New Delhi, December 17
Increasing protests against land grabs is one of India’s most pressing development challenges, said experts from international organisations working on natural resources, ecology and livelihoods.
The Right and Resources Initiative (RRI), a US-based organisation, and the Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD), a non-government organisation, have blamed the Indian government agencies and investors for the growing spate of violent clashes in the forest and tribal areas.
Top global experts in an international conference on land and forest rights, said India has joined the ranks of China, South Korea and Saudi Arabia in snatching stretches of prime livelihood resources to grow crops and extract commodities for domestic and global markets.
Providing insight into the findings, the experts said in the coming 15 to 20 years, 61,652.544 sq km of land will be devoted to major developmental and preservation projects, for which the government will acquire 39,687.765 sq km of additional land. Currently, the government has allocated 21,964.779 sq km for such projects.
According to the research conducted by the RRI and the SPWD revealed that the nation can expect rising civil unrest in response to major projects planned for the next 15 years. “Despite having legislations that could address the root cause of the conflicts, all states and all tribal areas in the country are embroiled in these land disputes,” said Arvind Khare, a global expert on land rights.
“The study suggests that Indian investors have been disrespectful of people’s rights as the Chinese,” said Shankar Gopalkrishna, one the researchers from the organisation. “What makes India different is that it calls itself a democracy that guarantees human rights. In becoming part of the global land grab, they are acting against their values,” said Khare.
Global experts said India has joined the ranks of China, South Korea and Saudi Arabia in snatching stretches of prime livelihood resources to grow crops and extract commodities. The experts said in the coming 15 to 20 years, the government will acquire 39,687.765 sq km of additional land for major developmental and preservation projects. A massive transfer of resources from the rural poor to investors is under way, leading to resistance and conflicts in virtually all states of India.
The guide emerged out of 11 international dialogues that assembled more than 400 people to discuss how to make investing in locally controlled forestry (ILCF) happen. It is a primarily a tool for practical action ' providing guidance on how to structure enabling investments and prepare the ground for asset investments that yield acceptable returns and reduced risk, not only for investors, but also for local forest right-holders, national governments and society at large. After providing strong justification for this approach, the guide sets out a framework for structuring investments with tactical advice for building the partnerships necessary for successful ILCF. The core of the guide is a roadmap to successful ILCF that covers the business stages of proposition, establishment, validation, preparation, negotiation and performance management ' with practical advice for both investors and forest right-holder groups. Case studies of successful ILCF and a range of useful templates and sources of further information are provided.
In this publication two pioneering grassroots organisations from northern Tanzania examine and present their experiences and insights from their long-term work to secure the land rights of hunter-gatherer and pastoral communities. The case studies were presented at a one-day learning event held on 5th October 2012, when Pastoral Women's Council (PWC) and Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT) joined together to share and reflect on their work to secure land rights, to learn from each other, and to identify ways to build on their achievements moving forward. The case studies are preceded by a synopsis of the political economy of land rights in Tanzania, providing background to help contextualize the studies. Following this is a summary outline of the case studies, and then a synthesis of the lessons and key points raised during the one day learning event.
Recent Punitive Actions Undermine the Legitimacy of 300,000+ Hectare Acquisition by Golden Veroleum (Liberia)
WASHINGTON, D.C. (20 December, 2012)—Four community leaders in Sinoe County, Liberia have been arrested by local authorities over the past few days, calling into question the government’s commitment to protecting the rights of the country’s indigenous communities. The arrests came after the community met with an international journalist to discuss how they lost their homes and cropland to Golden Veroleum (Liberia) (also known as GVL) for a 350,149 hectare oil palm plantation.
“As the eyes of the international community are drawn again to yet another conflict in Liberia, local authorities need to stop the punitive arrests and extralegal harassment,” said Andy White, coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). “We are deeply disappointed at the lack of response by the national government, which has promised to protect citizen rights, yet has allocated over half the lands in the country to industries, often without the consent of the landowners.”
“There is an urgent need for a moratorium on GVL’s land acquisitions and an independent assessment of the crisis in Sinoe,” White added. “To its credit, the government has recently prepared a new land policy that would recognize and clarify the land rights of local people. This crisis highlights the importance of the Liberian government’s rapid action on this policy.”
Sinoe County police arrested Butaw community members Calvin Bloh, Dexter Gleeka, and Anna Tue without charge on Friday, 14 December, but released them the following day, according to Alfred Brownell, the community’s legal advisor. Benedict Manewah, another community member who lost his home to the GVL plantation, has been arrested this week without a warrant or formal charges filed. He has not been released yet.
“What is taking place on the ground in Liberia mirrors a similar situation in Cameroon and many other countries, where local authorities side with national or international corporations to seize the communal lands of indigenous communities,” noted White. “Tragically, these affected communities would greatly appreciate economic development as long as it respects their land rights and does not decimate their livelihoods. There are plenty of examples in the world where corporations have done so and maintained profitable operations and good community relations.”
Liberia’s government, led by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has come under increasing scrutiny for land deals that ignore the rights and tenure of its poorest citizens. A recent report by the United Nations Panel of Experts on Liberia to the Security Council, for example, found that land conflicts created problems across agricultural and logging concessions and permits, and focused particularly on the case of GVL.
Last month, the Malaysian company Sime Darby suspended operations at a separate 311,319 hectare concession for a palm oil plantation in Grand Cape Mount County in response to similar complaints. The pressure to respond to the complaints came not from the Liberian government, but from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an international trade association whose members include GVL, Golden-Agri Resources Limited (a major investor of GVL), Sime Darby, PepsiCo, Con-Agra, General Mills and Nestle (which just committed to purchasing palm oil from plantations that “respect the free prior and informed consent of local and indigenous communities”).
In the Liberian communities’ complaint to the RSPO, they stated: “We are living under constant fear of threats, harassments, intimidation and arrest because we have refused permission for Golden Veroleum to take away our customary lands left to us by our ancestors.”
“These tragedies will continue as long as national governments keep handing out community lands, and are silent when their own laws are not respected,” White concluded. “These are communities with very little except for the land under their feet. And even that is being taken away in the remote corners of the world where no one is standing guard on their behalf.”
