Category Archives: Pollution and Environment

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.

Ramesh Agrawal: Fighting Jindal’s bullets with information and solidarity

As he hobbled up to the stage with a walking stick on one side, and supported by his son on the other, the crowd cheered loudly. Ramesh Agrawal was one of the amazing people who won the coveted Goldman Environmental Prize this year. He was honoured at a ceremony in San Francisco, where JA staff where present. We also met and interviewed him a few days before the prize was announced.

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Photo courtesy: Goldman Environmental Prize

Ramesh Agrawal, who is respectfully called Rameshji in India, is from an organisation called Jan Chetna Manch, meaning a platform to raise peoples’ consciousness.

 

He lives in Chattisgarh state of eastern India, which is rich in mineral resources and because of this there has been a huge attack on the lands and resources of the local people by the state in conjunction with corporations. It is a state with a high percentage of tribal communities.

 

Through a small internet café which Rameshji runs, he organised local communities to use the right to information as a powerful tool to learn about and challenge ‘development’ projects planned in their areas. One of the main companies who he has been targeting is Jindal Steel & Power, the same company which is also currently mining coal in Tete province, Mozambique.

 

In July 2013, Jindal sent its goons who went into Rameshji’s internet café, shot at him and left him to die. They commented that he had been writing too much these days and needed to be taught a lesson. Somehow Rameshji managed to make a phone call and get help. But he has been severely harmed by the bullets that entered his body.

 

This wasn’t the first time Rameshji had been targeted by the state-corporate nexus. In May 2011, he was arrested on falsified charges of extortion and defamation. At 4am his house was surrounded and he was arrested and jailed for 72 days without bail. Surprisingly, the charges against him had been filed a year ago, in 2010. Yet he was arrested only a year later, making a mockery of the justice system.

 

Why was he being targeted? Rameshji was actively using information to organise people and to oppose irregularities in Jindal’s coal blocks in the state. They were doing construction on government land without proper land acquisition and without an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

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Photo courtesy: Goldman Environmental Prize

This is really striking because Jindal in Mozambique has been operating in similar ways. They have been mining coal without an EIA and with communities still living in the mining zone; they are having health problems and even their right to movement has even been severely hampered.

 

Rameshji told us that Jindal’s coal mining is causing pollution and coal ash in the air. This has impacted the lives of people. They are unable to make their traditional food badi anymore because they have no place to dry it without contamination from the coal ash. It is interesting that communities are facing such a similar situation in Mozambique where they have no place to dry their mandioca without coal contamination.

 

Of course the threats of Jindal are well known in Mozambique too. Rameshji explained that Jindal’s policy on those calling out for justice is clear: bribe them, threaten them to make them back down, or if that fails then remove them.

 

Jindal is politically well-connected and they run an active public relations to portray a ‘clean image’. This is also their weakness, that they are quite concerned about their image with banks, share markets, consortiums, etc.

 

Through talking to Rameshji, we learnt of the struggles of communities in India against Jindal which are so similar to the struggles of communities in Mozambique against the same company. We need to strengthen communities on both sides to gain information and to fight for their rights together.

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Photo: Justiça Ambiental

 

 

Press release: Mining…where are the rights of communities?

The Indian mining company, Jindal, tried for the third time in less than 1 year to derail the work of a Justiça Ambiental (JA!) team on the 4th of this month during the data collection of the research, monitoring, and advocacy in Changara district, Tete province. The JA team, composed of three members, were barred, intimidated, and threatened by certain Jindal officials when they tried to visit the community of Cassoca.

Jindal is operating one of the largest open pit coal mines running since 2013 whose total area includes communal lands and the communities themselves who have always lived in this area. They remain in the area with the mine in full operation and are victims of constant violation of their most basic rights and fundamental freedoms, including land rights and violation of their right to the environment due to air pollution caused by Jindal. The area of the mine was ceded by the Government of Mozambique and the mine went into operation without the Environmental Impact Study having been completed and approved in accordance with the law. No resettlement has occurred nor any other form of protecting the rights of communities affected by the mine.

