indian company Jindal, also in Tete is operating where the community still lives.

Thomas Mnguni talked about Eskom, which knows its legal obligations but does not comply. The work they do as groundWork is to point out how Eskom, which is a state-owned entity violates our human rights, according the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution. People deserve the right to health, land and a clean environment.

Niven Reddy explained the waste to energy system, which is the thermal treatment of waste. This enforces wasteful culture. For GAIA, burning waste is not the solution, recycling and composting is. If things can’t be re-used or recycled, they should not be produced in the first case.

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Daniel Ribeiro talked about the impacts of mega-dams. Rivers are vital for distribution of nutrients and sediments. Dams impede this cycle and aggravate erosion. 20% of river fish species were decimated due to mega-dams. 63% of all forced displacements are due to mega dams.

It’s also a water-grab, the wall of the dam is used to remove people from access to water. Mega-dams are also linked to increased seismic activity. Methane emissions are also another impacts of Dams. There are major human rights abuses against people fighting dams. Land is very central to rural communities, we must fight for it. Dams take up huge amount of land leading to loss of life, loss of culture and loss of traditional territories.

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Greg Muttitt spoke on the global politics of oil. The most important politics of oil, he says, is the struggle against the oil industry. He spoke of three activists from history from whom he gained inspiration to fight the oil industry. The first was American journalist Ida Tarbell who wrote a book about Standard Oil in the 1800’s which led to a successful court case against the oil industry.

The second was Mohammed Mosadegh, the Prime Minister of Iran, who forced BP out of the country in the 1950’s. He who was removed from power in a coup in 1953, by the Shah who was a big supporter of BP. This brought the oil companies back and created authoritarian rule.

The third was Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who led a non-violent campaign against Shell and other companies in the 1980’s. In 1994, the state framed him for murder and executed him.

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Something we keep seeing a lot through history is how companies go into a new country to drill for oil, and sign a bad deal with the government, who often does not have the same legal and financial expertise as the companies from the global North. When the oil is flowing, and the state realizes that the deal does not benefit them, it is too late.

Not only does the industry need to stop looking for more oil, it needs to stop building pipelines and terminals, and those in operation must be shut down before they run out. Solutions will not come from corporations but from social movements in the north and south. Our movements are stronger now than ever before.

Thuli Makama talked about the politics of oil in Africa and said that people often assume that if oil development happens in Africa, the profit will flow down to communities, but that is never the case. This is the nature of the beast. It is carefully engineered.

The discussions of what will happen with oil exploitation in Africa do not take place in Africa, but in European boardrooms with corporations, financial institutions and states present.

An issue is that extraction is preceded by conflict. Oil and conflict are cousins, it is most often that where you find the one you will find the other. Oil money also ends up funding armed conflict.

Another feature of oil in Africa is causes a lot of suffering at local level. In the Niger delta, oil operations kills farming, fishing and biodiversity, and the people can no longer feed themselves. African governments are captured and cannot rise against corporations.

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Mike Karipko said that the discovery of oil in your community is a declaration of war on your community! A war on your land, your daughters, your mothers. And oil is so cheap because all the costs to the environment, land rivers and the community are externalized, as big government officials are bought over by companies. Because the companies provide the government with bribes, the tax money of the people is no longer important, so they are not listened to.

Emem Okon talked about the impact that dirty energy has on women. Whatever the impact on a community, the impact on women will be triple, like we see in the Niger Delta. Women are the lifeline in a community and any bad impacts increases the burden on women. For example, women are the farmers and providers of food and water for their families. If their farmland is taken and water is polluted, and there is no other source of livelihood, they are traumatised.

Ike Teuling spoke about the campaign by the farming community of Groningen in the Netherlands, where Shell has gas fields. The drilling regularly created tremors and earthquakes. 100,000 houses were damaged and collapsed, each of these farming families are taking Shell to court individually. These are farmers who are often uneducated having to face Shell’s lawyers every day. The state constantly says that the safety of people in Groningen is most important, but the gas drilling cannot stop because they depend on it for power.

These people have realised that compensation is not enough – if Shell compensates them for the destruction of a house but they continue to drill, their next house will also collapse. So they joined the movement against gas completely.

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João Mosca said huge parts of corporate profits are not charged as tax, so the state doesn’t collect big amounts as revenues which could be spent on education and healthcare. Until 2016, the Mozambican economy was growing, but who actually benefited? We have a massive increasing external debt.

When companies come and promise job creation, they actually provide very few jobs, because the projects are capital intensive and not labour intensive. The jobs that are available are non-qualified positions leading to even more exploitation of labour.

Fatima Mimbire spoke on the Redistribution of Wealth and Investment in Community Development of the gas exploration in Mozambique to compensate the communities that are impacted by the gas exploration and the models of processes and regulations that needed to be installed. That the legal framework is fragile and that in reality there are many negative examples, all over the world.

Daniel Ribeiro presented on the impacts of gas in Mozambique. There are no examples in Africa that are able to escape this reality. Many impacts are difficult to predict. For example, when boats come from the other side of the world to transport gas, they come empty to carry the gas back. But they add water on the way to keep the ship stable. This brings ballast water which brings organisms not from our coast. This is a reason for the invasion of alien species int the coast.

Our bio system is already diminishing. When drilling takes place, more than 300 chemicals are released that are found to be cancer-causing, in humans, and more than 1000 which are fatal to animals and plants.

The gas industry is notorious for human rights violations. In fact, according to the UN, an increase in human rights violations is proportionate with an increase in dependancy on oil and gas.

Many countries are regarding gas as a ‘transition’ fuel to renewable energy, because they say it has less impact on climate change, because it emits less CO2 than oil. But gas emits methane which is 80% stronger than CO2 over 20 years. Apart from that, the process of exploiting gas is very difficult to control. There is a lot of leakage, and no technology currently available to solve these problems. We need to distinguish their lies from truth. When they say Mozambique will develop through gas, this is a lie. Our debts will only increase.

The discussions at the end of the presentations were intense and with many interventions arising from the participants. Unfortunately we had to end the debate, because we were already past the time and there was still the next day, full of more presentations and debates.

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When strategy trumps ideology

Who pays the price ?

All struggles that seek to fight the immoral plagues of our societies and take humanity to a higher moral ground, are rooted in a ideology, often structured around justice, equity, solidarity, love and other beautiful values. All of us deep down know that these values are central to the existence of humanity. To be together, live along side each other and develop any sense of community, these values have to be present in some form or another, and the more central and prevalent these values are to one’s society, the more peaceful, happy and sustainable such society can become.

Many amazing justice movements are constantly fighting for this, but there is a growing trend of professionalization of movements and non profit organisations, while pushing them towards a more corporate model that better fits the zombie-like belief of free markets. The pressure to show good annual value for donor funds is reshaping how we fight these social issues and forcing the focus on short term gains at the cost of real long-term change. A large part of what is considered to be civil society is fighting these battles primarily in a strategic manner and not centering them around a moral ideology that takes society as a whole to a better place.

This is clear when we look at how we dealing with the climate crisis. The main solutions pushed by our governments are strategically centered around greed for money, in other words through markets. All over the place one hears comments that societies will not do anything unless there is a economic benefit. That you need to be able to sell it to save it, etc, etc, etc… We have seemed to accept this narrative, and by accepting this narrative we are basically saying the present day societies are not driven by moral values, but by economic incentives. That is a scary thought if you just stop and think about it for a moment. And lets no forget that victories then reinforce the values that guided the campaign and shifts society even further in that direction.