For more information, please contact:
Jenna DiPaolo, +1 202-470-3894 / email@example.com
Dan Klotz, +1 301-280-5756 / firstname.lastname@example.org
NewsBlaze: Arrests and Harassment of Community Leaders in Liberia Must Stop, Says Rights and Resources Initiative
As seen on NewsBlaze
WASHINGTON - (BUSINESS WIRE) - Four community leaders in Sinoe County, Liberia have been arrested by local authorities over the past few days, calling into question the government's commitment to protecting the rights of the country's indigenous communities. The arrests came after the community met with an international journalist to discuss how they lost their homes and cropland to Golden Veroleum (Liberia) (also known as GVL) for a 350,149 hectare oil palm plantation.
"As the eyes of the international community are drawn again to yet another conflict in Liberia, local authorities need to stop the punitive arrests and extralegal harassment," said Andy White, coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). "We are deeply disappointed at the lack of response by the national government, which has promised to protect citizen rights, yet has allocated over half the lands in the country to industries, often without the consent of the landowners."
"There is an urgent need for a moratorium on GVL's land acquisitions and an independent assessment of the crisis in Sinoe," White added. "To its credit, the government has recently prepared a new land policy that would recognize and clarify the land rights of local people. This crisis highlights the importance of the Liberian government's rapid action on this policy."
Sinoe County police arrested Butaw community members Calvin Bloh, Dexter Gleeka, and Anna Tue without charge on Friday, 14 December, but released them the following day, according to Alfred Brownell, the community's legal advisor. Benedict Manewah, another community member who lost his home to the GVL plantation, has been arrested this week without a warrant or formal charges filed. He has not been released yet.
"What is taking place on the ground in Liberia mirrors a similar situation in Cameroon and many other countries, where local authorities side with national or international corporations to seize the communal lands of indigenous communities," noted White. "Tragically, these affected communities would greatly appreciate economic development as long as it respects their land rights and does not decimate their livelihoods. There are plenty of examples in the world where corporations have done so and maintained profitable operations and good community relations."
Liberia's government, led by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has come under increasing scrutiny for land deals that ignore the rights and tenure of its poorest citizens. A recent report by the United Nations Panel of Experts on Liberia to the Security Council, for example, found that land conflicts created problems across agricultural and logging concessions and permits, and focused particularly on the case of GVL.
Last month, the Indonesian company Sime Darby suspended operations at a separate 311,319 hectare concession for a palm oil plantation in Grand Cape Mount County in response to similar complaints. The pressure to respond to the complaints came not from the Liberian government, but from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an international trade association whose members include GVL, Golden-Agri Resources Limited (a major investor of GVL), Sime Darby, PepsiCo, Con-Agra, General Mills and Nestle (which just committed to purchasing palm oil from plantations that "respect the free prior and informed consent of local and indigenous communities" ).
In the Liberian communities' complaint to the RSPO, they stated: "We are living under constant fear of threats, harassments, intimidation and arrest because we have refused permission for Golden Veroleum to take away our customary lands left to us by our ancestors."
"These tragedies will continue as long as national governments keep handing out community lands, and are silent when their own laws are not respected," White concluded. "These are communities with very little except for the land under their feet. And even that is being taken away in the remote corners of the world where no one is standing guard on their behalf."
Control over land and natural resources has recently become a subject of heated debate in India, and is, today, one of the central fault lines of Indian politics. A compendium of case studies on takeover of common lands in India was prepared for the Society for Promotion of Wasteland Development (SPWD) in order to attempt to fill the gap in the available literature on the subject of land takeover in the country. It represents one of the first attempts to look at this issue at the national level, drawing together local situations and experiences into an overall legal and policy framework. This paper seeks both to present a synthesis of the findings of these studies, reflecting the overall situation at the national level, as well as to discuss possible policy actions that can be undertaken.
Forest Peoples Programme: FPP and partners launch pioneering book on Indigenous Peoples and Free, Prior and Informed Consent in the Democratic Republic of Congo
As part of its project: "REDD financing, Human Rights and Economic Development for Sustainable Poverty Reduction of forest communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)," Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), and its local partners in the DRC: Actions pour les Droits, l'Environnement et la Vie (ADEV), Réseau pour la Conservation et la Réhabilitation des Ecosystèmes Forestiers (Réseau CREF), Cercle pour la Défense de l'Environnement (CEDEN), et Centre d'Accompagnement des Autochtones Pygmées et Minoritaires Vulnérables (CAMV), have published, in collaboration with the Organisation d’Accompagnement et d’Appui aux Pygmées (OSAPY), the first volume of a new book series titled Forêts Africaines - Tabernacle des Savoirs (FOATAS) (African Forests – Fountain of Knowledge). The principle theme of this first volume is Indigenous Peoples and Free, Prior and Informed Consent.
This publication was made possible by the generous funding support of the Swedish Agency for International Development (SIDA).
Indigenous Peoples and Free, Prior and Informed Consent contains contributions from 12 international authors (Congolese, French, American, Belgian, Cameroonian, Madagascan, amongst others) and discusses the right of local and indigenous communities to FPIC.
Free, Prior and Informed Consent is the right of local and indigenous communities to give or withhold their consent to proposed development projects that may affect their lands, resources or lifestyle. If extractive industries, agribusiness and conservation projects do not respect a community’s right to FPIC, community food security is often weakened, and poverty is made worse.
FPIC is recognised in international law (in particular in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), in the jurisprudence of the monitoring bodies of international treaties on human rights, such as the Inter-American Court on Human Rights as well as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. FPIC is also progressively being included as a key principle in the operational policies of international financial institutions and non-state entities more generally.
The book demonstrates how large multinational companies, in search of large tracts of land to establish their investment programmes, do not pay adequate attention to the rights of communities already living there. Through detailed examples taken from across the world, the authors demonstrate that the development of local and indigenous communities is not possible if the right to FPIC is not incorporated into binding national laws and effectively implemented on the ground.
Indigenous Peoples and Free, Prior and Informed Consent was officially launched on Friday 10th May, 2013 at a high profile event in Kinshasa attended by the General Secretariat of the DRC’s Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism (MECNT), academic institutions, national and international civil society organisations, development partners and several media organisations.
During the launch event, the General Secretariat of MECNT reiterated the fact that this publication is the first and only of its kind in the DRC to improve public knowledge on the issue of FPIC, and to serve as a guiding instrument for decision makers in the process of informed decision making, which should lead the country to better respecting community rights and sustainable development.
MECNT is very satisfied with the publication, which it regards as a valued contribution to government efforts to ensure that interests of all stakeholders, including local and indigenous peoples, are taken into account in all development projects taking place around the country.
The launch event was concluded by the Secretary General of the MECNT's representative, Mr. Benjamin Toirambe, Director of the Sustainable Development Department at MECNT.
