Category Archives: Energy and Society

“NATURE-BASED TOURISM INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE”

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It was with pomp and circumstance that the “NATURE-BASED TOURISM INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE” took place between the 7th and 9th of June 2018 in one of the most expensive hotels in Maputo. A gala dinner and a bunch of speeches by people who all seemed to be very aware that we should have a nature-oriented tourism…

News about the Conference filled the media every day, and there was not a single STV newscast that did not feature it, bringing it straight to our homes.

All entrepreneurs, investors, government members, statesmen and former presidents, as well as world conservation specialists, were present at the great event of the month, advertised daily in prime-time television, with beautiful images of Mozambique’s fauna and flora enchanting our eyes – such is the natural beauty of this country.

But unfortunately, the reality is different. Nature was only a pretext. A beautiful word. An excuse to call in more investors. Because being sustainable, protecting the environment and being environmentally conscious is very fashionable today.

All these beautiful words are only meant to try to secure more and more investments. Hypocrisy abounds in our social environment. And if, this time around, this is the chosen narrative, in other occasions pollution-prone activities that damage the environment severely are shamelessly promoted: like coal mining in Tete or the oil and gas industries offshore drilling in one of Mozambique’s most beautiful nature sanctuaries: Cabo Delgado – the province of the crystal clear waters of Pemba, Ibo, Quirimbas, Mocímboa da Praia and many other beaches.

From Rovuma to Maputo, across the Mozambican coast, inland and on the islands along the Indian Ocean, there is immense tourist potential. However, the oil and gas industry, the timber industry, agribusiness and other environmentally damaging investments are competing with this potential. The countless beauties and natural riches scattered throughout Mozambique – such as the beautiful Inhambane Province with its beautiful beaches and the beautiful Bazaruto Archipelago, the plateaus and hills of Chimanimani, Mount Mabu, the beautiful Gorongosa or the unique biodiversity of our reserves and natural parks – are being threatened by pipelines, deep-sea ports, forest plantations, monocultures…

Throughout Mozambique many are the examples of this, and nature is definitely the last thing in their minds when they sign these great business deals, memorandum of understanding, mining concessions or even the fabulous contracts to build hotels or lodges in clear contempt for the most basic environmental standards.

Mozambique is suffering. There are huge open craters in the mountains, there are corals being destroyed by oil rigs, there are entire forests being (legally or illegaly) destroyed for its wood. And they still have the nerve to say that they are defending nature? What they are doing indeed is spending millions of meticals on yet another business conference in an expensive hotel with a gala dinner where the price of a meal is three times the value of a minimum wage. This, in a country where there are people dying of acute malnutrition. A country that carries on its back a huge debt. A country with all kinds of basic needs, from transport to health care.

“NATURE-BASED TOURISM INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE”? Forgive me gentlemen, but really?!! We need serious leaders that think about the good of the country and the improvement of life of the Mozambican people, not of leaders burping caviar at 5-star hotels in Maputo and selling nature by the square meter to the first crook that shows up!

Think seriously about nature and everything that is being destroyed instead of promoting these ridiculous deals in the name of the nature. Nature does not deserve this treatment, nor does the Mozambican People.

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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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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

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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.

South-South Dialogue: The Bataan Statement

On the 29th and 30th of October, 2016, people from about 20 countries in the global south gathered together in Bataan city in the Philippines, to discuss about the climate catastrophe and dirty energy, from the perspective of southern countries and social, economic and environmental justice. JA! was proud to be part of that gathering. Below is the final statement released by the meeting.

 

SOUTH-SOUTH DIALOGUE: The Bataan Statement

1. The world has already begun to experience unprecedented and unparalleled catastrophes as a consequence of the global climate crisis. While governments have agreed to limit global average temperature rise to below 1.5-degrees Celsius under the Paris Agreement, the combined Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of countries who committed to this target will still ultimately condemn present and future generations to a devastating 3-degree Celsius average increase in the global temperature. Disturbingly, the commitments submitted by the governments of the North fall way below their fair share in combating climate change. The worst lurks in the offing for, should all the coal projects under construction and in the pipeline go online it would usher in a 6-degree Celsius average global temperature increase.

2. The Global North, in continuing to deny their responsibility by not committing to and pursuing an ambitious mitigation pathway, is condemning numerous species to extinction and an end to biological life as we know it, even as we already contend with the impacts of a destabilized climate. It is putting the lives, homes, and livelihoods of peoples across the globe in harm’s way.

3. At the frontlines of suffering from the worst impacts of the climate crisis are indigenous peoples, women, children and youth, workers, farmers, pastoralists, elderly people, differently abled and other marginalized and vulnerable communities, especially of the Global South, who, without the technology and resources to adapt, are left to fend for themselves. This poses an added burden to their daily struggles for survival in the face of poverty, want, hunger, political disenfranchisement, and discrimination.

4. Real solutions to the climate crisis exist in many communities, and we need governments to recognise and promote them. Most, if not all, countries continue to pursue a development pathway heavily reliant on the mass-scale extraction and burning of fossil fuels, however, it is the North who engage in the transfer of their emissions to the South to socialize liability to the detriment of developing countries while concentrating economic gains in their favor. Northern countries and the elites of the South persist in peddling false solutions like the deceptive, dirty lie of “clean coal”, geo-engineering schemes, carbon capture and storage (CCS), bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) as the answer to the much-vaunted industrialization of countries in the South.