But that’s why our victories against slavery, colonialism, racism, gender inequity, and more were really important. They not only showed that these systems were wrong, but they reinforced the values of equality, equity, solidarity, etc that guided these movements and shifted our societies further in that direction. Its not easy and its always a big balancing act between ideology and strategy. Even in the biggest victories of civil society we can see the cost of strategy on ideology, and there are people that end up paying this cost, even in movements with the highest ideological values. A good example of a movement that had strong guiding ideologies and carefully considered strategies was the US civil rights movement that fought for equality and against racial segregation in the US, but even in such an amazing movement, one can find the cost of strategy and its consequences on the ideology. We can learn a lot from them…

Brown vs the Board of Education

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A protest in the 1950s in favour of segregation! Photo courtesy: Thurgood Marshall Center Trust

 

The case of Brown vs the Board of Education in the 1950s is a good example to illustrate the complexity of the issue. Even though equal rights for all races had been recently achieved on paper, most southern states in the 1950s had segregated public schools, with white students going to nearby neighborhood schools, while students of colour went to a different system of schools that were sparsely spread throughout the city. These non-white schools had their own teachers, principals, headmasters and management that were also of colour.

The Brown family, who the case is named for, had a 7 year daughter called Linda who had to walk 7 blocks, often in bad weather, then cross a busy street, to get a bus across the city to be able to go to her non-white school, while a white-only school was just 4 blocks away. In light of this unjust segregation, one of the leading civil rights groups, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), instructed the Brown family and 12 other black families to try to enroll in their local neighborhood white schools. As we can imagine, they were denied admission due to their race, and this served as the start of a case that finally reached the US Supreme Court and become the famous landmark victory “Brown vs the Board of Education (1954)”.

Now, if one looks into the case information, one notices a trend of setting up a notion of the inferiority of colored schools, it is even highlighted within the actually ruling:

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children”;

policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group”;

Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children”.

These are all excerpts from the ruling and all reinforce the notion that white schools were superior, that the segregation of schools was having severe negative effects, even retardation of colored children. This was not what the civil rights movements were saying, they were saying that segregation and racial discrimination was unjust and unconstitutional. That all should have the right to choose which school is best for them. In summary it was based on fundamental legal and moral principles, even if the quality of both white and black schools were the same.

In case you are wondering, no the colored schools were actually not inferior and were actually often better. One of the reasons for this is that highly educated people of color were forbidden to work in certain sectors and overall were discriminated by all sectors to the point that becoming a teacher in the colored school system was one of the few respectable job options, hence there were a very high number of very highly gifted, intelligent and education teachers of colour. Furthermore, the civil rights movement valued the importance of education and many gifted individuals became teachers to contribute to the education of people of colour and their political enlightenment.

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A newspaper announcing the ban on school segregation, May 1954. Photo courtesy: Thurgood Marshall Center Trust

 

Why is all this important? The fight was to achieve equal rights for all races, and ending segregation of the education system was an important step in this process. The existing racial basis of the system (including the Court) instinctively believed that people of colour and the education systems they were running were inferior to those run by whites. This is clearly reflected in the ruling that centered around this notion and in the process reinforced these racial, immoral and incorrect views. Even after the ruling, the case was seen as a milestone, a great victory for all and is used as a example for other struggles. And it is all that, but we must not forget the cost of this strategy to allow the framing and at times even use the existing basis to increase the likelihood of victory. The notion that the colored school system were deterimental to colored students was a strategically useful notion to get white people to accept that segregation was unjust, as well as unconstitutional.

Naomi Brooks et al., Appellants, v. School District of City of Moberly, Missouri, Etc., et al

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The Moberley case book cover. Photo courtesy: snapdeal.com

 

The feeding, use of or even letting these incorrect and immoral social views prevail has serious long term consequences. In the case of the Brown vs the Board of Education ruling, it set the stage for how the desegregation process was to play out. As white and colored schools started integrating, there were decisions to be made on which schools should be closed, which were the best teachers to work in these new integrated schools and of course the parents could now choose the closest and best neighborhood school for their kids. Logically, choosing the best of both systems would have produced a great new schooling system, but the ruling had already biasly defined which were the best schools, which were the best teachers and that was incorrectly deemed to be the white schools and white teachers. So almost all the black schools were closed and almost all the teachers that were fired in the process were black teachers, often with higher levels of education then their white counterparts, often with clearly better experience, teaching records and results.

Basically, in any logical, fair and measurable manner their were better qualified black teachers that were let go in favor of less qualified white teachers. What is also sad is that the best qualified black teachers were purposely let go because they were seen as a threat and challenged the notion that was the foundation of the integration process. Across the southern states their were over 82,000 teachers at the time of the Brown ruling and during the integration process almost half (40,000 teachers) were fired, and it would have been more if there were enough white teachers to deal with the larger unified schooling system.

As you can imagine, the civil rights movement didn’t let this injustice towards coloured teachers happen without a fight and in 1959 the case Naomi Brooks et al., Appellants, v. School District of City of Moberly, Missouri, Etc., et al. reached the Supreme Court’s docket, but was denied and the reasoning behind this decision is embedded with racism and prejudice. The case had such clear evidence that the judge had to find odd ways to overcome the facts, stating about one teacher that “she gave the impression that she considered herself superior to other teachers”. She was way superior in all measurable terms to the teacher that was selected in her place and no hard evidence was given to back up this statement. Another statement tries to explain the hiring patterns saying that human abilities can’t be “reduced to a mathematical formula” and with that he set the foundation for ignoring all the hard facts, data and evidence proving that the coloured teachers in question were better qualified than the white counterparts that were selected. Not to go too much into the details, but I think we all understand the patterns.

These two cases are strongly linked and highlight the difficult balance between ideology and strategy. Was the Brown case too strategic in letting the racial biases of the time help guide the ruling to victory? The cost of which the coloured teachers paid the consequences. Was the Moberly case naively ideological and not strategic enough, resulting in the loss? In truth I do not know, and I don’t have the right to criticize the amazing work done by the civil rights movement. However, I do believe that we should know and acknowledge who paid the cost of these battles. The people that paid the price of integration, for example. In this case one of the most affected and under-appreciated of them all were the amazing coloured teaches that were so central to the enlightenment of the colored youth. And let us not forget that even the teachers that did manage to keep their jobs still faced the reality of all coloured people of the time, in their case being constantly harrassed, not allowed to use the whites-only teachers room or even toilets, and much more…

To be clear, Brown vs Board of Education was really important and the US would be far more unjust today without it. But it reminds us that we must always consider and know who pays the price of some of our strategies.

I guess some of you are saying “interesting, but whats the link to us in Mozambique?”

Mozambique’s Context

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Mozambique’s flag

 

Well, Mozambique’s civil social is very “service provider” with a strong trend towards professionalization and donor-orientated agendas. Even the few movements we have are heading in the same direction, with the technical staffs having more and more influence over the political leadership of the movements. Most groups strategies and works shift to match funding trends, with the objectives and activities heavily focused on satisfying donor systems and interests, not the long term well-being of the people they claim to represent.