FPP and its local partners are reflecting on how best to build on the academic, technical and political enthusiasm currently manifested in the DRC following this publication launch. Their aim is to convene information exchange meetings and consultations with national and provincial parliamentarians in order to advocate for FPIC integration into Congolese legislation. Meetings with universities and other academic institutions are also planned in order to encourage and popularise research on FPIC in the country.
For further information please contact:
Patrick Kipalu, Project Coordinator, Forest Peoples Programme: +243 815425052 email@example.com
John Nelson, Africa Regional Coordinator, Forest Peoples Programme: +44 (0)1608 652893 firstname.lastname@example.org
L’exploitation des bois exotiques mozambicains prospère en dehors de tout contrôle et sur fond de corruption. Principal bénéficiaire : la Chine.
En 2006, le Forum des organisations non gouvernementales de la province de Zambézie a publié un rapport au titre très évocateur, repris par tous les médias au Mozambique : “Un take away [expression utilisée pour les plats à emporter] chinois !” Ce document tire la sonnette d’alarme quant à la détérioration des relations entre Chinois et Mozambicains dans le secteur du bois qui n’est régi par aucune loi. Selon ce rapport, si l’on ne fait rien pour enrayer l’hémorragie, il n’y aura plus un seul arbre en Zambézie d’ici cinq à dix ans.
En juillet 2011, l’hebdomadaire Savana, périodique indépendant de Maputo, a publié une longue enquête sur le trafic du bois à Mocuba, village situé à 150 kilomètres de Quelimane, chef-lieu de Zambézie. “Tout le monde profite du business du bois. Si, au départ, l’activité bénéficiait surtout aux directeurs des services forestiers et aux Chinois, elle appâte désormais de plus en plus de monde : fonctionnaires, responsables locaux et collectivités territoriales. Les ressources forestières sont pillées et les populations réduites à une extrême pauvreté.”
Le trafic illégal de bois est un problème connu de tous et les autorités déplorent leur propre incapacité à s’opposer à un système mieux structuré que leurs services. Les communautés locales elles-mêmes protègent les bûcherons illégaux.
Dans son livre Moçambique na rota da China. Uma oportunidade para o desenvolvimento ? [Le Mozambique en route vers la Chine. Une opportunité pour le développement ?], l’économiste mozambicain Sergio Chichava écrit : “La convergence d’intérêts entre une partie de l’élite mozambicaine et les entreprises chinoises empêche l’établissement de relations saines et durables entre les deux pays. L’économie et l’environnement du Mozambique sont les premières victimes de ce phénomène. Cette convergence aggrave les risques liés à l’exportation de matières premières brutes, qui dépendent des fluctuations du marché chinois. Ce sont des relations semblables à celles qui s’étaient établies entre l’Afrique et l’Occident : elles limitent les perspectives de développement du continent africain.”
Le nombre des saisies et des amendes augmente, mais le volume des exportations illégales reste immense. Et malgré l’instauration de nouvelles règles, le bois brut continue d’être exporté, surtout vers les pays asiatiques.
Ce trafic prospère sur fond de corruption. A l’appui de leur influence politique, les exportateurs de bois soudoient les employés des entreprises portuaires pour que les grumes ne soient pas déclarées. De nombreux dirigeants soupçonnés d’être impliqués dans ce trafic ont été arrêtés mais, quand on cherche à en savoir plus, les autorités sont rarement disposées à fournir des détails, probablement par peur de représailles du crime organisé.
Mécontentement. Ce sont en effet les gangs qui déterminent les prix du bois. Face à ce problème, les petits exploitants forestiers commencent à s’organiser en associations. C’est le cas, par exemple, dans la province de Sofala (dans le centre du pays). A partir de l’année prochaine, les permis d’exploitation ne seront plus accordés qu’aux membres des associations.“Les acheteurs, surtout les Chinois, décident des prix du bois. Nous acceptons sans discuter parce que nous ne connaissons pas les prix du marché. Et comme nous voulons vendre, nous nous contentons de ce qu’ils offrent”, a expliqué Rui Gonçalves, président de l’Association des exploitants forestiers de Sofala, lors d’une réunion qui s’est tenue en juin 2012 à Beira. Ces derniers ont manifesté à cette occasion leur mécontentement vis-à-vis du gouvernement, par lequel ils se sentent“abandonnés”. A ce jour, il n’existe pas de barème des prix du bois.L’exploitation commerciale engendre une dégradation des forêts et ouvre la voie à d’autres activités nuisibles à l’environnement, comme la production de charbon végétal, prévient le Centre pour la recherche forestière internationale (Cifor) dans un rapport publié en 2012.
La présence des exploitants chinois dans le commerce du bois mozambicain ne cesse de se renforcer. Rien qu’en 2010, trois nouvelles entreprises asiatiques (une chinoise et deux cambodgiennes) se sont installées dans le Cabo Delgado. Mais les relations commerciales sino-mozambicaines sont très déséquilibrées. En 2009, selon les chiffres fournis par la douane mozambicaine, les exportations de bois vers la Chine représentaient 30 millions de dollars. En 2010, les statistiques chinoises faisaient état de 134 millions de dollars.
Les politiques actuelles de reboisement vont dans la bonne direction, mais, dans la pratique, rien n’est réellement mis en œuvre pour faire appliquer la loi. Pourtant, en juillet 2011, le président Armando Guebuza a reçu le prix de la Terre du Fonds mondial pour la nature (WWF) pour ses efforts en faveur de la protection des ressources naturelles, incluant notamment des campagnes de sensibilisation des enfants à la reforestation. Peut-être est-ce cependant encore trop peu pour changer les mentalités selon lesquelles, pour reprendre l’expression de l’écrivain mozambicain Mia Couto, les arbres sont “des ennemis à abattre”.
Voir la source
As seen on CIFOR
Responses to climate change are grouped into two main categories: mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change) and adaptation (adjusting livelihoods and life styles due to the influences of climate change). Amongst adaptation strategies, ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA) is an approach that promotes ways to use natural resources and biodiversity to help develop adaptation strategies for vulnerable communities. In this context, recent studies highlight the role that the Congo Basin forests play in generating rainfall, both regionally and in the continent as a whole.
