Category Archives: solar power

Greed, Arrogance, Power & Air-Conditioning: The Four Horsemen of the Climate Apocalypse

The climate crisis has caused a rush for solutions, many of which are false, often linked to corporate greed taking advantage of the desperation to further accumulate wealth and control, by pushing more and more of humanity’s collective wealth into markets, and in turn into the hands of the wealthy elites.

As always, energy is central to the problem, and its’ solutions critical in dealing with the climate crisis. This article explores how the energy sector can move towards a carbon-free and socially-just energy world. The current trend within the energy debate is heavily-focused on technological solutions and fixes, with very little focus on changing the systems that have created the destructive, wasteful, unjust and carbon-intensive energy world that has been a major cause of the climate crisis. This raises the question of whether we are too focused on looking further forward down the same road versus trying a new path, even looking back to explore past solutions that we have abandoned, but that may be very relevant to our current reality.

Our current paths are based on power relationships, resulting in linear, hierarchical structures and dynamics. The advancement of technology, especially after the Industrial Revolution, has changed our relationship with nature, from adapting and being in balance to one of dominating nature. Humanity began to see itself as above nature, more powerful and smarter than nature… We believed that our technological advancements made us invincible. We entered the Age of Arrogance. Now we are in a climate crisis, but still believing that we can overcome this crisis with technology. We need to look back and learn from our mistakes and focus on system change. “Sit down…be humble”, as the song goes.

This reality can be seen everywhere, but to illustrate the issue in a more specific way, we look at air conditioning (A/C). This is something many of us in hot climates know well, but don’t realize how this technology has molded today’s world and many of its problems.

Before the era of A/C, local communities dealt with harsh, hot climates by adapting their behavior and structures to the environment. Nature set the rules and reality, and we adapted; we found ways to be in balance. Even today in Mozambique, communities are more active during the early and late parts of the day when temperatures are lower, and they rest during the hottest part of the day in shady, green and cooler areas. Many hot countries had and still have similar habits to protect themselves, such as the ‘siesta’ in Latin countries.

Keeping living areas cooler was achieved by using local materials that had good thermal characteristics for the local climate, combined with orientation/ placement of buildings and construction methods, and even simpler options like using light colours, that all aided in managing high temperatures.

For example, in hot and dry areas, it is common to use hefty materials with high thermal mass such as stone, calcareous rock, adobe, etc, which soak up heat during the day and release it during the cold nights. The construction often has flat roofs, small windows that allow for air circulation, but minimal heat radiation and greenhouse effect.

In hot and humid climates, it’s more common to build high roofs or ‘copulas’, breeze ways, screens in sleeping quarters, large shaded areas, verandas and more. Hot climates often used numerous features and methods such as courtyards, openings, buffer spaces, water bodies, wind traps, air circulation channels, deflectors, cavity walls and much, much more to make hot areas cooler and more comfortable. Numerous studies have shown the success of traditional vernacular construction where indoor temperatures can be 6 to 10°C lower than outside temperatures.

Even the layout of traditional settlements take into account the local climate with building spacing, placement and alignment being constructed to maximize shade, minimize the surfaces exposed to the sun (linear houses with north-south orientation), and to maximize cooling by the prevailing winds. It has been recently shown that many modern cities have higher temperatures just due to the layout of high-rise buildings and their relationship with the local climate, especially winds. For example Tokyo has areas that have an average increase of 2.5°C due to the placement, layout, distance of buildings and how they interact with the local climate. Computer modeling and experiments in new, emerging mega-cities, such as in China, have shown that not only can one avoid this temperature increase, but even decrease the local temperatures just by taking into account these factors that many ancient cultures have been using for thousands of years. So if just a building can have a temperature decrease of 6 to 10°C, when one includes settlement layout there is a huge potential, and it makes one understand how people managed to live relatively comfortably in these hot climates without the existence of A/C.

So, now we in a good position to start the story of A/C. Once A/C became readily available, we stopped trying to build efficient buildings. We thought we were no longer at the mercy of nature and could dominate nature. We could have any type of building in the hottest desert kept at almost any temperature, and today we have lush green golf courses and even snow-laden ski-slopes in the Dubai desert.