The few ideology-based organizations in Mozambique are often referred to as ‘radical’, ‘unrealistic’ “extreme’, etc…in some cases even ‘against development’, ‘unpatriotic’, foreign agents etc… The problems is that subconsciously our civil society believes that they have no power and never will, so they focus on trying to get the best out of a bad situation. Basically they are fighting for the crumbs that fall off the masters table. A good example of this has been in the Prosavana campaign. At the beginning there were more than 20 groups involved, and given the facts of the project, it was clear that the project was going to be devastating to the subsistence-based farmers in the area. Given this, the campaign “No to Prosavana” developed, but within a short time groups started stepping out of the campaign. Some because large funds were available to do work within the Prosavana process, which were clear attempts to show investors that social and environmental components were taken into consideration (green washing). Other groups started to feel the political pressure and power of the elites. Finally, some groups realized the magnitude of the project, and powers involved, causing them to believe that the project was a reality and the only aspect left was to make the best of the a bad situation and fight for the crumbs.

Of all the groups that started out in the Campaign, no one believed that the project was going to be of any good to the people. All agreed that in a ideal world the only answer to such project would be “NO!”, instead the message from many groups is ‘we must sit at the table, we must negotiate, we can humanize the Prosavana campaign’. None of those NGOs has anything to lose by this so-called ‘strategic approach’. They get paid by funders to sit at the table and be strategic. Not only are they not defending the interests of affected people who would lose their lands and livelihoods, but they are creating a false notion that Prosavana could be beneficial, with just a few tweaks.

We refused to be strategic in this case because as we know sitting at the table is to be complicit with the loss of livelihoods of thousands of subsistence farmers. One can only be strategic within a ideological framing. Being strategic without a ideological foundation makes one prone to drift and lose the long term vision that is required for any significant change. The focus on small winnable activities allows for discontent in one’s objectives, like independent bubbles that pop and leave no lasting impact. Pretty and fun, but substance none.

Even in its early phase of the “No to Prosavana” campaign one can see the benefits of a ideological approach. Originally Mozambique was seen as a country that was favorable for large scale land investment due to its corporate supportive governments and weak civil society that are very willing to sit down and green wash their investments. The “No to Prosavana” (run by just 8 groups) has managed to change this perception of landgrab investors. Mozambique is now seen as a country with risks for investors, where civil society and affected communities can cause major headaches, delays and problems for investors. Where the landgrab situation is starting to cause broad public concern and even mentioned as a possible future trigger for public uproar if not managed. One academic has even speculated that numerous investors have moved away from investing in large landgrab projects in Mozambique due to the “No to Prosavana” and its ability to expose the impacts, develop public perceptions, etc… So even if the project goes ahead the campaign has contributed to a growing vision on land rights and strengthen civil societies confidence, and its right to say NO!

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2014 press conference from the ‘No to Prosavana’ campaign

 

Climate change campaigning tells a similar story in Mozambique at the moment. Civil society is too happy to jump on the Paris Agreement bandwagon, celebrating it, even though it doesn’t come close to meeting what science says is needed, even though it doesn’t promote the solutions that the people have shown to be the best, even though its not legally binding and there are little to no serious consequences if countries don’t meet the targets that they set themselves with little regard for science and facts. The Paris Agreement will burn the planet and Mozambique will be one of the countries to be affected quite severely early on. Defending the Paris Agreement is a strategic approach at best (and completely delusional at worst). After emissions stabilized for last few years, they are now set to rise again (research from late 2017). The leaders are not keeping their part of the deal. Even the terribly weak deal they set themselves. Nevertheless, Mozambique civil society is happy to feed on the scraps and work in sync with donor priorities because there are significant amounts of funds; because there are winnable goals; and because that is what they believe is possible and realistic….in short, it is the strategic thing to do…

Its simple, our civil society no longer fights its struggles grounded on ideology, but is over-focused on strategy and short term gains that they try to over-inflate into victories. The Brown case shows how even small strategic actions have long term consequences, but at least they won the battle. So imagine the long term impacts of Mozambique’s current approach, and I doubt even that change can be achieved through this approach. We, civil society, have seem to accept defeat and are focusing on the crumbs. Have we even tried to understand who is going to pay the cost of all this? All struggles need to be centered around an ideology, and its on this foundation that we can be strategic. We can’t let strategy over ride the values of our ideology, even if it implies a longer path to our goals, because when we win our struggle we also bring this foundation of values into our society and not just the specific issue that sparked the struggle. Life is a struggle, and true change takes time and courage.

The monsters of today’s injustices are not going away quietly into the night. They have no morals, heart or conscious, so can’t be guided or convinced based on logic, science or basic humanity. They have an endless hunger for capital and will starve if they stop doing what they do best. They will continue to do so till they consume themselves or cause a planetary collapse. Its not the monsters fault, its the nature of the beast. How long can we live off its crumbs before all we know crumbles. Its time to end capitalism…lets kills this monster!

The Selfish…

My brother died.

He died because he grew up in a rural area where there were no schools, therefore he did not study. And because he did not study, when the local administrator appeared with some gentlemen who offered him money and a job in exchange for his land, he believed their word and signed some papers unaware of what he was doing. When he realized he was conned, he complained but no one helped him out.

He died because when the miserable six-month contract and the money they paid him ran out, he had to go live in the city to escape starvation. He ended up starving in the city.

He died because he could not afford the minibus taxis and, in the city, there are not enough buses, so on his way to work he jumped on the back of a truck full of people that rolled over in a tight turn because it was too full. The tire blew up. The accident happened shortly after the truck was stopped by the police to pay their “toll”.

He died because the only running ambulance in the district was on its way to another place, so they took too long to get him to the nearest health centre.

He died because in the health centre they did not have the means to save his life.

I wish I could invite the heads of our government to the funeral. It seems fitting to me that one of them should bang the last nail in my brother’s coffin, since, directly or indirectly, it was them who hammered all the others.

In most Mozambican schools, there are not enough tables, chairs, manuals, notebooks, pencils, pens and even teachers. There are schools without a roof, schools without windows and even schools without walls.

In most hospitals and health centres in Mozambique, a lot is needed and lacking. For example, Maputo’s Hospital Central, due to lack of equipment, refers critically ill patients to private hospitals that very few can afford, thus condemning those who cannot to their fate.

On Mozambique’s modest roads, twice a day, millions of men, women, and children commute in crammed up minibuses or in the back of trucks that do not even meet the minimum safety requirements to transport cattle.

Mozambique lacks A LOT of basic stuff.

However, the selfish do not mind. They do not hide. They could not care less. They have no shame.

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Shamelessly, they use the public treasury to lead palatial lives, totally out of step with our humble reality, robbing the people of their right to live with a minimum of dignity.

And as if that was not enough, without any decorum, – as if asking: “What are you going to do about it?”– they rub their shameless opulence in the face of the insulted. In the face of parents whose children study sitting on the floor. In the face of the elderly who have to endure standing for hours, crammed in the back of crowded trucks, in the rain or in the blazing sun. In the face of the helpless mothers, whose children die everyday in the corridors of our hospitals.

Regrettably, in a country that is growing increasingly devoid of values ​​and examples, it is only natural that the deplorable behavior of the selfish can easily find fertile soil in the most manured heads. Their dishonesty and the example of impunity that they set, has repercussions at all levels of our society. From top to bottom, their totally unethical and immoral posture, – which they ironically call “wise and didactic leadership” – spreads like a social plague and becomes a code of conduct. “Every man for himself and screw the rest” is the rule. Everything else is bogus. Social justice is a mirage.

And it’s mostly our fault. Not only because of what we let the selfish do, but also because of what we allow them not to.

We are so used to not relying on the State, that we bypass it. We ignore it. We replace it taking on its obligations. Those who can, in addition to their taxes, pay for security, for sanitation, for health, for energy, for education. The State says thank you and leans on us. Hangs on to us. Washes its hands of the responsibility and buys another Mercedes.

And once again, it is those who have no one and nowhere to turn to who get screwed. The rest continues to live quietly in their bubble. Until the day the bubble bursts…

Dirty minds don’t understand clean energy

Tech Energy vs Commodity Energy

Change is always difficult. Whatever system we are trying to change has evolved, adapted and solidified its behavior, vision, tendencies, bad habits and much more to a point of blind dependency. The more complex the system, the more linkages and tentacles of rootedness are working to keep things as they are.

This makes it hard to envision how a new system could work, even if our organizations are committed to system change in the face of multiple crises. Especially given the evermore specialization and compartmentalization of our current global system, change gets bogged down. Every time we look at a new, better sub-component of the system we notice how it doesn’t fit well with the other older components and deem it unsustainable, uncompetitive, etc. The problem lies in that we are focusing on improving the existing system instead of developing a new way of achieving a old goal.

We will be examining how this plays out in the energy sector and the vision towards a carbon-free future in the midst of the global climate crisis. Due to the length and diversity of the issues, we will be addressing it in a series of articles during the next few months, but for this article we would like to explore the notion of ‘Tech Energy’ and ‘Commodity Energy’, and the world of differences between them.

In large part, traders see energy as energy, and both are often traded in tandem. In general, most energy experts come from a commodity-based background and as alternative, clean, tech energy started appearing, they just added them to the list of options for achieved their energy goals. This was and continues to be a big mistake, because the economics of the two energy types are vastly different and require very different skill sets to deal with their obstacles, projections, feasibility, growth and general assessments for how to make each function.

To explore these differences, we will use the example of solar (tech energy) and oil (commodity energy). A photo-voltaic (PV) solar panel is, in simple terms, electrical circuitry embedded in a silicon wafer, a definition that could also be used to define a computer chip, hence PV manufacturers have been at times (misleadingly) defined them as “semiconductors”. However, even though using this definition for both fails short, it makes sense to use the same economic model for both, because PV solar panels and computer chips behave in similar ways economically, hence our use of the term ‘tech energy’. To highlight this reality, see the Graph 1 below.

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Graph 1: Costs of Computer Processing Power, Electricity from Solar PV, and Oil Price per Barrel, 1976-2014 (G.Jabusch 2015)

It is clear to see the similarity of drastic price declines in solar PV in cost per Watt (green line) and in computing power in cost per GigaFLOP (blue line) over a period of almost 4 decades. This decline is driven by increasing demand of new technologies, massive scaling up, and the ever-evolving technological frontier.

In comparison, oil follows the usual pattern of commodities that fluctuate in price according to demand and supply factors. Even though graph 1 shows that the cost PV solar has decreased by 170 times, if we compare it to oil, solar has improved its cost basis by 5,355 times relative to oil since 1970 (T. Seba ). Oil gets expensive when economies are growing, but PV decreases due to its sensitivity to demand/ scaling and its independence from a finite resource like oil which needs to be extracted from the ground. PV is also less geographically dependent and therefore more resistant to Geo-political risk, the threat of which will further increase when climate change impacts start causing more migration, water scarcity, land loss and ecological crashes.

Actually, technology is so sensitive to demand and scaling that it mainly gets cheaper over time. The other factors that make commodities fluctuate usually affect technologies in the rate of decrease, but the decrease is certain. Imagine the benefits if the global economy could apply this tech cost dynamic to energy. The more commodity-based energy we use, the more expensive it will get, always placing a weight on the growth, but with tech energy it gets cheaper the more we use.

Then there are the unavoidable costs of a commodity energy like oil. Oil costs a lot to explore, costs a lot to extract, costs a lot to refine, costs a lot to transport and if you consider the endless list of impacts at every level, it costs a hell of a lot to consume. In 2014 the world had one of the lowest levels of new fossil fuels discoveries in recent history (less than 5 months of global consumption), yet it was the highest cost ever for developing new oil supplies (almost 700 billion USD). Not only are these costs constantly increasing for lower returns, even when the barrel and pump prices are low or high, but these costs are transferred to all of us in numerous ways such as government subsidies, health costs, ecological costs and climate change.

For example, in 2013 for every $1 that any of the top 20 global oil and gas producers invested in new fossil fuel exploration, more than $2 were subsidized by the G-20 governments. In total, the G-20 provides $452 billion a year in subsidies to fossil fuel production, which is almost 4 times what the ENTIRE world provides in subsidies to renewables ($121 billion). We may think its only a rich country tendency, but no, in sub-Saharan Africa, energy subsidies (especially petroleum but also coal and gas) eat up on average around 5% of our GDP (IMF). Here in Mozambique we pay 1%-1,5% of our GDP for just petrol and diesel fuel subsidies alone and during the recent economic crisis our fuel debt was increasing at $7-10 million USD per month (IMF). Just to put this spending into perspective, at an African level, the percentage of GDP that goes to health is around an average of 6% based on the 2013 data for 51 African countries.

One additional interesting fact linked to health, the estimated cost of the impacts of fossil fuels on health, not only is it not covered by the fossil fuel sector, but is a huge part of the national health cost of many countries. In the US, 1/3 of healthcare costs are from burning fossil fuels ($9000/person/year, totaling to almost $900 billion) and worldwide 30-40% of deaths are due to pollution (A.Lightman 2014). In Europe it has been calculated that the health cost of burning coal are as high as 42.8 billion Euros per year (Heal 2013) and when you consider that the dirtiest power plants, industrial parks, mines, etc are in the global south we can only imagine the scale of the health impacts and their associated costs. However, we will cover the true cost of fossil fuels in a future article on the issue, including ecosystem loss, climate change and more.

All of this information is not new or unknown to our political elite, or at least it shouldn’t be. The truth of the matter is that the transition has been slow because the system doesn’t want it to happen. Research has shown that the biggest obstacle for clean energy to succeed is the lack of political will and proper polices, not technology, not costs and not economics. Another issue is that we often hear people discussing how to fix the system, the problem is that there isn’t anything to fix. The capitalist system and one of its founding pillars “fossil fuels” has been working the way it has been designed to, and very efficiently to the benefit of a small group of elites. Lets not forget the fact that “Just 8 men own same wealth as half the world” (Oxfam report 2017). So when we hear the excuses that solar is too expensive, not competitive, it isn’t reliable, can’t cope with big demand, etc, etc, please understand that either the person hasn’t done their home work, or has vested interests in fossil fuels, or has come from a commodity energy understanding of the economics. In the case of the last one, we can empathize, because at quick glance we also underestimated the power of tech based economics.