Rainfall in an ecosystem originates from three main sources: moisture that is already in the atmosphere, moisture from outside the region, and evapotranspiration from surfaces within the ecosystem (forests and other land uses). Pokam et al. studied how the climate of the Congo Basin is primarily a result of moisture from the Atlantic Ocean and the recycling process of evapotranspiration. Previous studies had established that tropical forests such as the Congo Basin can evaporate up to 1 to 2 meters of water per year. In addition, research by Makarieva et al. suggests that forest cover in the region acts like a pump, moving oceanic moisture towards the continent to eventually become rainfall in that region.
With this role of forests as rainmakers in mind, Nogherotto et al. explored the impacts of deforestation in the Congo Basin on regional hydrological cycles, including the effects on the African monsoon. They modeled scenarios where the Congo Basin is forested versus those in which it is deforested (that is, modeling a situation where forest cover is transformed to short grass cover). Their findings indicate that deforestation in the Congo Basin would lead to modifications in rain behavior in the Sahel and over southern equatorial Africa.
Taken together, these three studies show how the Congo Basin acts as a mechanism for pumping water from the Atlantic Ocean, from underground sources, and from the soil. These sources then mix with atmospheric water, leading to the generation of rainfall both locally and on a sub-continental scale. Without the extensive forests of the Congo Basin, this process would be severely disrupted. In addition, these studies help highlight other important functions of the Congo Basin forests beyond biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation.
With the growing scientific evidence of the multiple roles that the Congo Basin forests play at regional, continental and global scales, the case for forest conservation, for good forest management, and for multiple income streams to support the forests’ multiple roles becomes stronger. Given their rainmaker role, sustaining the Congo Basin forests might be one of the foundations for EBA to climate change for much of Africa.
Denis Sonwa is a scientist with CIFOR’s Forests and Environment Programme. Denis can be contacted at email@example.com
India needs better green energy norms to offset these impacts
- Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) conference on ‘Green Norms for Green Energy’ shatters a lot of myths about the renewable energy sector. Discusses little-known and lesser-acknowledged environmental impacts of the sector
- CSE calls for environmental and social impact assessment for both small hydro and wind power projects
New Delhi, May 9, 2013: “Green energy” is not necessarily green, and small hydro power is not really for small people with small needs – said Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) director general Sunita Narain at a conference on ‘Green Norms for Green Energy’, organized by CSE here today. The conference, which focused on the wind and small hydro sectors, brought together different stakeholders to discuss environmental impacts of these sectors and modes of monitoring and regulating them.
Speaking on the occasion, CSE deputy director general Chandra Bhushan pointed out that renewable energy projects can be resource-intensive -- 1 megawatt (MW) of solar power needs 2.5-3 hectares (ha) of land. This raises concerns of land acquisition, impact on local ecology if the land area is large and in eco-sensitive areas, and issues of waste disposal. With the 23 per cent annual growth rate since March 2002, grid-connected renewable energy has substantial potential of affecting environment.
Referring to the scale of small hydro power (SHP) sector, Narain said: “On an average, Rs 150 crore is disbursed towards SHP subsidy and in 2012-13, 14 per cent of the Union ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) budget allocation went to SHP capital subsidy.”
Narain also highlighted the plight of the Ganga -- 70 hydropower projects with a capacity of 9,580.3 MW have “affected” 60-80 per cent of the river, without taking into consideration the river’s ecological flow (e-flow). This leaves large stretches of the river dry, affecting the aquatic flora and fauna, water quality, sediment carrying capacity, erosion, groundwater quality and recharge, climate, soil and geology. It also interferes with drinking and agricultural water availability.
In India, there has been a tendency to bifurcate large hydro power projects artificially into SHPs to get fiscal benefits and to avoid the environmental and forest clearance norms. The conference concluded that there really is no difference between large and small hydro power projects as far as ecological impacts are concerned. Hence, environmental and social impact assessment should be mandated for SHPs.
It also recommended the need for nationwide norms on ecological flow and on the distance between two hydro power projects, including the percentage of river that can be disturbed.
Wind power projects, currently not covered under the 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA ) notification, exert multiple adverse impacts on environment. Construction of roads and transmission lines for these projects can have impacts on wildlife and local ecology, such as erosion, loss of habitat, and accidents involving birds and bats.
There was a consensus that based on detailed studies, there should be go/no-go areas for wind power plants and that wind power should not be allowed in ecologically sensitive areas. Also recommended were a benefit sharing system and No-objection Certificates (NOCs) from gram panchayats. Narain added that right to energy is more important than cash for local communities and there is an urgent need for policy correction as well as stringent implementation of the existing policies.
For more details, please contact Souparno Banerjee at firstname.lastname@example.org / 9910864339 or Sheeba Madan at email@example.com / 8860659190.
Este documento contribuye al diálogo sobre REDD+ en Centroamérica en contextos de acelerados cambios económicos y dinámicas territoriales que impulsan nuevas disputas, conflictos y dilemas. Los debates en la región incluyen cuestionamientos de si un eventual mecanismo REDD+ se sumaría a estas presiones, agudizando las amenazas sobre los territorios o si, por el contrario, podría contribuir a encontrar nuevas rutas para fortalecer los derechos y los medios de vida de pueblos indígenas y comunidades rurales.
Este documento forma parte de los resultados del proyecto Strengthening Alternative REDD+ Strate-gies in Central America, ejecutado por la Fundación PRISMA, con el auspicio de Climate Works. Con este proyecto se busca contribuir a una mejor comprensión de los procesos y actores vinculados con REDD+ en la región, enfatizando la perspectiva de las comunidades rurales y los pueblos indígenas, y cómo dichos procesos inciden en las condiciones de gobernanza territorial en Centroamérica.
A woman poses with a locust between her teeth at a discovery lunch in Brussels, Sept. 20, 2012. Organisers of the event, which included cookery classes, hoped to draw attention to insects as a source of nutrition.
As seen on The Diplomat
Indochinese governments have faced fierce criticisms from their own people and abroad over land grabbing in recent years. But the response from leaders in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos has been collective lip service while big corporations were allowed to go about their business.
Complex corporate structures layered by a myriad of red tape and rigid bureaucracies have conspired to hide the inner and sometimes illegal dealings that have resulted in thousands of farmers losing their land or being forced to sell at a pittance.
However, Rubber Barons, a report and film released this morning by the London-based environmental watchdog Global Witness, has gone a long way towards unraveling some of the corporate mysteries surrounding land grabbing by rubber producers in Vietnam.
According to the report, privately owned Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) and state-owned Vietnamese Rubber Group (VRG) acquired more than 200,000 hectares of land through a series of deals with the Lao and Cambodian governments that lacked transparency.