The team of JA! intended to visit the community of Cassoca and upon reaching the gate that gives access to the company’s offices and the concession area of Jindal, the only means of access, they duly identified and informed the guards at the place where we intended to go as well as the work to be done. However, the team was immediately told they would have to obtain authorization from local superiors to allow the completion of the work in question. Moreover, the security team reported that the JA team should present themselves to the advisor of the company and the head of social affairs, resettlement, and corporate social responsibility. Indeed, we were received by a team of 6 people, including two local village leaders of Cassoca as well as employees of Jindal, who raised various issues, particularly regarding the interest of the JA team in that community and who suggested that instead of talking to community members the JA team should talk with the community leaders present there who, according to them, were the most suitable people to provide information. Our refusal of this proposal and insistence upon speaking directly with community members caused much discomfort and immediately brought an end to the little cordiality demonstrated, the atmosphere became heavy, with an intimidating discourse.

The advisor of Jindal and the head of social affairs and inter-industrial relations unfairly accused the JA team of being responsible for and instigating the protests carried out by the communities against Jindal as well as instigating violence. This interrogation lasted about two hours and in the end, the team was told in a threatening tone that they could go to Cassoca but that Jindal was not to blame for what might come to pass to the JA team as a result of the visit.
Therefore, the attitude of Jindal consisted once more of illegally impeding, through threats, intimidation, and restriction of the right to freedom of movement, the contact of JA with the communities that lie within the concession area.

Jindal does not want Mozambican society and the international community to be aware of the impacts of their activities on communities. Given these attitudes of Jindal which has been recurring, why does the Government remain silent in face of the various irregularities of the company and in the few situations in which it professes to do so in defense of these? And who defends the interests of the communities?

Maputo, 16 June 2014

JA! JUSTIÇA AMBIENTAL
Av.Mao Tsé Tung Nº 549, 1º Andar Direito, Maputo
Contact: 82 3061275 / 21 496668
E-mail: jamoz2010@gmail.com

 

 

NEW REPORT ON INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY EXPOSES HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN MOZAMBIQUE; BUT THE UN RAPPORTEUR REFUSES TO ANSWER US

On the 10th of December, on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, a new report was released titled Dirty Profits 2: Report on Companies and Financial Institutions Benefiting from Violations of Human Rights.

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The report was released by the Facing Finance campaign, which “calls on investors not to invest in companies profiting from violations of human rights, environmental pollution, corruption or the production of controversial weapons.” Justiça Ambiental (JA, Friends of the Earth Mozambique) is also a part of the campaign, along with Urgewald, Earthlink, SODI, etc.

The report puts a spotlight of shame on almost 40 companies and financial institutions that are building profits on the backs of human rights violations and environmental destruction all over the globe, from Mozambique to Indonesia, Nigeria to Colombia, Chile, India and West Virginia (USA).

JA provided information to expose the human rights violations being caused by dirty energy companies, Vale SA and Jindal Steel & Power, both of which are mining coal in Mozambique’s Tete province.

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This report confirms human rights violations in coal mining in Mozambique, just as 7 months have passed since JA wrote to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Professor Raquel Rolnik, who is Brazilian and is based in São Paulo. In April 2013, JA submitted to her office a Letter of Allegation regarding Human Rights Abuses in Cateme, Mozambique. Cateme is where the Brazilian company, Vale has resettled some of its mining-displaced families. We requested confirmation that her office had received the complaint, and they confirmed so. However, despite 7 months having passed, and despite many reminders, we are still yet to hear back about Ms. Rolnik’s process of verification, responses from Vale or the Mozambican government. We have received no information till date, no indication that she intends to do anything at all with the complaint. Her silence is shocking.

Life Compromised for Coal: Mozambique & the Importance of the IPCC report

Yesterday, JA celebrated the opening of our photo exhibition called “O Amanhã Comprometido: A Vida Por Carvão” which translates to ‘Tomorrow Jeopardized: Life for Coal’. This exhibition will run in the Associação Moçambicana de Fotografia in Maputo for a week until 1 October 2013. The exhibition features photos by Daniel Ribeiro, Mauro Pinto and Peter Steudtner.

(See the exhibition poster below)

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This hard-hitting photo exhibition comes as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release tomorrow yet another report about the dismal state of our atmosphere. The IPCC was constituted by the United Nations to study in depth the scientific, technical and socio-economic aspects of climate change. They release their assessment reports every 5 years; this week world leaders are meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, to release the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of Working Group 1 of the IPCC. Other chapters of AR5 will be released at different times next year, and we will keep you all posted about it.

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(Photo of the IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri by Marshall Niles)

Due to of the very technical nature of the process and the scientists involved, the AR5 report is likely to be conservative in its conclusions. But still, the verdict from the report is so clear. Parts of the report have been leaked beforehand. The report will conclude that climate change is definitely happening and it is driven by increased emissions from humans. The report will stress that each of the last three decades have been warmer than all of the preceding decades going back to 1850 and the decade from 2000-2010 has been the warmest. The report will conclude that an average temperature increase of 4 degrees Celsius is “as likely as not likely” by 2100. But this is just talking about global averages. The report is quite confident that the temperature increases over big land masses, including Africa and Asia, will be higher than the averages! Not just this, but the impacts faced by people will be worse that they originally predicted.

Already Mozambique is seeing elevated temperatures and huge variability in rainfall and river flows. In January 2013, over 150,000 people in Gaza district of Mozambique were temporarily forced out of their homes because of devastating floods. JA travelled to Chokwe to meet with communities and wrote about this in our February newsletter in Portuguese, available here: http://justicaambiental.org/index.php/en/resources/newsletter/2013

So what is the world doing about these dangerous scenarios? Dangerously little! The biggest and best way to reduce emissions today is to reduce the use of fossil fuels right now. Yet the world continues mining coal, drilling oil, fracking; all driving us closer to catastrophic climate change.

But what is worse, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence of human caused climate change due to emissions, the Northern governments and big business find all possible ways to develop and push false solutions such as carbon trading, CDM, REDD, offsets, geo-engineering, etc., instead of reducing emissions.

Actually these constantly emerging and totally flawed false solutions are not a mistake but are very intentional; they are meant to give a free pass to polluters to carry on polluting. We are now heading towards the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and in 19 years of trying to stop climate crisis, emissions have only gone up and false solutions are threatening more lives and livelihoods than ever before.

Of course, Mozambique has historically had a very small contribution to climate emissions. However, today Mozambique is aiming to be a major coal exporter, which is affecting communities locally and will put more carbon in the atmosphere than the world can bear. At this IPCC report’s release, we strongly say: Leave the coal in the hole! In Mozambique and everywhere in the world.

 For more information, see:

A GOVERNMENT WITHOUT SHAME, A PEOPLE WITHOUT HOPE

THE PROTEST NO ONE TALKED ABOUT

Late last month, on the 22nd and 23rd of July, a protest took place in Chirodzi area, Tete province, in central inland Mozambique.  The local communities had gathered there to protest in the concession area grated to Jindal, an Indian mining company. Jindal is extracting coal from an open pit mine in Tete province, without an environmental impact study and without ensuring the safety of the local communities. Till date the communities have not been resettled, but continue to live in the concession area.

The communities have been raising their voices, asking for their rights. On this day, the frustration and desperation of the communities mounted, and the protest turned violent. The communities attacked four Indian Jindal employees. Of the four Jindal people attacked, one was attacked in his office and the other three in their homes, all within the concession mining area. There was a security company, who usually secures the gates and the whole perimeter of the concession area, were also attacked, and with no place to hide from the public anger, they ran away. The police were also present, but were outnumbered by the irate people.

The protest involved four communities: Chirodzi / Cahora Bassa, Chirodzi / Changara, Cassoca and Nyantsanga. These last two communities are located within the concession area of ​​the mine, while the first two are on the periphery. But it is very important to note all these communities have communal lands which have now been taken by the company.

According to community testimonies, the protest erupted because of Jindal’s failure to fulfil the promises they made to the communities when their settled here in 2008.

  • They promised they would not extract coal before resettlement of the communities, yet they have been doing exactly that for over eight months;
  • They promised not to occupy lands, specifically the fields of local communities, without first negotiating with their legitimate owners;
  • They assured the communities that there would provide a water supply;
  • They also promised jobs for community members.

The communities and Cassoca and Nyantsanga stated that in December Jindal usurped part of their farms with standing crops, without any warning, thereby seriously undermining their food sovereignty. As for resettlement, it is not happening but the coal is being mined. On 9th of May 2013, Macauhub news reported that a ship left from Beira port, heading for India, carrying 36,000 tons of coal mined by Jindal Mozambique Minerals.