The big shift started after World War II, with numerous industries promoting A/C, especially in the US where the construction sector wanted to increase profits, decrease costs, and saw A/C as a way to drop the heftier thermal materials and move away from locally-adapted construction methods towards a standardized, quick, light and cheap construction model. They took away the responsibility of keeping the interior cool and comfortable, from the architects and toward the engineers through adhoc A/C installations. At the same time, the energy sector was also pushing strategies to increase energy consumption in the US, especially in households. The adoption of A/C was central to the growth and profit of the energy sector. Thermally-inefficient households and buildings, were perfect for creating a dependency on A/C and guarantee a high energy and A/C use.

As always, these interests went hand-in-hand with lobby groups, policy pushes and marketing. Lobby groups pushed forward regulations and policies that set narrow interior temperatures for working and public spaces, but they were not based on research and science. Instead they were influenced by the interest of lobby groups that pushed for lower indoor working temperatures in hot climates, in order to increase the areas that would require artificial temperature regulation. In addition, they refer to the interior spaces to have such temperatures, and not just the areas were people work, so less-used areas like emergency stairways, storage rooms, etc, are still kept at these lower temperatures even though no people use these spaces. Marketing strategies pushed air conditioners (A/Cs) as an essential component of modern living, and highlighted the heath benefits of A/Cs, through misleading, industry-funded research. Some of the false claims were that the air was healthier, interiors were free from pollen, dust and other pollutants, and even that it improved eating.

The boom of A/C also contributed to huge changes in settlement patterns in the uncomfortably hot southern part of the US, often referred to as the hot belt. This area saw a huge boom in population. Prior to the adoption of A/C, only 28% of the US population lived in these areas, but today it counts for almost 50% of the US population, with many studies showing settlement patterns and migration linked to the spread of A/C. Florida grew from 1 million inhabitants in 1920 to over 7 million 50 years later; Houston doubled its population with the A/C boom, and numerous other US cities doubled and some even quadrupled in size.

In the US today, there are huge 3000 cubic metre homes in 35°C+ climates being kept at 23°C during the day while all their occupants are out at work. The A/C energy use has doubled between 1993 and 2005. The energy use on A/C alone is more than energy use of all sectors in 1955. This results in greenhouse gas emissions of over 500 million tons per year, more than the construction sector, including from the production of materials such as cement. If we use Africa as a comparison, it becomes even more shocking. In 2010, the US energy use for A/C was more than the entire energy use of Africa for all proposes! That’s why changing our energy system is so vital in dealing with the climate crisis.

This article’s data is very US based, partly because a lot of data exists for the US, which makes it easier to highlight the issues in detail, but the other reason is the role of the US in exporting and pushing its model around the world and influencing how other countries develop. Here at home in Mozambique, this is clear to see, not only do our emerging middle class and elites strive to live the life of US decadence, but our governments also sees this as the development path for Mozambique. Africa, and certainly Mozambique, are going through a strong population and urbanization boom and if this boom follows the US model it will result in scary climate consequences.

Today’s “modern” buildings without A/C have interior temperatures higher than the outside temperatures, while our older traditional buildings had interiors that were significantly cooler than the outside. Too much of today’s architecture has lost a sense of place, dropping function to focus on form and style. However, when we do look back at our past solutions and add some modern ideas the potential is amazing. For example, the Pearl Academy of Fashion on the outskirts of Jaipur, India is located in a very hot, dry desert climate (over 40°C temperatures), but the architects did a great job of looking back at old traditional Indian buildings and including modern interpretations of different cooling systems, such as open courtyards, water bodies, baoli (step-well), jaalis (perforated stone screen), and more. The result is a building with 17°C cooler temperature than the outside climate and no need for artificial cooling. Furthermore, the construction costs weren’t significantly higher than the mainstream alternatives, and the long-term savings in energy bills, equipment maintenance, etc are huge. Plus, they are more independent and less affected by the unstable energy supply of the area.