This deal was backed by the World Bank’s International Finance Corp (IFC) and Germany’s Deutsche Bank, resulting in widespread devastation to the environment and livelihoods of locals. The report noted these investments stand in stark contrast to both institutions’ public commitments on ethics and sustainability, as well as the World Bank’s core mandate to end global poverty.
“We’ve known for some time that corrupt politicians in Cambodia and Laos are orchestrating the land grabbing crisis that is doing so much damage in the region,” said Megan MacInnes, Head of the Land Team at Global Witness. “This report completes the picture by exposing the pivotal role of Vietnam’s rubber barons and their financiers, Deutsche Bank and the IFC.”.
“Both companies are having severe impacts on the human rights of ordinary Lao and Cambodian citizens,” she added. “Often, the first time people learn of a plantation is when the company bulldozers arrive to clear their farms.”
HAGL was established in 1990 by Doan Nguyen Duc as a small furniture-producing factory at Pleiku in Vietnam’s Central Highlands during a logging boom. It soon diversified into timber and granite processing, real estate and tourism.
Nguyen Duc set up his own football club – HAGL FC – partnering with Arsenal FC from the Premier League. The company is Vietnam’s second largest property developer.
According to the report, Vietnam’s domestic rubber plantations covered 834,000 hectares in 2012, making it the third largest global producer of natural rubber, exporting to 50 countries, with China providing the biggest market for unprocessed rubber while the majority of processed rubber is shipped to the United States and Japan.
As a result, the economic reach and influence of HAGL and VRG had grown significantly, alongside the complaints.
“Local people’s testimony, detailed in Rubber Barons, describes the impact of these activities on their communities – increased food and water shortages, loss of livelihood without compensation and poor employment conditions are commonplace, while indigenous minorities have lost burial grounds and sacred forests to the bulldozers,” reads a Global Witness report on the release of the report and film.
It adds, “Those who protest face violence, intimidation and even arrest, often by state authorities who are meant to protect them but instead protect the Vietnamese companies.”
“These cases are shocking, but they are far from unique,” said MacInnes. “Until governments bring in and enforce regulations to end the culture of secrecy and impunity that is driving the global land grabbing crisis, international banks and financial institutions will continue to turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses and deforestation they are bankrolling.”
According to Global Witness, HAGL and VRG‘s operations are characterized by a lack of consultation with communities, non-payment of compensation and use of armed security forces to guard plantations. Further, the group claims that large areas of supposedly protected intact forest have been cleared, in violation of forest protection laws, apparently in collusion with Cambodia’s corrupt elite. Global Witness has called for HAGL and VRG to be prosecuted and for the cancelation of their plantation concessions.
The 49-page report and accompanying video are available through the Global Witness website. Global Witness has carved itself a reputation for tackling corruption at the highest levels. It recently produced another report on corruption, exposing alleged illegal activities by the leaders of Sarawak in East Malaysia. The report has been well received by authorities investigating money laundering.
Vietnamese rubber firms bankrolled by an arm of the World Bank and Germany's Deutsche Bank are driving a land-grabbing crisis in Southeast Asia, activists said Monday.
Indigenous ethnic minorities are bearing the brunt of the seizures, which have affected tens of thousands of villagers and led to the clearance of swathes of protected forests, according to campaign group Global Witness.
Vietnam, the world's third-largest rubber producer, is keen to tap surging demand for the commodity in particular from China, which is hungry for car tyres and other rubber goods as its economy booms.
Global Witness accused two firm, Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) and Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG), of driving forced evictions via subsidiaries linked to government cronies in impoverished -- and notoriously corrupt -- Cambodia and Laos.
According to the report, Deutsche Bank has multi-million dollar holdings in both companies, while the International Finance Corp. (IFC) -- the World Bank's private lending arm -- invests in HAGL through financial intermediaries.
More than 1.2 million hectares (2.96 million acres) of land in Cambodia alone have been leased for rubber plantations, Global Witness said, with some 400,000 people affected by land grabs for rubber and other uses since 2003.
"The governments in Cambodia and Laos are allocating large areas of land and ignoring laws designed to protect human rights and the environment," according to the report.
"Often the first people know about either company being given their land is when the bulldozers arrive," it said.
Global Witness urged Cambodia and Laos to suspend all dealings with the two firms and their subsidiaries.
It called on Deutsche Bank and the IFC to withdraw their multi-million dollar funding if the two companies fail to take steps to comply with human rights and environmental standards within the next six months.
In response, Deutsche Bank said an "intensive due diligence process" was conducted before the shares were bought on behalf of its investors.
The IFC declined to comment ahead of the report's release, saying Global Witness had not shared its full findings in advance.
The two Vietnamese companies denied any illegal activities.
"We contribute to the development of the local economy by paying necessary taxes... creating jobs for tens of thousands of local residents, and contributing to local communities," HAGL said in a statement.
Land grabbing by two large Vietnamese firms has driven communities in Laos and Cambodia off their land and forced people to work on rubber plantations, according to international NGO Global Witness.
Its report found that vast amounts of land have been acquired (land grabbing) for rubber plantations in the two Asian countries, financed by two large Vietnamese companies – Huang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) and Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG).
Speaking to Blue & Green Tomorrow recently, Friends of the Earth campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran said land grabbing is “frequently responsible for a number of human right violations – the right to food, the right to housing and human rights clauses against forced eviction.”
She added, “It compromises local food security and sometimes even international food security. It can also lead to devastating impacts on the environment.”
A recent report published by the Munden Project and the Rights and Resources Initiative highlighted the financial risks that investors may face when dealing with companies that land grab. Deutsche Bank and the International Finance Corporation have been accused of “bankrolling” HAGL and VRG by Global Witness.
The two Vietnamese giants now have access to over 200,000 hectares of land (including protected forest). The NGO’s report claims the firms were given consent by “corrupt” politicians in the Lao and Cambodian governments.
It also found that land was often sold without the villagers’ consent and without compensation, forcing many off their land. Villagers in Laos and Cambodia told the Guardian they had experienced threats of violence, food insecurity and invasion of their homes and rice fields as a result.
The Global Witness report urges the governments of Laos and Cambodia to immediately cancel the deal in question, and where there is evidence of illegal activities, to prosecute the companies behind it.
The loss of tropical rain forests is likely to reduce the energy output of hydroelectric projects in countries like Brazil that are investing billions of dollars to create power to support economic growth.
That is the conclusion of a group of experts whose findings, released Monday, run counter to the conventional understanding of deforestation’s impact on watersheds.