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The communities constantly face respiratory and other serious problems, from being so close to the open pit mining. Air pollution resulting from mining activity is visibly hanging in the air; the black dust settles on everything. How will the lungs of people cope with this? How much longer will children continue to have their classes in this atmosphere?

Their frustration is what led to this protest. The communities also promised that if their rights continue to be ignored and trampled, and if the company does not fulfil the promises made to them, there will be more protests. This protest revealed how bad the relationship is between Jindal and these four surrounding communities.

The relationship between employees and employers in Jindal is also bad. According to company officials who agreed to talk to us, there are many quarrels about alleged discrepancies in pay and subsidies to employees. Even the workers who operate the mine say they do not have the protective equipment that is required.

But Jindal reportedly seems to have a excellent relationship with the government. This is substantiated by the fact that some people even said that the government collects “taxes” from the company.

At the end of the day, according to the laws in force in the Republic of Mozambique and international conventions, Jindal is in the wrong, but the government is partly responsible for this, because of their passivity and permissiveness (or should we say say collusion).

Jindal declined to provide any information to us, but they summoned a meeting with community leaders and “informed” them not to provide any information to civil society organisations, and they threatened not to renew contracts with those who did communicate.

The silence of the media is also shocking. It is extremely sad that, even though we know that there were several teams of national media in the middle of all this circus in Chirodzi, but other than the Diário de Moçambique, nobody published this story.

Less than a month after this transpired in Chirodzi, the communities still continue to wait for their rights to be recognised. But meanwhile, the complicity of the government was proved. While the communities were protesting the way this company is operating and protesting against unfulfilled promises, the Mozambican President, Armando Guebuza, visited Chirodzi to officially inaugurate the project, and doing so, legitimized what Jindal is doing. Basically, he gave his approval to what was happening, to mining being carried out without an Environmental Impact Study, to mining being carried out while communities are still living there, with about 563 families still waiting to be resettled. Adults and children. All living in an environment extremely dangerous and harmful to their health, not to mention that their livelihoods and futures are being silently trampled on. They have been forgotten and made invisible by those who should protect them. A shameless government leading a hopeless people. This is our Mozambique.

Meanwhile, protests against Jindal are not new. In their home country of India too, Jindal has been exploiting local communities with impunity. In the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, which are states with large populations of tribal people, Jindal has been devastating farms, villages and lives for many years now. But, same as in Mozambique, the communities have not been silent. In Asanbani village in Jharkhand, the houses are marked with signs in Hindi such as “Naveen Jindal go back! We will give our lives but we will not give our lands” (see photo below). This is the Visthapan Virodhi Samiti (Committee against Displacement).

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Photo credit: Panos South Asia, Alchemy of Iniquity: Resistance and Repression in India’s Mines. A Photographic enquiry.

We are moving towards building bridges between these communities fighting again a common enemy, Jindal, across India and Mozambique.

A recent book called ‘A New Scramble For Africa?: Imperialism, Investment And Development’, carried a great quote of Gandhi to help us contextualise why the presence of Indian company Jindal in Africa is so problematic.

Gandhi said, “The commerce between India and Africa will be the commerce of ideas, not manufactured goods against raw materials after the fashion of western exploiters.”

Ills and illogics of Coal

The coal monster is finally starting to show signs of illness and decline. The campaign against coal in the US has had some major victories and has sent coal into the sidelines in future energy planning, with even President Obama publicly mentioning the phasing out of coal in his speech on Tuesday at Georgetown University. With numerous coal power stations reaching the end of their lifespan, US coal consumption is on the decease and has placed the US in a situation where it can become a major global coal exporter instead of a user.

In China the first signs of change are already visible. In 2010 in China, coal was overtaken by renewables in newly-installed energy capacity, and China’s strategies and long-term planning are starting to reflect this move away from coal to a more diversified energy capacity. When even China starts to prioritize moving away from coal, then we know the tides are changing. These changes even though early and relatively small are starting to bear fruit. For example Mongolia’s future development path was set to be heavily based on exploration of their vast coal reserves to supply China’s coal needs, and Mongolia borrowed heavily on the usual assumption of revenues associated with coal. However, coals prices have been crashing and China’s increase in coal consumption has been slower than projected, while increase in using cleaner alternatives has been higher than projected. This has caused havoc to Mongolia’s debt and, in turn, its development future.