We remember when the cellular network was starting in Mozambique, we just couldn’t understand how it would work given the then super high cost for installation of the network, the air time cost and the extremely high cost of cell phones, etc. Especially in a poor country like Mozambique, with a small group of elites. The market seemed too small, but when we learned that the strategy was also focusing on the lower income urban population, and even rural areas, we were even more confused of how it could be sustainable. Luckily, we learned from a friend who was a telecommunications expert and had a good understanding of how the tech-based economics works, and when that person explained to us step by step, it was amazing how these obstacles are overcome and it was the first time we became aware of how sensitive technology based economics are to increasing demand, massive scaling and technological advancements.

For clean alternative energy to succeed we need to have the people with the right economic understanding for the unique differences that tech based energy brings, and if we continue to use the experts that come from dirty energy and commodity-based mindset, we will continue to delay, at a huge cost, the inevitability and necessity of a carbon-free future. Now, we understand that the use of the word inevitable may seem strong to some, but it is actually not.

As the cost of solar energy continues to decrease it will gain market shares from fossil fuels. Already in 42 of the 50 biggest U.S. cities, solar power is now cheaper than electricity from the power grid (G. Jabusch 2015). The higher cost for lower returns of exploring and extracting new fossil reserves, the pressure to mitigate climate change, the decreasing of subsidies and take up of the cost associated of the numerous impacts caused by fossil fuels, and more, are all trends that are gaining support and these pressures will sooner or later slowly strangle this monster called fossil fuels. Let us be humane and give this monster a quick death and move on to a new clean energy system, but this time we must also make it socially just. This topic we will cover in detail on one of our upcoming articles of our series around Good Energy.

The “ A, B , C “ of Large and Mega Dams

 What is a Dam, large and Mega?

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It is a big cement hall, that stop the course of the river. The word seems to be related to the Greek word taphos, meaning “grave” or “grave hill”, in reality it is a tombstone for the river.

By the International Commission of Large Dams (ICOLD), a large dam is higher than 15m while a Mega dam is over 100m. Most Mega dams worldwide are used for energy production.

Mega dams have been the center of many debates, research and studies for the last decade.

Between 1930 and 1970, the boom of Mega dams was seen to be synonymous with “economic development” and a symbol of human ability to assert control over nature. But then the truth of their negative impacts started to arise, and it become the center of many debates and arguments around costs-versus-benefits, ecological impacts, social impacts, etc.

From one side the proponents claim dams as a source of energy and as such a tool for development, from another side the opponents state that those benefits are far outweighed by disadvantages such as loss of communities livelihoods and rivers ecosystems to name just some.

The late 1980s and 1990s era, were marked by large protests, and controversial debates about mega dams. Pressure and huge campaigns from civil society, social movements and communities affected by dams to stop financing mega-dams. Same financed institutions, with the pressure and information about crimes against human rights, by mega dams financed by the world bank, funds were decrease to the world Bank Dams projects. Due to such an outcry, an independent commission under the chairmanship of Kader Asmal, the South African water minister, was created in April 1997, the “World Commission on Dams (WCD)”, to research the environmental, social and economic impacts of mega Dams globally. The WCD was composed of members of civil society, academia, private sector, professional associations and government representatives. The report findings and recommendations were launched under the patronage of Nelson Mandela in November 2000. The WCD found that while “ dams have made an important and significant contribution to human development, and benefits derived from them have been considerable… in too many cases an unacceptable and often unnecessary price has been paid to secure those benefits, especially in social and environmental terms, by people displaced, by communities downstream, by taxpayers and by the natural environment.” The study also made recommendations and provided guidelines which all dam projects should follow, including five core values and seven priorities detailed below:

Values

Equity,

Sustainability,

Efficiency,

Participatory decision-making and

Accountability.

Priorities

Gaining public acceptance,
comprehensive options assessment,

Addressing existing dams,

Sustaining Rivers and Livelihoods
Recognising entitlements and sharing benefits,
Ensuring compliance and

Sharing rivers for peace, development and security.

For a while, the understanding of the large costs of Mega dams started to become a reality, but suddenly with the climate crises, they came back with the tag of “Solution for Climate change”. But it is not a solution. It is riddled with problems and earns our tag of “false solution”.

At JA’s last year climate justice meeting “Seeding Climate justice II”, held in Maputo, JA invited Rudo Sanyanga, Africa Director of International Rivers (IR), who presented the impacts of dams on the climate, and debunked the myth that mega dams are one of the energy sources to address our climate crises. Without going into the known social and environmental impacts, the presenter began her presentation by asking “Hydro dams, do they provide CLEAN energy? NO, THEY DON’T, ITS NOT TRUE! They exacerbate climate change instead”. Dams especially tropical dams can often produce a huge amount of methane and carbon dioxide from rotting biomass in the reservoir. Then there are huge impacts of droughts and floods on the energy production, and dependency of hydroelectric on a changing climate is questionable.

Rudo spoke about the breakthrough research done in 2012, “ A Risky Climate for Southern African Hydro”, there was a lot of opposition, attacked by politicians, statements that IR ‘’was scaring people, and that was not going to happen’’. But it is real, 4 years after, we see that is happen, this year, Lake Kariba never went above 20% capacity, Lesotho Katse dam was 63%, Zambia that was 80% dependent of Hydro, due to a 2 years drought is turning into solar. This is real , Zambezi Basin countries will have a decrease in stream flow, as many studies estimate and a decrease of run-off to be between 26% to 40% by 2050. No one is trying to scare people, but it is already happen and is going to only become worse.

We recall back in 2012, when Rudo come to Maputo to present the finding of this study, we were attacked by most of the government participants at the launch meeting, to the point of becoming quite an ugly and unproductive meeting.

We raised the question again, how can Mozambique build a dam as risky as it is Mphanda Nkuwa is to the environmental and communities, seismic risk, and now adding the economic and climate change risk? Those risks exist, due to extreme climate changes, and they must be included in any evaluation and decision to build or not a dam.

But as the researcher stated on their study, that government, dam builders and decisions makers, are not taking into consideration the economic risks associated to climate change, in his wordsThere is been a neglect of climate risks in hydropower planning – in an approach that might be called either ‘wait and see’ or ‘head in the sand’ ”.

But it still amazes me how difficult is for people to understand and see mega dams for what they really are: a monstrosity that destroys lives, livelihoods and rivers ecosystem, to say some. In a way I can understand if you look into a coal power station, you see ugliness, you see smoke, pollution and a landscape that no one wants to live there if they have a choose. At the other end, a mega dam is an huge infrastructure that makes any engineers proud of it, a lake, and an enormous hall that splits water in amazing speed, and a sound that make you feel small in this world… for sure looks much better then a coal power station. But it is just that, a facade. Because it is not synonymous with development, just ask the 40-80 million people displaced by dams, how their lives and livelihoods have been destroyed. Neither is it a solution for climate change as it often emits methane (more in tropical areas), destroys forests for the reservoir. Neither it is good for the environmental as it block rivers and inundates forests and agricultural land , and deny downstream enough water for wetlands to operate accordingly. Neither they protect us, from flood if they are not build to do so, or a way to keep water during drought.

Why they do not protect us from floods…. Well, if they are build just for that, yes, but you do not need a Mega dam for that, a mega dam is either for energy production, irrigation or water supply. To produce energy, you need to keep as much water as possible, and then when a big flood comes, there is no space to keep all the water in, same for irrigation, and to protect us from floods we do not need mega dams, small dams are the ideal, and system that can divert water when is too much, same for drought.

JA released in 2009 a study about renewable energy sources for Mozambique, another study that was attacked by the government participants in such a way that the author had difficulties to do his presentation without being constantly interrupted, simply because that study showed that we do not need Mphanda Nkuwa, and there are other ways forward to have energy for everyone with less impacts. The magic potion is not that difficult, we need to start with decentralized energy systems, clean energy, solar, wind, even mini to small hydro dams, a mix of energy sources, which must be affordable by all people.

We can do, and we should think more on solutions to tackle and minimize climate change impacts, instead to follow a path that put us where we are…. In a crises, can we be more smart and take decisions that are smarter, at least we live in a era that we have many options, and we know what mistakes where made, that we can avoid them.

So why build mega dams, to destroy rivers systems, communities livelihoods, increase climate impacts adding the economic risk , is really a mega dam worthwhile? It is not a solution for the climate crises we are hurtling towards. Climate change will affect rivers flow, and worsen extreme and intense floods and droughts that will put a risk on the economic benefit, so why ????

For whom and what. That’s the million dollar question. Because is not for us the people, is not a solution for our climate crises, is not for the environment…. who is it for? And what is it for?

Some info on dams, from the article of 12 dams that change the world from: https://www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/227-3

Chixoy: the grave on the Rio Negro

Dam-affected communities have often suffered repression and human rights abuses. In 1982, more than 400 indigenous men, women and children were massacred to make way for the World Bank’s Chixoy Dam in Guatemala. In a historic breakthrough, the country’s government in 2014 signed a $154m reparations agreement with the affected communities.

Banqiao: the dam that washed away

When dams are not properly built or maintained, they can break. In the world’s biggest dam disaster, the failure of China’s Banqiao Dam killed an estimated 171,000 people in 1975. In more than 100 cases, scientists have also linked dam building to earthquakes. Strong evidence suggests that China’s Sichuan earthquake, which killed 80,000 people in 2008, may have been triggered by the Zipingpu Dam.

Yacyretá: the monument to corruption

Large dams are often pet projects of dictators. Lacking accountability leads to massive corruption and cost overruns. On average, large dams experience cost overruns of 96% and are not economic. The cost of Argentina’s Yacyretá Dam has mushroomed from $2.5bn to $15bn. A former president called Yacyretá “a monument to corruption”.

Merowe: when Chinese dam builders went global

In 2003, the Chinese government decided to fund the Merowe Dam in Sudan as its first big overseas hydropower project. The dam displaced more than 50,000 people and caused serious human rights violations. Chinese banks and companies are by now involved in some 330 dams in 74 countries, leading an unprecedented global dam building boom.

Glines Canyon: the dam that came down

Dams have serious environmental impacts, and their benefits dwindle as they age. Since the 1930s, the United States has removed more than 1,150 dams to restore river ecosystems and particularly fish habitats. In 2014, the 64 meters high Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha River in the Pacific northwest was breached in the world’s biggest dam removal so far.

Patagonia: the dams that were never built

Recent years, solar and wind energy have seen their commercial breakthrough. These renewable energy sources are cleaner than coal or hydropower and can be built were people need electricity, even far away from the electric grid. In 2014, Chile cancelled five dams in the Patagonia region under strong public pressure and approved 700 megawatts of new solar and wind farms.

Kariba: the dam that ended poverty in Southern Africa (or did it?)

The Kariba Dam on the Zambezi was built in the 1950s to power Zambia’s copper belt, as the first large dam funded by the World Bank. Kariba was considered the symbol of a “brave new world”, in which controlling nature would bring quick economic development. Yet the 57,000 people who were displaced by the dam suffered famine and are still impoverished

climate_graphic2

References on WCD and more info:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Commission_on_Dams

https://energypedia.info/wiki/World_Commission_on_Dams_(WCD)_Report

http://www.unep.org/dams/documents/Default.asp?DocumentID=663

https://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/the-world-commission-on-dams

http://www.unep.org/dams/WCD/report/WCD_DAMS%20report.pdf

more https://www.internationalrivers.org/questions-and-answers-about-large-dams

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Under Water

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CORPORATE IMPUNITY: STRATEGIES OF STRUGGLE (PART II)

As we mentioned in last month’s article, corporate impunity – the crime that does pay off – is a complicated matter. At the moment, our chests are still filled with the breath of fresh air brought to us at the end of last month by the second session of the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT), where a panel of 8 jurors and almost 200 participants listened attentively to the complaints of communities and activists who suffer first hand the consequences of a system that favours and protects transnational corporations. Experts noted and reiterated what is no longer news to us: the criminal behaviour of these corporations reflects the field of impunity in which they operate. In addition to providing us with a (unpublished) report of deliberations that will help to expose the behaviour of these companies, this jury also made clear that the mobilization of peoples and the opening of spaces like this court are a fundamental part of the fight for justice.

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About PPT, we have little more to say right now. You can find more information on the cases presented here, or read the press release of Southern Africa’s Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power’s (of which we are part) here. This year, the visibility given to the different cases was notorious (like this article on ProSavana in the South African press), and there was also room for an update on the cases brought to the PPT last year in Swaziland. But this is not the time to slow down – after the PPT, more important moments regarding this issue are coming up.

Nowadays, there is a great legal asymmetry between, on the one hand, the endless regulations that protect and safeguard private investments (even shielding them from political decisions that may conflict with the companies’ financial expectations), and on the other, the non-existent coercive legislation which upholds human rights. Corporations rely on a wide range of international norms that act in their defence – from free trade agreements to investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms – but none that regulates their actions in the light of their impacts. Apparently, for years now we have been hoping that, by themselves, guiding principles or corporate social responsibility (voluntary, unilateral, and non-enforceable) become enough to prevent corporate human rights abuses by the corporations, but obviously, this has not happened and will not happen.04

The national laws of countries such as ours are very weak, not to mention the very limited capacity to enforce them and supervise them. That is one of the reasons why Shell remains unpunished despite the criminal spills it is responsible for in Nigeria, or why hundreds of people are being driven from their land to make way for palm plantations in Indonesia. This is why fighting for the enforcement of existing national legislation is an important step, but it can not be the only one if we really want to stop the impunity of these powerful corporations. It is necessary to think beyond. In today’s globalized world, corporations operate in different national jurisdictions, and take advantage of this to evade accountability. For us, expanding the limits of international law and demanding legal instruments that provide a path from where victims of such violations may demand justice seems to be as urgent or even more.

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The Intergovernmental Working Group mandated to draft a binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights, set up by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014, will meet for the third time in October of this year, then, the concrete terms of the text to be included in the Treaty will be discussed. This initiative, which started with the governments of Ecuador and South Africa, has been gaining strength and supporters. Numerous countries, mostly in the Global South, have already expressed their support for the Treaty, as is the case of Uruguay, which sees in this instrument an opportunity to protect its public policies that are being threatened by the interests of transnational corporations. Mozambique, unfortunately, remains completely out of this discussion and didn’t even show up at the two sessions of the Working Group in the recent years.

An alliance was formed by civil society organizations from around the world to support the drafting of this law, and has actively participated in the sessions of the Working Group to ensure that it will truly represent the needs of those affected. One of the requirements of this alliance is that this treaty contains solid provisions that prohibit corporate interference in the process of formulating and implementing laws and policies. According to Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), also part of the Treaty Alliance, it must establish the criminal and civil liability of transnational corporations in order to fill existing legal gaps in international law, and should apply also to all subsidiary companies and those that form part of its supply chain. Learn more about FoEI’s contributions to the Treaty here.