The above example was mostly based on simpler traditional cooling solutions, but many buildings have combined traditional solutions with more modern options and achieved amazing results. For example the ‘New Office of Munich’ in Germany consumes 73% less energy than a equivalent standard office building. Even skyscrapers can be made to use less energy for cooling. For example, the Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China uses 53% less energy than conventional skyscrapers, and uses its built-in turbines and solar panels to often produce energy in excess of its needs and can feed it into the grid. The Pixel building in Melbourne has gone even further and produces all of its energy and water needs with a mix of traditional solutions like a living roof, passive cooling, shades, blinds, rainwater harvesting, etc, coupled with modern option like turbines, solar, software and more. Old buildings can also be retrofitted to improve energy efficiency. The Empire State building’s retrofit managed to decrease its energy consumption by 38%, corresponding to 4 million dollars savings per year. The examples are many and growing by the day, and some of the more technically complex options may not be viable for Mozambique’s reality, but there are many traditional and simple options that are very cost-effective and suitable for our reality.

However, the focus of this article isn’t to discuss which solutions to use or not, but for us to shift from the arrogance of thinking we can dominate nature through technology and that same approach can solve the climate crisis. Whatever solutions we think are best should come from harmony and balance with nature, and be centred on social justice. We have used many of these solutions in the past, before technology made humanity think we were gods. Sometimes the solution is just stopping with the bad. By ending this age of arrogance and greed, we allow for true and just solutions to grow. Like in a forest, when one tree falls, it is not replaced by another fully grown tree, it is the gap created that gives rise to a new tree to grow in its place. Let us remove the shadows of arrogance, greed and power, and allow the sun to shine on the true solutions and let them grow us out of these crises.

Tagged , , , , ,

JA! speaks truth to TNC’s in Europe!

Lobby tour participants and organisers FoE Spain in Madrid

 

Over the past few weeks, JA! took part in a lobby tour organised in Europe, by Friends of the Earth Europe, where we met with current partners, made new allies, shared our anti-gas struggle and confronted the companies and banks who make up the liquid natural gas industry in northern Mozambique. This tour was imperative for the campaign, because so many of the companies and banks involved in the industry are based in Europe.

Lobby tour participants outside the EU Brussels

The tour, which went through Rome, Madrid, Amsterdam, Paris and Brussels, was aimed at creating awareness about our struggle against the gas industry in Mozambique and demonstrating the critical need for a Binding Treaty on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations (TNCs) at the United Nations. Currently, there is no accountability mechanism at the UN, only guiding principles which companies do not abide by, as they see them as an impediment to their greed and profit.

 

Our partners had arranged for JA!, along with activists from the DRC and the Phillipines to meet with current and new partners and allies, as well as industry players and state authorities.
Panel discussion with lobby tour participants and parliamentarians in the Hague2

Our confrontations with the industry were often met with blatant hostility, when we tried to hold them accountable for their actions, and when we raised questions they didn’t like. We attended four annual general meetings (AGM’s), those of Shell, Natixis, Eni and Total.

Intervention at natixis AGM

Natixis, the French bank which arranged for the entrance of three major French banks to finance the Coral LNG Project1, was so hostile at their AGM that when JA! attempted to ask a question about their negligence and ineptness in the project, they turned off the microphone and refused to answer the question. Shareholders were shouting “go home!” as JA! and partner organisations walked out of the meeting.

 

At the Shell AGM in Amsterdam, we were part of a large contingent of civil society organisations, mostly Dutch but also some European. Shell has a sale and purchase agreement (SPA) with Mozambique LNG to buy 2 million tonnes of gas per year for 13 years.

 

JA! and an organisation from Nigeria were the only attendees from the global South. The response to our questions was, as expected, vague, but our voice had been heard and carried in the Dutch media. Shell had little respect for activists – when the Nigerian activist raised the impacts that Anadarko’s project was having on their community in the Niger Delta, the Charles Holliday, Shell’s Chairman, responded that he should approach the ‘helpdesk’ in the foyer for assistance.