ImagemIn our own country, Mozambique, these risks are being felt. Both Vale and Rio Tinto (who according to our sources has already put their business in the country for sale) are feeling the impact of the infrastructural bottlenecks, with extensive delays and cost overruns affecting their profit margins. Coupled with decreasing coal prices, uncertain economic projects and over optimistic assessments of the quality and size of the Mozambican reserves have resulted in billions of dollars of losses. These losses are despite a very favourable, secret contract that the companies negotiated with the Mozambican government, which is unfair to Mozambique, in that it gives little benefits for Mozambique, but high negative impacts.

At a broader technical level, one starts to realise the difficulties that coal is facing. The construction cost for coal power stations have sky-rocketed and the extensive infrastructure and logical requirements (railways, ports, terminals, etc.) are facing bottlenecks around the world that further increases the overall costs. At an economical level, the risks are constantly increasing. A recent commodities report by Deutsch Bank showed dismal projections and further decreases in the possible returns from coal.

On the other hand, the cost of clean alternatives are steadily decreasing and options like wind are already cheaper at a dollar per Kilowatt produced rate, and within the next few years even solar will become cheaper. The investment world is also starting to understand and benefit from the positive components that alternative energy present. For example both wind and solar have very short periods between investment to profitability and are highly modular. Wind turbines can be installed and placed on grid in a very short time period and gradually increased in successive phases in direct correlation with demand. In contrast coal power stations are very large point investments with very long construction periods, often extended by delays. They depend more on long-term demand projects that are regularly over-optimistic or completely incorrect. Due to the long life span the production capacity is usually much higher than initial demand in order to cope with future projected demand increases, which makes the investment larger than required. Whereas alternatives start returning profits in a modular manner, as each phase is complete, traditional coal-based production has no returns until the full project has been completed and then it causes a huge peak in energy availability which can cause a decrease in energy prices due to over-supply. The need for forward planning and the regular energy peaks inherent in coal-based energy production has also been given as one of the reasons for the low priority of the energy sector for not focussing on energy efficiency.

Coal also developed as a sector during a time when economics were more open to subsidies and had a narrow notion of costs and responsibilities, if it were starting today it would be considered crazy. Unfortunatly, many of these issues are still part of common practices in the coal sector. Subsidies include direct spending, tax breaks or exemptions, low-interest loans, loan guarantees, loan forgiveness, grants, subsidised railways and ports, and much more. In terms of global subsidies in 2010 fossil fuels received almost 7 times more subsidies than renewables, and this value is based a narrow definition of subsidies. Then their is the external cost from coal. For example a Harvard medical study calculated that the additional heath and environmental cost from burning coal has cost the US $500 billion a year. Governments also lose extensive revenues from discounted royalty fees from lands, water and many others. It is common practice for mines and coal power station not to pay at all, or pay insignificant amounts for environmental services such as water (which they consume and pollute in copious amounts), nor do they restore the damage they cause. In fact just the indirect subsidies of fossil fuel, such as favorable access  to land, water and other breaks is valued to be equivilate to the total amout of subsidies received by the renewables sector. The Greenpeace South Africa report “The True Cost of Coal” highlights this absurdity of coal. Actually more than 200 different form of subsidies have been identified.

On top of this, coal is one of the main drivers of climate change, making it one of the main targets for the climate change debates. It is not a matter of “if”, but a matter of “when” serious carbon restrictions and limits start being imposed, at that time coal will be one of the most affected. However, even now with no true restrictions from the international climate change negotiations, the environmental and social problems associated with coal are so devastating and well-known that it is leading to an ever-increasing opposition to coal worldwide. It is getting ever more difficult to obtain public consent, which is becoming a growing requirement in democratic countries around the world.

In addition to competing with ever-improving clean alternatives, coal is also competing with other extractives. Most mining companies cover a host of extractive activities, but have limited resources to invest in new projects; therefore decisions have to be made between the different mining proposals. Given the increasing risks of coal it has fallen down the list of profitable investments.

Unfortunately, monsters like coal do not go down quietly. Whenever the illness of coal is exposed, a number of sector “specialists” proclaim its heath through hyper-positive projections and possible profits in the attempt to continue the investments into coal. As the industry starts realising the limited future in developed countries it turns to Africa and can always count on the short sightedness and corruption of our unaccountable leaders to allow for bad decisions. Let’s stop being the dumping ground of dying technologies.

At present coal is living through the latency associated with change and is still viable for already developed coal sectors in the near future, but dangerous for countries that are just starting to develop their coal development. Africa, and Mozambique in specific, doesn’t need to follow this destructive path to development, and the associated devastating impacts, that was used by the current powers. We can skip the potholes of development like we did with communication. Most of Africa did not have a wired line phone system, so we skipped this resource and time-extensive method, and went straight to the cleaner, more efficient wireless cellular communications route. Let’s do the same for our energy and revenue development path.

Mozambique’s Gas Master Plan

This past week Justiça Ambiental fired off comments in response to the Natural Gas Master Plan for Mozambique which was presented in a workshop on 6th September in Maputo. The World Bank and the Government of Mozambique commissioned consultants from ICF International based in the USA to write the Master Plan.

Lack of effective participation

The timeline and the participation process was a mockery. We were given only one week to read and respond to the report. We were not provided with the full report, despite having requested it, only the Executive Summary. It would be ethically incorrect if the government or the consultants claimed that a public participation process has occurred.

Hidden Truths and False Intentions

Although the Plan says its intention is to “maximize benefits to Mozambique society”, it appears like the intention is to maximise benefits to international oil companies and Mozambican elites instead.

There are many important questions the Master Plan does not address.

  1. Is this the right time for gas to be explored in Mozambique?
  2. Does the country have the necessary critical factors in place to prevent the gas resource from turning into a resource curse?
  3. Does it have the necessary well-functioning legal, regulatory, and financial systems?
  4. Does it encourage vibrant and democratic civil society institutions?
  5. Does it focus on ways to improve accountability, transparency, and participation?
  6. Does it focus on developing small and medium industries?
  7. Does it effectively ameliorate social and environmental impacts?

The lack of attention in dealing with these issues will only result in feeding the growth of the corrupt elites and place Mozambique on the long list of African countries plagued by the resource curse.

Lack of effective regulatory, legal and other systems

The Master Plan is alluding that Mozambique has some readiness to approach gas development because it has “over the past decade been steadily building a regulatory framework under which to manage the development of its gas resources.”

This is totally misleading because Mozambique has at best taken steps only on paper, and these laws and regulations have not actually been transferred into reality. Mozambicans often sceptically say that these paper laws are to show foreigners and for the powerful to ignore. Many laws recently created in Mozambique have huge loopholes.

Where is the Corruption? Missing in this Master Plan!

It is quite shocking to note that the word ‘corruption’ appears in this entire 46-page document once. But that too is in reference to Nigeria, not Mozambique.

Isn’t it strange that the Gas Master Plan doesn’t even mention corruption in Mozambique when we have the dubious distinction of being in a low 120 out of 182 position on the Corruption Perception Index.

Gas or Tourism

Tourism is one of biggest contributors to Mozambique’s economy and one of the fastest-growing sectors. With gas exploration in the Rovuma basin, the tourism potential of the region will be jeopardised. The impacts of gas exploration on the Quirimbas marine reserves will be devastating.

Mega-projects: Who benefits?

The Master Plan recommends that Mozambique should prioritise mega-projects. However, the history of mega-projects in Mozambique clearly shows that they are purely self-serving, extractive, export-oriented ventures that provide Mozambique with only a small amount of low-skilled jobs and a lot of pollution.

The contribution of mega-projects to the Mozambican state in 2010 and 2011 was insignificant. The President of Mozambique’s Tax Authority said in an interview that the 2011 contribution of megaprojects to the state was even lower than the contribution of the informal sector.

Social and Environmental Impacts Ignored

The Master Plan claims that increased employment in the country is an objective. The Mozambican government does not prioritise training and capacity-building of Mozambicans, nor supporting small and medium industries, so it is clear that foreigners and local elites will walk away with the lion’s share of benefits from the gas sector.

This Master Plan pretends as if environmental impacts are small and can be ameliorated if managed properly. This is a fallacy. These activities are highly environmentally detrimental and Mozambique does not have a good track record in conducting effective Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). In most cases, the EIAs just act as a ‘rubber stamp’ whereas the political decisions for projects are made before the EIAs are even conducted.

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