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When existing legislation does not address all of society’s problems and needs, new legislation must be created. It was like that with the implementation of universal suffrage, with the abolition of slavery, and in so many other historical moments. We believe that we are about to reach an important milestone in the struggle for the sovereignty of peoples and against corporate impunity, and as the poet once said, there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

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Corporate Impunity: Strategies of struggle (Part I)

2016 was an important year in our continent’s struggle against corporate impunity: the first session of the Southern African Peoples Permanent Tribunal (PPT) took place in Swaziland. This Court, which was founded more than 30 years ago in Italy, is an independent body that examines situations of systemic human rights violations – especially in cases where existing legislation (both national and international) is not capable of safeguarding the rights of populations. Although it does not have the power to issue an obligatory sentence for the company (which, by the way, is very important and is one of the reasons we are working for – but let’s talk about it later on), the PPT is strategically very important: On the one hand, it allows victims to be heard and advised by a panel of experts from various areas and to establish partnerships; and on the other, it is a moment of complaint and visibility for the cases, and therefore, of exposure to infringing companies. And although in our country this criminal impunity is often seen as a synonym of cleverness and of the perpetrators degree of influence, on the international level things are not quite like that. Being labelled as a human rights violator is a matter of great concern to these corporations, and therefore it can lead to a change of attitude – not because their ethical principles and values are very important to them, but simply because a bad reputation affects the only thing that truly matters to corporations: their profits.

Ten cases from Swaziland, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique were presented in last year’s PPT, most of them related to the extractive industry. From our country, for the serious impacts that their activities have on the communities around them and for the noncompliance with the promises they made to those communities before settling in the region (to the point that one of them actually started its mining activities without resettling those living within the concession area – as we have denounced through various channels including this one), we took to the court VALE and JINDAL. A Panel of Jurors listened attentively to the communities’ grievances and to a contextualization made by invited experts, and then released its deliberations.

This year the process is repeated: in August, seven cases from the Southern Africa region will be presented by the affected communities themselves and by the civil society organizations who work with them. This time, the general theme of the cases is Land, Food and Agriculture. In addition to cases presented by Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Madagascar and Mauritius – who will denounce large corporations such as Parmalat and Monsanto – this session of the PPT will also hear the denunciation of two Mozambican cases: the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam on the already strangled Zambezi River; and ProSavana, the Mozambican, Brazilian and Japanese governments’ triangular partnership program that aims to develop agribusiness in the Nacala Corridor. These two Mozambican cases have the same particularity: they are not yet implemented. However, and this is what made us chose these two cases for this year’s PPT (because, let’s face it, what we are not lacking in our country are examples of human rights violations by private initiatives), despite not being implemented yet, its impacts are not less significant.

In Mphanda Nkuwa, for example, local communities were visited for the first time in 2000 by representatives of the companies responsible for the construction of the dam. They ere warned that they could not build new houses in that region because they would not be compensated for them. Since then, these people live in total uncertainty and can no longer make any long-term plans, at the risk of losing their assets when they start construction. ProSavana, on the other hand, has been characterized by the secrecy, manipulation and misrepresentation of information with the aim of promoting a false idea that the project will promote agricultural development in the northern region of the country, while in fact it is an initiative that will serve to facilitate large scale encroachment of peasant lands. This program will also destroy the livelihoods of local populations and exacerbate their already grave poverty. There are already reports of manipulation and intimidation of leaders of local peasant organizations.

The mobilization of civil society (Mozambican, Japanese and Brazilian) in opposition to ProSavana was fundamental to halt to the initial plans of this program and postpone the conclusion of its Master Plan. The purpose of taking these two cases to the PPT is to bring together even more elements that may help stop these projects.

Spaces such as the PPT are also crucial for perceiving trends, identifying development models, and analyzing common practices of transnational corporations – as well as their strategies to escape responsibility. Thus, by moving these experiences to a more global scale, it is easy to see that these violations of fundamental human rights are not perpetrated by one or another transnational corporation in isolation. That is, these are not a couple of rotten apples in a sack full of beautiful apples. Rather, it is a generalized behavior that is enabled by an architecture of impunity, characteristic of our extractive capitalist development system. This architecture of impunity puts corporate rights above human rights, and makes way for an abundant number of examples of very lucrative corporate crimes.

The architecture of impunity consists of several elements and actors:

We have the economic power of corporations – on the basis of which these establish their relations with one another and with states – and of international financial institutions;

We have political power, which in turn is responsible for capturing policies and politicians that fail to regulate the collective interests of society to serve private interests;

Trade architecture, embodied by numerous trade and investment agreements, facilitates profit and allows corporations to file lawsuits against governments should they make decisions that affect their anticipated profits;

Legal power is represented by the financial capacity to hire and dispose of influential lawyers who defend corporations in endless processes, as well as by inadequate and insufficient legal instruments that regulate their actions; and finally

Social power, which is exercised in all spheres of our lives through the influence that corporations have in the media, academic spaces, civil society organizations, among others.

Discussing some of these elements and developing the cases that will be presented in the PPT next month, were the objectives that motivated the Workshop on the Architecture of Impunity, held in the context of the Southern Africa Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power. Since it is the affected communities themselves who present the cases to the Panel of Jurors in the PPT, this enabled them to get the support of several resource people, to appeal, discuss and deepen the specificities of their denunciations and also to identify common ground with the other cases.

But the struggle to end corporate impunity is not only fought in the field of opinion sentences, nor is the important opinion of a panel of judges our only weapon to demand a different behavior from transnational corporations. Another battle is being waged to develop a legal instrument that will ultimately have the power to condemn and punish corporations – since the absence of such an instrument is currently one of the biggest gaps in international law. We are talking about the UN Intergovernmental Working Group, created in 2014 with the mandate to develop a binding treaty for transnational corporations on human rights issues, which will meet in October this year for its third session. At this time, transnational corporations simply have to follow voluntary standards and guiding principles that “advise” best practices on human rights issues. There is no doubt that this blind faith in corporate goodwill has had grave and irreparable consequences, both on people and on the planet. In next month’s article, we will look into this issue more carefully, getting deeper into the debate about the urgency of a legal mechanism that is accessible to any community affected by the operations of a transnational corporation. For now, we continue to look closely at next month’s PPT, certain that this will be another important moment regarding the convergence of struggles for a fairer, healthier and more common-good oriented world.

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When African Renewable Energy Was Hijacked

A few years ago, during the United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris in December 2015, 55 African leaders launched the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI). It pledged to follow a people-centred approach to renewable energy development and energy access work across our continent. It talked about rights and equity, very important for our context and for justice. It talked about community ownership and distributed power for African people, in both senses of the word ‘power’. It demanded new and additional renewable energy for our people – no double counting of funds for other projects. It was an African-owned and African-led initiative.

JA! people participated in the AREI meetings in Paris in December 2015 and in Marrakesh in November 2016. Civil society was included into this process from the beginning. Could this become something we would be proud of as Africans? The AREI was a unique approach, in a continent marred by ever-increasing development of dirty energies like coal, oil, gas and big hydro, where it is commonplace to sacrifice our people, kill the local ecology, grab lands and destroy the climate at the same time. The AREI put in strong and important criteria in place to avoid these terrible impacts and said that projects would not support fossil fuels or nuclear.