Interview with online news outlet madrid2

The third AGM we attended was that of Total in Paris, which is the new owner of the Mozambique LNG Project2, since May when it purchased Anadarko’s Africa assets. Anadarko, however, is still operating the project, and plan to hand over the lead to Total at the end of the year. After Greenpeace disrupted the AGM last year, there was a large police presence, and for some reason that was not properly explained to us, even though dozens of activists had arranged for access to the AGM, only JA! and an activist from Greenpeace were allowed into the plenary. JA!’s question was met with a dismissive answer, with Total evading responsibility for the impacts of the gas industry on the ground, claiming that responsibility lies with Anadarko.

 

This was a theme that came up in all AGM’s that we attended, including the fourth one, that of Italian company Eni, in Rome. Eni, along with ExxonMobil has the biggest stake in operating the Coral South LNG Project in Mozambique. We found that all the companies that we confronted, including during the one-on-one meetings we had with industry financiers BNP Paribas and BPI (French Public Investment Bank) put all the blame for the impacts on Anadarko. When we pushed them for answers, it became clear that none of these companies had even looked at the Environmental Impact Assessment that Anadarko had made in 2014, and yet were blaming them for all the climate injustices that were taking place. They are conveniently ignorant.

 

JA!’s partners had arranged for us to hold meetings with several authoritative bodies, including Michel Forst, UN Rapporteur on HRD; French parliamentarians from the working group on human rights and TNC’s; the deputy director of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs; a parliamentarian from political party ally in Spain, Unidas Podemos; Belgian parliamentarians, and party representatives at the European Union.

 

We also met with other organisations, including Oxfam, Amnesty International, Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN), the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and Action Aid.

 

In each country we spoke at events, to full houses of activists, journalists and the general public, some meetings of over 100 people. Our partners organising the tour had built a media campaign around our visit. Here are links to some of the articles about our struggle in European media and blogs:

 

Publico (Spain)

 

Les Echos (France)

 

Basta (France)

 

Observatories de Multinationales

 

L’Humanite (France)

 

Banktrack

 

Foe Scotland

 

It was great to see the amount of interest in our campaign, once people were made aware of the issue, and on the flipside, frightening to see how little attention the industry had been given in European media. But we believe that this tour has taken us several steps forward in the following ways:

  •  We have made many new partners and allies in the campaign throughout Europe, strengthening our coalition
  • We have shared the campaign with people working on or interested in the issue of fossil fuels and climate justice, including activists, journalists, academics and students.
  • We have directly questioned industry players one on one, from which we received some crucial information
  • We raised the issue in large industry public platforms, AGM’s, leading to attention on written and social media, and making shareholders aware
  • We have brought the issue to the radar of high level individuals on an EU level, and on the level of political parties, parliament and ministries

Now that we have strengthened the foundation of the Campaign in Europe, we must continue to push for answers and accountability. Push for activists in Europe to take their power as European citizens to hold their companies to account, and push them to force their governments, at national and EU level, to take responsibility for those corporations from whom they receive their tax.

1 Area 4 is operated by MRV, a joint venture company comprising ExxonMobil, Eni and CNPC, which holds a 70% interest in the concession for prospection and production in that area. Galp, KOGAS and Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos de Moçambique each hold 10% interest. ExxonMobil will lead the construction and operation of liquefied natural gas production facilities and related infrastructure on behalf of MRV, and Eni will lead the construction and operation of upstream infrastructure, extracting gas from offshore deposits and piping it to the plant.

2 The Area 1 block is operated by Anadarko Mozambique Area 1, Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Anadarko Petroleum group, with a 26.5% stake, ENH Rovuma Area One, a subsidiary of state-owned Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos, with 15%, Mitsui E&P Mozambique Area1 Ltd.(20%), ONGC Videsh Ltd. (10%), Beas Rovuma Energy Mozambique Limited (10%), BPRL Ventures Mozambique BV (10%), and PTTEP Mozambique Area 1 Limited (8.5%).

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

gráfico 1

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.

Under Water

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: