Category Archives: justice

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.

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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.

Supports who?

Another mega agricultural project launched in Mozambique

We received the news about its launching ceremony with skepticism. For many of us, it was the first time we were hearing about the project. Another mega project loaded with ambitious and (some) noble goals, like so many others that preceded it and vanquished without achieving half of what they set out to do.

“This mega project of my Government, whose objective is to gradually take rural families out of poverty, is the embodiment of the investment in Mozambican families as the main mechanism to promote sustainable, integrated and inclusive development and reduce regional and local asymmetries”, said Filipe Nyusi.

It is premature to make major considerations or comments on the subject because still very little is known. We have not yet had access to any document on the project, and the little information that exists is circulating in the mainstream media. However, the simple fact that a project this big (judging by the amounts involved and by the 125 thousand families of alleged beneficiaries) is launched in this manner, leads us to ask: Where did this project come from?

Once again, this is a top to bottom approach. The project was designed, discussed and launched, without giving the alleged beneficiaries or other interested parties and/or affected people, the chance to participate in its construction!

Surely there are more than enough reasons to justify the urgency to launch this project. To justify why there was no time to perform appropriate public consultations; to involve the many actors who deal with agricultural issues such as research institutions, academics, civil society, grassroots organizations and peasants in discussions on priorities for the development of peasant agriculture; and to design the project on the basis of a truly open and transparent process.

To justify their hurry, the noblest of reasons will be invoked, such as the urgent need to support the development of the peasantry, given their evident poverty and vulnerability. Obviously, old and less noble arguments – which, truth be said, are nothing but mere distractions – will also come back, like accusing those who question the project of being against development and/or unpatriotic.

Interestingly enough, the World Bank and other similar agencies are far more influential in deciding what may or may not happen in Mozambique than the Mozambican people. And although, as we have said earlier, we know nothing about this project yet, we risk guessing that the role of the World Bank is not limited to financing it. They have certainly been involved in the project’s conception, ensuring that their altruistic support goes mainly to what interests them most: agro-business and forest plantations – monocultures of exotic species – they call reforestation.

“More than 5,000 jobs will be created by forest plantations, through the reforestation of more than 1600 hectares of degraded lands.”

According to information in the media, this project was conceived by MITADER and will be supported by the World Bank! The perfect wedding!

In other words, we owe a great debt to our government (and no, it is not that hidden and illegal debt we talking about)! We are deeply grateful to them for granting us another ready-made project to reduce poverty. Free from burdens such as having to think about development issues, about inclusive and participatory strategies, about how to ensure that the priorities of the peasantry are properly included, and even about how we want to manage our resources and how we want to see our country in the coming years.

For now, let’s wait for the enthusiasm to fade so we can then try to understand how this mega project is supposed to work and, above all, how will it – unlike the many others in the past just like it (loaded with the same promises and the same rivers of money to implement) – finally get Mozambicans out of poverty?

Who has left poverty behind thanks to the fantastic green revolution? Who has left poverty behind growing jatropha or other biofuels? Who will benefit from Prosavana? Someone always profits, but who? And at what cost? How many hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans’ well being will these ready made projects with incognito beneficiaries “cost”?

And while misunderstandings and failures in communication are, unfortunately, too often invoked to justify civil society’s opposition to so many mega-projects, – even though they are never the main reason – people insist on doing things behind closed curtains. Where is the official information about the project? It has already been inaugurated; it is already being advertised in the media; but it is not available on the websites of the entities involved and all we know about it is what is being reported by the media.

We would also like to believe and share their enthusiasm, but skepticism has taken over us long ago. Now we prefer a “seeing is believing” approach, and we have not seen anything yet …

 

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