The AREI really pledged to be different. And this pledge to go for a different, people-based approach is really important. It moves us away from a system fix approach to a system change approach, to change the base principles which drive how we think about energy for people.

In Paris, developed countries stepped forward with $10 billion in pledges to support this initiative. But would these countries really let this initiative survive? Or would money talk? The frightening answer came just over a year later, and by early March 2017, the AREI was already in danger.

The first attack came from the European Commission (EC), and the French government which had helped birth this initiative in the UN talks in their country. What did the attack look like? They came forward at the board meeting with a plan to fund 19 renewable energy projects with an investment of a whopping 4.8 billion. You can read the press release dated 4 March of the European Commission at this link – http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-442_en.htm. When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. The claim for 4.8 billion is false, they are providing a mere €300 million themselves and hoping to leverage the rest. Not just that, remember the AREI’s commitment for new and additional projects with strong criteria to prevent environmental injustices? Well, these proposed projects were already partly pre-existing ones, with all kinds of double-counting and dodgy accounting taking place on the financing. Some of the projects, like a geothermal project in Ethiopia, are from 2014, the year before the AREI initiative was even finalized. Worst of all, these projects are being rammed through without caring about criteria and impacts. Our colleagues discovered that at least 1 of these projects involves fossil fuels interests. We heard that 14 of these projects were just rubber-stamped through, while 5 of them were not even reviewed due to lack of time. The base principles of AREI were the first to be under attack. Even the vague notion of system change is threatening to the system.

 

African civil society began to hit back at this affront. By early April, JA! had joined over 180 African organizations who signed up to a letter demanding this hijack of the AREI be reversed. Last week at the UN negotiations in Bonn, on 18 May 2017, 111 international organizations outside of Africa released a letter supporting the African demands for the EC and France to stop the hijack of African renewable energy. A lot of media pick-up has happened around these letters.

The EC knows it is being watched and is now on the back-foot. Our European colleagues were invited to a meeting with them in Bonn last week, where they found out that the EC is seriously trying to do damage control. They are shocked by the media pick-up and are calling it a scandal. But they are not yet saying how they will do things differently. This meeting took place on 16 May 2017. Some mainstream system-fix type civil society people already wanted to stop the international letter since they said the EC is talking to us. Others said, no way, the EC and France need to be exposed and they made sure the letter was released 2 days later, before the Bonn talks closed. You can read the press release here- http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1102862873361&ca=c6022777-a64f-4bd8-b159-69ebbf8df668.

The Curse of Mega Projects

mega curse 2

In Mozambique, 2016 was marked by the scandal of illegal debts – EMATUM, MAM and Proindicus – which, one after the other, drastically brought down our currency (Metical) and dramatically increased the cost of living for Mozambicans. As if the political problems and the undeclared state of war we were already living in, were not bad enough, we discovered that the country had been mortgaged off… Thus, we entered 2017 with a lot of concern and very little hope, We were convinced that corruption in Mozambique thrives at the highest level with impunity. We were absolutely skeptical that there would ever be a competent and exhaustive investigation of the country’s mortgaged situation nor holding the culprits accountable.

In the last few years, we have done our best to explain that our greatest concern, our greatest fear for the future, is that our rulers continue to sell off our country – carelessly and without abandon – to Multinational corporations whose mega projects not only do not serve the Mozambican people, but hurt them greatly. They directly injure and impact on the lives of thousands of people who are expropriated from their lands and ways of life, conned and abandoned, or are subjected to living in unhealthy or even inhuman conditions. Indirectly, the sum of the social, environmental and political consequences of the “development” model that these mega projects bring – whether agricultural, mining, hydroelectric, etc. , far exceeds the meager economic benefits that our chronic “lack of bargaining power” guarantees the country.

But this story is not new nor is it only ours. Several publications, from various organizations, are tired of warning and denouncing the numerous problems that foreign mega investments bring to Mozambique. The Centro de Integridade Pública (Public Integrity Center) in Mozambique, for example, is responsible for some of the most pertinent reviews of the negotiations and contracts (the few that are being made public) between these investors and our government. These contracts, weak and often harmful to the State, allied to the State apparatus’ incapacity to enforce our laws, to unjust and inadequate resettlements, and to the ease with which – with the collusion of our rulers – these foreign investors unscrupulously usurp peasant land, make foreign investment in Mozambique a socio-economic calamity.

Like a stubborn child, we seem not to be interested in learning. With the new year, regrettably, new mega contracts have arrived, for the extraction of mineral resources from the north of the country. These contracts have been signed with some of the most infamous polluters on the planet, companies like Shell or ExxonMobil, who have been responsible for environmental disasters of epic proportions, including the disasters in Nigeria and Alaska. These companies are also marred by shameful disinformation campaigns.

Likewise, over the country, the mindless plans to “capitalize” on the country’s hydro potential with an arsenal of hydroelectric plants are still alive and oblivious to reason and science. Keeping in mind that most of the energy expected to be produced will be destined for export and not to supply the homes of millions of Mozambicans who continue to live under the light of a xipefo (lantern in the local language Changana) The science is clear that decentralized and renewable energy systems such as solar and wind energy should be part of a fair, adequate, safe and even cheap energy solution model.

On the Zambezi River alone, our government’s plans :

Expanding the existing Cahora Bassa dam, projected to increase the power capacity by 1,250 megawatts. Estimated to cost about US$700 million.

Mphanda Nkuwa, projected to generate of 1,500 megawatts. Estimated cost of US$4.2 billion.

Lupata, with the potential of 416 megawatts. Estimated cost of S$1.072 billion

Boroma with the potential of 210 megawatts. Estimated cost US$572.5 million.

If all these dams are built on the Zambezi, we have no doubt that this will be the river’s demise, and that of its ecosystems and the thousands of communities whose livelihoods depends on the river. In addition to these 4 projects in the Zambezi, there are also Lúrio and Alto Malema in Nampula, and Pavua, in the Púnguè River in Sofala. Pavua – the most recent addition to the list – appears to be (as yet we know very little about the project) an environmental atrocity of biblical proportions, purely and simply because (according to its Background Information Document) it will be 115 meters high by 950 meters long! (To generate only 120 MW!)

mega curse

Why so many dams? Are we adequately addressing the potential impacts these could have on our people? Have we thought about the use and management of water taking into account variables such as those expected in the face of climate change? Have we seriously considered the feasibility of other alternatives? We are sure this has not happened.

It seems clear to us that – either because of the greed of those who bargain and benefit from these mega projects, and/or because of the lack of clear guidelines (or willingness to follow them) – the foreign investment trend continues to be to devise profitable “solutions” for the few, instead of providing effective solutions for all, thus perpetuating a modus operandi in which the urgent need is repeatedly used to justify the investments, rather than the investment being requested to fully meet the identified need. We are running out of time to correct the damage we are inflicting on our environment (and therefore on ourselves)… but we could at least stop contributing to the problem.

More info and references:

COP 21: Mudança climática envolve poder, manipulação e guerra psicológica

New dams add 3,600 megawatts of power production in Mozambique

Pavua Hydropower Project, Background Information Documents

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