For years, scientists and engineers have noted an increase in river flows when the trees along streams are removed. The water in the soil, which would otherwise have been taken up by the tree roots and sent into the atmosphere, instead moves directly into streams and rivers.
At the same time, large areas of tropical forest actually create rain clouds as moisture from their leaves evaporates. So the elimination of swaths of these forests decreases rainfall. Cut down enough trees, the scientists argue, and the indirect impact of lost rainfall outweighs the direct impact of removing trees.
The study, published by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, predicts that extensive deforestation will leave less water in the rivers to generate hydropower from projects like Belo Monte, which is under construction on the Xingu River in Brazil and will be the world’s third largest hydropower complex.
The Belo Monte project, whose massive scope and impact on the landscape have led to opposition, is expected to generate at least 4,400 megawatts of electricity, the study said. The project’s overall capacity would be more than 11,000 megawatts; because of wide variations in seasonal flows of the Xingu River, the lower output is what developers guarantee.
But the study warns that by 2050 as much as 40 percent of this power could be lost because of the reduced rainfall caused by regional deforestation.
Loss of tropical rain forests in the Amazon basin, Central Africa, Indonesia and other parts of the world has been a pressing environmental issue for two decades, but the debate has been framed largely in two ways. First, that the loss of the forests accelerates worldwide climate change be removing a large carbon sink that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Second, that the deforestation destroys the livelihoods of indigenous communities.
The idea that deforestation could reduce rainfall and thus economically harm a country like Brazil, which gets more than 80 percent of its energy from hydropower, is less familiar news.
Noting the established connection between the loss of trees and an increase in river flow, Claudia M. Stickler, the paper’s lead author, said researchers in the Amazon basin “saw effects where the conventional wisdom did not hold true.”
“They removed so much forest that it reduced rainfall and reduced the stream flow,” she added.
A co-author, Daniel C. Nepstad, who like Dr. Stickler works at the Amazon Institute for Environmental Research in Brasília, said rain forests create rain because they “are in the equatorial sun, evaporating a huge amount of water that goes up through the stems and into the leaves and out into the atmosphere.” That moisture feeds rain clouds.
In some eastern and southern tributaries of the Amazon, he added, “the cycle has changed.” The Xingu River, he said, is already near a tipping point where the increased flows caused by the loss of tree roots will be nullified by the overall loss of rainfall.
The authors concluded that “as tropical rain forest nations turn increasingly to hydropower to meet growing demands for ‘green’ electricity, it is important” that planners take into account the links between forest cover and stream flows.
Photo by: Ministry of Forests (MINFOF)
YAOUNDE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Cameroon’s government has introduced a new timber mark that will appear on all legitimate wood products destined for European markets, in a move that aims to protect the Central African nation’s rich forests.
The certification scheme was conceived in line with a voluntary partnership agreement Cameroon signed with the European Union in 2010, pledging to ensure that all harvested timber exported to the EU is of legal origin.
"This logotype is like a legality verification system through which the government can ensure the traceability of timber from the forest to the market," said Samuel Ebia Ndongo, director of forests for the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife and coordinator of the new project. "At each step of the process, we can verify and certify from which forest a particular timber is coming."
Since February, qualifying wood is marked with the letters “EU FLEGT”. FLEGT refers to the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan, which includes measures to exclude illegal timber from markets, improve the supply of legal timber, and boost demand for responsible wood products.
Experts say the scheme should help check the deforestation that is making the country's environment more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
According to the government, Cameroon has around 24 million hectares of forest - equatorial forest, savannah forest, scrub and mangrove - stretching across three quarters of its territory.
Part of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest forest ecosystem after the Amazon, Cameroon’s forests are disappearing at an annual rate of close to 1 percent.
Statistics from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation show that, between 1990 and 2010, Cameroon lost almost 4.5 million hectares of forest cover, an average of 220,000 hectares each year.
The depletion of Cameroon's forests is contributing to extreme and unpredictable weather, which the country is struggling to cope with, environmental experts say.
Last September, for example, floods triggered by prolonged rains caused the collapse of the Lagdo Dam, killing hundreds of villagers in northern Cameroon and neighbouring Nigeria.
Farmers also report that climate change is disrupting the seasonal planting calendar. In the past three years, Cameroon's rainy season, which usually starts in June, has arrived as early as February.
MORE REFORMS NEEDED
While the timber certification scheme has generally been welcomed, some believe the government needs to think bigger if it is going to save Cameroon's forests and curb the effects of climate change.
“I think the institution of a logo or official stamp to check illegal forest exploitation and sale of timber is a positive step forward," said Andy White of the Rights and Resources Initiative, a coalition of organisations that supports the rights of rural peoples to access natural resources. "But the project by itself will not be adequate. Addressing the problem of forest governance and the fight against climate change requires state-wide reforms.”
Without reforms that cut across the different ministerial departments charged with forest rights and legal issues, achieving good forest governance in Cameroon will be an unattainable aspiration, as in many other African countries, White said.
A recent study by Cameroon’s National Steering Committee of Forest Control and Monitoring appears to confirm that view. In 2012, over 1 billion CFA francs ($2 million) were collected as dues for forest exploitation offences, indicating that illicit logging is still rampant in spite of Cameroon's agreement with the EU, the report said.
FARMING AND LOGGING
Many environmentalists believe the government deserves much of the blame for Cameroon's disappearing forests. Samuel Nguiffo, director of the Centre for Environment and Development (CED), a local NGO, points to the failure to apply forest laws, which in turn makes it hard to implement reforms.
“The forests of Cameroon have undergone an extensive conversion over the last decades," said Nguiffo. "Large areas have become agricultural lands, and logging concessions are now found in the heart of intact forests in the eastern and southern parts of the country.”
Research carried out by the CED in 2011 showed that illegal timber dealers routinely bribe government officials to continue doing business, he noted.
In recent years, the area annually opened up for logging has increased significantly, as has the number of species harvested, according to the CED. Its research shows that some 80 percent of forests have either been logged or allocated as logging concessions, mostly to French firms.
Cameroon was Africa's largest producer of timber in 2010, almost 60 percent of which was exported, according to a 2011 report by the Ministry of the Economy, Planning and Regional Development.
The forestry sector is the country’s second-largest export earner after oil, generating around 20 percent of export revenue and employing some 55,000 people, the report said. Cameroon could become a major exporter of timber and other wood products if it had better transport infrastructure, it added.
