Energy transition and human rights in the Global South
Dejusticia January 23, 2023
It is essential to consider the energy matrix of each country and the specific needs to face the impacts of climate change. |
For the past six decades, the global energy supply crisis has been a crucial topic at every international conference on climate change as the main engine of any economy. All sectors require energy to be able to produce their goods and services. However, the global energy system has caused an enormous dependence on the extraction of fossil fuels (around 80% of demand). The burning produces about two-thirds of greenhouse gases (GHGs), as well, as human rights violations, poor working conditions, persecution of environmental leaders, and contamination of water sources, among other issues primarily in the Global South.
To reduce the threat climate change represents on human existence, countries of the world are rushing to fulfill their commitment to reduce GHG produced by fossil fuels and move towards a greener and cleaner energy. Furthermore, demands for justice were included in the new energy model.
The discussion on the energy transition was initiated in the 1970s, among other things, as opposed to strengthening nuclear energy. The demands for justice, however, were pushed by the union movement in the International Union of Oil, Chemical, and Nuclear Energy Workers (OCAW) to guarantee workers’ rights and livelihoods. A fight enhanced by the environmental movement as a consequence of the extractivist model conflicts.
The Paris Agreement, after significant advances in other international instruments related to climate change policies, managed to get all countries to do their part and significantly reduce GHGs. However, the emission commitments set by countries are voluntary and are not subject to any sanctions. Besides this, human rights have timidly concentrated the attention of the discussions on climate policies.
The oil and mineral exploitation model has generated significant human rights problems, mainly in the producing and developing countries. For this reason, while the planet keeps pace with the energy transition, we need to pay attention to ensure that the shift from fossil energy sources to renewables is equitable, inclusive, and respectful of human rights.
The Sarayaku and the Inter-American System on Human Rights: Justice for the “Medio Dia” People and their Living Jungle
The Information Center on Business and Human Rights developed a follow-up indicator on the responsibility of the most important renewable energy companies. It shows that the lack of policies to guarantee Human Rights is remarkable. Likewise, they have identified 197 complaints about illegal land acquisitions, dangerous working conditions, intimidation, damages, and absence of consultation and free, prior, and informed consent to indigenous and tribal peoples, among others. Latin America concentrates 61% of the complaints.
However, it is essential to consider the energy matrix of each country and the specific needs to face the impacts of climate change. For instance, Colombia has significant sources of sustainable energy that must be preserved and promoted through participatory processes involving local communities. Otherwise, conflicts arise and worsen.
Wind power generation in La Guajira is a recent example of the risks that new clean energy sources bring if prevention and the State do not enforce rights protection standards. The Wayuú people demand information, effective participation, and measures to prevent the more than 50 wind farms planned from infringing on their rights, which were unconsidered. In addition, Colombia has previously received serious complaints about the consequences of hydroelectric plant construction, such as those in Quimbo, Ituango, and Urrá.
This pattern is repeated all over the world. For instance, Nigeria, like many other oil-producing countries, lacks a proper strategy for energy transition and human rights. Despite local conflicts, the government in this country is focused on the construction of new modular refineries to increase oil production, as confirmed by the general director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
The Nigerian government has recently demonstrated some level of commitment and legislative reforms toward the development of gas reserves in order to accelerate the country’s economic expansion and attract investment. After decades of agitation by civil society groups, the newly signed Petroleum Industry Act 2021 (the “PIA”) has been central to this process.
Nigeria’s commitment to renewable energy, like Colombia’s, has not been without challenges. In fact, some human rights violations have happened, such as the Jebba Hydroelectric Power Station (JHEPS), built between 1981 and 1983, a dam over the Niger River, approximately 350 km from Lagos State. This hydroelectric plant is one of the country’s three cardinal hydroelectric plants, but there are complaints about the displacement of over 6,000 residents from 42 communities.
The lack of a human rights and energy policy feeds the growing conflict in the territories. It will be hard to end all forms of violence associated with our reliance on fossil fuels at any cost until we decide to retrace our steps by focusing on a just transition.