What the Paris Climate Agreement Means for Indigenous Rights and Hydroelectric Dams
The final agreement from the Paris climate talks has been the subject of much controversy regarding the language in the document pertaining to indigenous rights. Any semblance of a legally binding measure pertaining to these rights was omitted from the final agreement that was signed by the governments of 190 countries. The agreement concluded a two-week long process that brought together some of the world’s largest corporations, and environmental and human rights organizations, to agree on international energy standards, goals and applications.
Activists Call 4 Inclusion of Rights of Indigenous in Climate Agrmt https://t.co/YyO1i0vN9x #COP21 @earthislandjrnl https://t.co/HJHsr0vwXx— AMAZON WATCH (@AMAZON WATCH)1449972306.0
As the final agreement appears, language pertaining to indigenous groups resides in the preamble—a completely non-binding portion of the text. The only other mention includes a recognition of indigenous ecological knowledge, although the wording provides no protection for such peoples. The decision was made in part by pressure from the UK, Norway, the EU and the U.S., who fear the legal liability that would follow a mandated recognition of indigenous groups.
All other mentions of indigenous people remain in requisitions that are not legally binding, due to some of the more vague aspects of the text. For example, any request following the auxiliary (helping) verb “shall” is legally binding; those following “should” are not. The need to “respect, promote … obligations on human rights … the rights of indigenous peoples” falls under the category of “should” and is therefore not legally binding.
The implications of this have resounding effects for Brazil, whose various indigenous groups residing in the Amazon have been fighting aggressive energy projects for more than three decades, especially regarding the infamous Belo Monte dam.
Although various studies have been produced that prove Belo Monte will actually generate large amounts of methane from the decomposition of plants forming the dam’s giant reservoir, the real setbacks were in a large part due to the special quality of indigenous rights, which in turn encompass a unique conservation of indigenous land. The neglect to obtain consent of affected indigenous people (as legally mandated in Brazil’s Constitutional Article 231) prior to the construction, set in motion a series of license suspensions and delays resulting from mass protests.
Despite these resistances, two weeks ago the Brazilian government granted Norte Energia Consortium (consisting of 50 percent ownership by the Brazilian federal power utility Electrobras, as well as mining corporation Vale) the authorization to put the Belo Monte mega-dam into use, filling its large artificial reservoirs that will hold 80 percent of the Amazonian Xingu River ‘s flow. The measure will be directly effecting 1,000 indigenous people as well as displacing up to 40,000 people.
For the Brazilian Amazon, the COP21 results are alarming given the plans for future projects within indigenous areas. The fear is a domino effect that will inevitably come with the commencement of the dam’s operation: more dams must be built to ensure the proficiency of Belo Monte in Brazil’s dry seasons. This causal sequence will be far more daunting to combat without international recognition of the biggest protectors of the region.
BREAKING Official Response #COP21 'Indigenous Peoples Take Lead #D12 Day of Action in Paris' https://t.co/IMLvY70ldo https://t.co/1l37hJOXHS— IndigenousEnviroNet (@IndigenousEnviroNet)1449938180.0
Without a legally binding measure emerging from the climate talks and without the adequate pressure from an international coalition, the affected tribes are not receiving the support they were hoping for against Brazil’s future intrusive energy projects.
The intertwining of human and environmental rights is an issue that Brazil is forced to tackle on a monumental scale. The nation of some 203 million people has experienced a doubling of energy demand since 1990. The trend is anticipated to continue—by 2021 the economy is predicted to bloat by 63 percent, requiring 6,350 megawatts of new energy added each year to the already 121,000 megawatt consuming nation.
The answer, for a country facing an overwhelming pace of growth, has fallen to hydroelectricity. Between now and the 2021 mark, Brazil intends to spend more than $150 billion on 30-50 dams—67 percent of the new power generated will come from Amazonia.
With 21.4 percent of Brazil’s population below the poverty line, an expansion of its energy projects is vital. The untapped energy potential of the Amazon, a resounding 80,000 megawatts is a tempting path to take.
And yet as “energy security” provides the basis of these aggressive projects, Brazil may be facing a blow to its plans.
This past January, the area of Sao Paolo was victim to one of the worst droughts in recent history, sparking a full-fledged water crisis. Of its Paraiba reservoir systems in Rio, accounting for the city’s main tap water source, levels remained at a devastating 1 percent of its entire capacity. Similarly, the Cantareira reservoir system reached an alarming 5.4 percent despite being measured at a time of Brazil’s annual heaviest rainfalls.
In case of drought, Brazil’s main “sustainable” solutions will suffer—a smaller water supply means a reduction of the speed and volume of water needed to move the turbines of Brazil’s many hydroelectric plants. It also means a reduction in the survival rate of sugar cane crops needed to produce the bio-fuel ethanol, of which Brazil relies on as 15.7 percent of its overall energy matrix. If these two large portions of the matrix become less accessible and without proper implementation of wind or solar, Brazil will be forced to rely on oil, which as shown in 2014 levels, accounts for 39.4 percent of Brazil’s total energy consumption.
With diminished usage, companies like Norte Energia, a partially government-owned conglomerate, would have a daily expense of up to R$1 million per turbine not triggered, adding to the monthly expenses of R$2.3 million of the dam’s energy bill.
Indigenous Brings "Canoe of Life" 6000 Miles from Amazon to Paris to Call for Climate Action https://t.co/AJk13ZWY1b https://t.co/bvsq6ngLGo— Democracy Now! (@Democracy Now!)1449850473.0
Should a low water supply lower the chances of an economic payback, the results could be crippling to the Brazilian government, whose national development bank has already loaned $22.5 billion reais to Norte Energia for the construction.
Although Brazil’s INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) cites among its goals (of achieving 45 percent renewables by 2030) to expand “the use of renewable energy sources other than hydropower … to at least 23 percent,” the chance of the billion dollar Belo Monte project failing will put pressure on supportive hydroelectric expansion. This pressure stems from details that went unaddressed in the dam’s planning.
Even without factors such as drought, Belo Monte is anticipated to generate only 39 percent of its total capacity, leading to the formulation of supportive dams upstream, such as the planning of the São Luiz dam on the Tapajós river, with an estimated generation of 8,040 megawatts. There has already been an outcry over the project, forcing Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy to cancel the auction of the construction over “serious irregularities with the ‘indigenous component’” of the environmental impact assessment. The Sao Luiz dam is predicted to flood indigenous territory and lead to the deforestation of almost 1 million hectares of land.
But without an international legal recognition of indigenous rights, it will become increasingly difficult for tribes to protect their land from these projects.
There has been resistance to include hydroelectricity under the umbrella of “sustainable solutions,” which qualifies projects to receive financial incentives under programs like the Clean Development Mechanism, World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds, Green Climate Fund, export credit bureau’s and green bonds. A Brazilian scientist recently released a study showing that estimates of methane production from hydropower account for nearly 23 percent of all human-based methane emissions across the globe.
A coalition of more than 300 civil society organizations from 53 countries recently released a global manifesto to pressure governments and financiers at the Paris climate talks to exclude hydropower projects from the list of sustainable initiatives.
But neither the protest to legally reinstate the indigenous component, nor the demands to exclude hydroelectricity from the “green” solutions have been successful. The final agreement, though monumental in its very existence, leaves much work to be done.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
JasonOndreicka / iStock / Getty Images
Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
- Climate Crisis: What We Can Learn From Indigenous Traditions ... ›
- 10 Organizations Honoring Native People on Thanksgiving ... ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.