6. While we agree on our right to development, as the right of all peoples, we believe that development should not be through dirty energy or else it is not development. Development must mean building sustainable societies, empowering people and communities, challenging injustice, discrimination and inequality at all levels and ensuring security, well-being and peace for all people.

7. We oppose all new coal projects. Furthermore, the climate science demands that all fossil fuels must remain in the ground to keep us from breaching the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold as set in the Paris Agreement. The North must scale up its ambitions in emissions reductions to steer the world away from the road to perdition. All countries should do their fair share of effort. It is thus imperative for countries of the North to fully decarbonize by 2030 and all countries well before 2050. Thus, the North must start phasing out its coal projects now. The South must cancel all coal projects in the pipeline while pursuing the transition to clean renewable forms of energy.

8. We must absolutely resist the attempts by the coal industry and governments to lock us in to coal power, leaving us with stranded assets. Coal extraction and burning do not only cause negative climate change impacts, they result in adverse health and environmental impacts threatening local ecosystems and community livelihoods. In areas where there are coal projects, resisting communities are met with and subjected to intimidation, harassment, human rights violations and other forms of violence.

9. Moreover, Southern governments should not hide behind the poor in their countries. While there are legitimate demands to address energy poverty in the south (1.2 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity), this has been used as an excuse to promote dirty energy policies, which have only benefited elites, transnational corporations and financial institutions, and the governments that support them. Though Southern governments have rightly called out Northern countries for their culpability in creating the climate crisis, we have reached our ecological limits, and no country, North or South, can afford to pursue a carbon-intensive development pathway.

10. The remaining carbon budget must be equitably divided across countries, based on historical responsibility and historical emissions. We oppose the trading of countries’ share of carbon budget, as we oppose nature being turned into a trade-able commodity in other forms as well. The remaining carbon budget must be used for the country’s own development not for export and trade.

11. In the South, our countries have great, enormous potential for clean and renewable energy technologies. However, there are certain renewable energy projects that have contributed to social conflicts, land-grabbing, and exacerbating inequalities. We thus take a strong position that renewable energy projects must be implemented in an equitable, just, safe, sustainable, and democratic way that benefits all and creates truly sustainable societies. We can and must achieve energy sovereignty through fundamental transitions to 100% clean, safe, affordable, locally-appropriate and socially-owned, democratic renewable energy technologies. We also call on the North to deliver climate finance to the South in order to make the clean energy transition possible.

12. We reject any mitigation action that reinforces prevailing exploitative and oppressive relations and policies. Equity and justice should be the driving consideration in taking on the climate crisis.

13. Clearly, the climate science confirms that the sun has set on coal and other fossil fuels. They no longer have a place in an increasingly uncertain future. It is this generation that will make the difference. The urgency to act is especially true for countries of the South who are now bearing the brunt of climate-induced disasters. It is, thus, important for peoples of the South to unite and demand for immediate actions from the North and from their own governments. The window to act is fast closing. Our actions now carry intergenerational consequence as the welfare of this and future generations is hinged on the decision we make today. We offer hope and solidarity by resisting the continued fossil fuel dependence and struggling for genuine change.

Tuloy ang laban! (Onwards with the struggle!)

Signatories of attending organisations:

Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development

Botswana Climate Change Network – Botswana

CENSAT Agua Viva/ Friends of the Earth Colombia

Change/350Vietnam – Vietnam

Center for Energy, Ecology and Development – Philippines

Centre for Environmental Justice/ Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka

Ecodefense – Russia

Earthlife Africa – South Africa

Egyptians Against Coal – Egypt

Environics – India

GreenID – Vietnam

groundWork/FOE South Africa – South Africa

JATAM – Indonesia

Justica Ambiental/FOE Mozambique – Mozambique

Kenya Civil Society Platform on Oil – Kenya,

Philippine Movement for Climate Justice – Philippines

The Egyptian Centre for Civic and Legislation Reform – Egypt

Umeedenoo – Pakistan

Walhi/ Friends of the Earth Indonesia

The Tragic Murder of Berta Caceres

In the early hours of the morning of 3rd March, Indigenous activist from Honduras and human rights defender, Berta Cáceres, was murdered in her home.
 
Berta Caceres 2015 Goldman Environmental Award Recipient

Berta Caceres in the Rio Blanco region of western Honduras. Photo courtesy: Goldman Environmental Prize

Berta organised her fellow indigenous Lenca people. She was the co-founder, in 1993, of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). She was addressing the constant threats posed to indigenous communities in Honduras by illegal logging, and was supporting their fight for their territories and secure their livelihoods. They were opposing the Agua Zarca dam on the sacred Gualcarque river, which was being pushed by Chinese and Honduran companies.
Berta Caceres 2015 Goldman Environmental Award Recipient

Berta Caceres at her beloved and sacred Gualcarque River where she, and the people of Rio Blanco have maintained a two year struggle to halt construction on the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric project. Photo courtesy: Goldman Environmental Prize

 
Since the US-backed military coup in Honduras in 2009, activists and human rights defenders have been under severe threat. Gustavo Castro Soto, from Otros Mundos Chiapas (Friends of the Earth Mexico) was in Berta’s home and is a witness to Berta’s killing. As of this writing, we are demanding that Honduran authorities provide him with safe passage to return to Mexico unharmed.
seguridadparagustavo
  Photo courtesy: Friends of the Earth International.
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