Nguiffo believes there are ways to profit from Cameroon's forests while also preserving them. But the multiple pressures on forest resources mean using them sustainably will require more than a certification scheme with a logotype, he said.
“Any meaningful reforms should enable people in the forest areas to make a living legally in a way that does not threaten resources and at the same time yields significant revenue for the state," he argued.
Elias Ntungwe Ngalame is an award-winning environmental writer with Cameroon's Eden Group of newspapers.
THE biggest building site in Brazil is neither in the concrete jungle of São Paulo nor in beachside Rio de Janeiro, which is being revamped to host the 2016 Olympics. It lies 3,000km (1,900 miles) north in the state of Pará, deep in the Amazon basin. Some 20,000 labourers are working around the clock at Belo Monte on the Xingu river, the biggest hydropower plant under construction anywhere. When complete, its installed capacity, or theoretical maximum output, of 11,233MW will make it the world’s third-largest, behind China’s Three Gorges and Itaipu, on the border between Brazil and Paraguay.
Everything about Belo Monte is outsized, from the budget (28.9 billion reais, or $14.4 billion), to the earthworks—a Panama Canal-worth of soil and rock is being excavated—to the controversy surrounding it. In 2008 a public hearing in Altamira, the nearest town, saw a government engineer cut with a machete. In 2010 court orders threatened to stop the auction for the project. The private-sector bidders pulled out a week before. When officials from Norte Energia, the winning consortium of state-controlled firms and pension funds, left the auction room, they were greeted by protesters—and three tonnes of pig muck.
Since then construction has twice been halted briefly by legal challenges. Greens and Amerindians often stage protests. Xingu Vivo (“Living Xingu”), an anti-Belo Monte campaign group, displays notes from supporters all over the world in its Altamira office. James Cameron, a Hollywood film-maker, has chimed in to compare Brazil’s dam-builders to the villains in “Avatar”, one of his blockbusters.
But visit the site and Belo Monte now looks both unstoppable and much less damaging to the environment than some of its foes claim. The project has made it through Brazil’s labyrinth of planning and environmental rules. Norte Energia has hired a second consortium comprising a roll-call of Brazil’s big construction companies, which expects to finish work by 2019. Protected by a temporary cofferdam holding back the river’s flow, labourers are digging a 20km canal to funnel water from the river to the site of the main power plant, where dozens of excavators are digging down through 70 metres of rock.
The appeal of hydropower
With tens of millions of its citizens moving out of poverty, Brazil can satisfy demand only if it adds around 6,000MW each year for the next decade to its installed generating capacity of 121,000MW. It has plenty of choices. Apart from huge deposits of offshore oil and gas, Brazil has the world’s third-biggest hydropower potential (behind China and Russia), and its potential for solar and wind energy is probably among the three biggest, too. The world’s largest sugarcane crop provides bagasse, a fibrous residue which burns in high-pressure boilers. The country may also have shale gas. “Brazil is very lucky: it has many choices about how to expand its electricity supply,” says Claudio Sales of Acende Brasil, an energy-research institute. “But they are choices, and they need to be made.”
These choices will be watched closely elsewhere. In half a dozen other South American countries Brazil is planning joint dams or offering financing for hydropower projects. Countries in Africa and Asia are also looking to hydropower. Lenders such as the World Bank are once again keen.
Brazil’s energy ministry has ranked the various sources of energy according to availability, cheapness, renewability and whether Brazil has the necessary technology, says Altino Ventura, its secretary of planning and development. Hydropower comes top, followed by windpower and biomass (mostly bagasse). To spread risks, it decided to generate 50% of new supply from hydropower, 30% from wind and biomass, and most of the rest from gas.
Brazil already generates 80% of its electricity from hydro plants—far more than other countries. But two-thirds of its hydro potential is untapped. The snag is that most of it lies in untouched rivers in the Amazon basin. Of 48 planned dams, 30 are in the rainforest (see map). They include the almost completed Jirau and Santo Antônio on the Madeira river, which will add 6,600MW to installed capacity. But it is Belo Monte, the giant among them, that has become the prime target of anti-dams campaigners.
Opponents say that dams only look cheap because the impact on locals is downplayed and the value of other uses of rivers—for fishing, transport and biodiversity—is not counted. They acknowledge that hydropower is low-carbon, but worry that reservoirs in tropical regions can release large amounts of methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas.
In the 20th century thousands of dams were built around the world. Some were disasters: Brazil’s Balbina dam near Manaus, put up in the 1980s, flooded 2,400 square km (930 square miles) of rainforest for a piffling capacity of 250MW. Its vast, stagnant reservoir makes it a “methane factory”, says Philip Fearnside of the National Institute for Amazonian Research, a government body in Manaus. Proportionate to output, it emits far more greenhouse gases than even the most inefficient coal plant.
But many dams were worth it (though the losers rarely received fair compensation). Itaipu, built in the 1970s by Brazil’s military government, destroyed some of the world’s loveliest waterfalls, flooded 1,350 square km and displaced 10,000 families. But it now supplies 17% of Brazil’s electricity and 73% of Paraguay’s. It is highly efficient, producing more energy than the Three Gorges, despite being smaller.
Of Brazil’s total untapped hydropower potential of around 180,000MW, about 80,000MW lies in protected regions, mostly indigenous territories, for which there are no development plans. The government expects to use most of the remaining 100,000MW by 2030, says Mr Ventura. But it will minimise the social and environmental costs, he insists. The new dams will use “run of river” designs, eschewing large reservoirs and relying on the water’s natural flow to power the turbines. And they will not flood any Indian reserves.
That approach is being pioneered at Belo Monte. In the 1970s the military government dreamed of a sequence of five dams and huge reservoirs on the Xingu, which would have generated 20,000MW by displacing tens of thousands of people and flooding 18,000 square km, including Indian reserves. In all, it planned to flood 2% of the rainforest for reservoirs.
With democracy restored, the government ordered a rethink. The new plan for the Xingu involves just one dam complex, at the Volta Grande (“Big Bend”), where the river descends 93 metres in 140km—a large drop for Amazonia. Instead of from a reservoir, most of the water to drive the turbines will come by channelling part of the river’s flow through a new canal, from Pimental to the main generating station.
That added more than 2 billion reais to the project’s cost, but it avoids flooding Indian lands. Belo Monte will flood only 500 square km, mainly at the canal, according to Henrique di Lello Filho of the construction consortium. This area was already largely deforested by the building of the Transamazon Highway in the 1970s. Methane emissions should be small. Only 200 Amerindians will be directly affected (by the loss of fishing grounds).
Norte Energia has set aside 3.9 billion reais for mitigation and compensation payments. The constructors must build fish ladders, a boat-hoist to keep the river navigable, homes for 8,000 families (including 700 living in flood-prone palafitas, or wooden huts on stilts, by the riverside in Altamira), schools and health-care facilities, sewage connections and much more.
For activists in Altamira and some local Indians, this is not enough. They reject the project’s impact on the life of the town, where the population has swollen to 100,000, raising rents and putting pressure on health services and schools. Xingu Vivo claims the cofferdam at Pimental has turned the river below it into stagnant pools of dead fish; it says neither the boat hoist nor the fish ladder will work.
More heat than light
Most of the Indian protesters live in villages several days upstream by voadeira (fast launch), and will not be directly affected by Belo Monte. But they say they feel threatened by it. Asked if any hydropower project on the Xingu could be acceptable, Juma Xipaia, who now lives in Altamira, replies: “No. It is impossible. For us, the water is everything.” Nevertheless, a recent poll of 1,222 Amerindians from 20 tribes across the country found that most wanted the same things as other Brazilians: better health care and education, sanitation and electricity, more income and jobs.
The protesters’ legal challenge to Belo Monte is based on the claim that they have not been properly consulted, something the government denies. The constitution says that before exploiting any resource on Amerindian lands, the government must consult the inhabitants. But it is silent on how this should be done. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has a similar clause in its Convention 169 on indigenous rights, to which Brazil is a signatory.
The government says that since no demarcated territories will be flooded, such formal protections do not apply. “We hold consultations about the projects we’re doing not because we have to, but because it is right,” says Mr Ventura. Between 2007 and 2010 there were four public hearings and 12 public consultations about Belo Monte, as well as explanatory workshops and 30 visits to Indian villages.
In 2011, in response to a complaint filed by Indian groups, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for a halt to construction pending further consultation. That was “precipitate and unjustified”, said the government, refusing the request. The ILO has asked Brazil’s government for more information on how it intends to fulfil its legal obligations.
The legal uncertainty surrounding Belo Monte is bad for both the Indians and contractors, says Mr Sales—not to mention Brazil as a whole. A draft law detailing how to consult indigenous people is expected by the end of the year. But before Congress legislates, ground is likely to have been broken on most of the new dams.
Run-of-river hydropower has a much smaller environmental impact than big reservoirs. But it is also less efficient. Belo Monte is an extreme example. The Xingu’s highly seasonal flow means it will produce just 4,500MW on average, only 40% of its installed capacity. In the two driest months it will barely produce 1,000MW.
As run-of-river projects proliferate, generation will increasingly be at the mercy of rainfall. After successive dry years, in 2001-02 Brazilians lived through an apagão (“big blackout”), when electricity was rationed, hitting the economy hard. To prevent a repeat, the government commissioned thermal-power plants, fuelled by oil, coal and gas. They now make up a sixth of Brazil’s total installed capacity, and supply around a tenth of its electricity.
But rising demand and the declining proportion of reservoirs mean this is no longer enough. “The capacity to store energy—that is, water—is now small for the size of the system,” says Mauricio Tolmasquim of the Energy Research Agency, an arm of the energy ministry. “The country has started to run risks.” A lack of rain meant that Brazil’s reservoirs finished last year at just 30.5% of capacity, lower even than in the run-up to the apagão. This year the rains were more abundant; even so the national-grid operator has kept the thermal plants on right through the rainy season. That is costly: plants intended for irregular use are generally inefficient, and buying fuel at short notice is expensive. But the reservoirs must be kept as full as possible for 2014, when Brazil will host the football World Cup. A repeat of the apagão then would bring national humiliation.
Reservoirs or gas?
In the longer term Brazil plans to increase reliability by building more gas-powered plants, to be run permanently. An auction of up to five promising areas for shale gas is planned for December. “In about three years we’ll have a clearer idea of the role non-conventional gas can play,” says Mr Tolmasquim. “But from whatever source, thermal power is going to have to grow to at least 20% of our supply. The only other option would be more big reservoirs.”
This would be a better option, argue some energy experts. Antonio Dias Leite, a minister of mines and energy during the military government, thinks that run-of-river hydropower constitutes an unjustifiable waste of energy. “It’s strange the way people protest against reservoirs and not against gas-powered plants,” he says. “I think there is still an argument for building some big reservoirs, chosen prudently.”
Some greens argue that the choice between reservoirs and gas is a false one. Reducing transmission losses and modernising older hydropower plants would cut the need for both, says Célio Bermann, a hydropower specialist at the University of São Paulo. He thinks the rest of the gap could be filled with sugarcane bagasse—20,000MW could be added quickly—and windpower. Conveniently, the winds in Brazil’s north-east, where many wind farms are being installed, are strongest during the dry season, when hydro output falls. Current plans involve using only a small fraction of Brazil’s potential windpower of 143,000MW.
Such disagreements are best settled by estimating costs accurately. Brazil’s institutions are ill-suited to this. Planning and environmental laws are Byzantine: getting licences and fighting legal challenges routinely adds years to schedules and billions to budgets. The result is more like an obstacle course than a cost-benefit analysis. The environment ministry and regulator play almost no part in deciding which projects go ahead: their main role is harm-reduction after the energy ministry has decided what to do. Both have seen bosses resign rather than sign up to infrastructure projects in the Amazon. These failures mean that the most important question—whether Belo Monte is really cheaper than the alternatives—has never been satisfactorily answered.
Recent windpower auctions, with hundreds of private-sector bidders, produced winning bids of 90-100 reais per megawatt-hour (MWh), a price that is hard to beat. Belo Monte was given an initial budget of 16 billion reais, which had risen to 19 billion reais by the time of the auction. Norte Energia’s winning bid for Belo Monte offered a price of 77.97 reais/MWh. Since then, its budget has risen by a third.
Officials insist that the costs are Norte Energia’s problem. That looks disingenuous. The group is almost wholly state-owned. In November, the national development bank gave Norte Energia a loan of 22.5 billion reais—its largest-ever credit. If Belo Monte turns out to be a white elephant, the bill will fall on the taxpayer.
Large-scaling mining is a significant source of income for the Colombian economy. In the past 12 years, over 1.5 million hectares of land have been sold off for this purpose. The report addresses how large-scale mining has affected both the environment and human rights in Colombia.