Deconstructing narratives around renewable energy
The global climate crisis and discourse surrounding a just transition lead us to the debates that intersect renewable energy and the guarantee of human rights for individuals and communities. Last month in Mexico, the Ministry of Energy (SENER introduced a new energy policy based on the intermittent nature of renewable energies. The policy establishes new controls to guarantee the supply of electrical energy, generating strong criticism and public pronouncements.
A common pattern caught our attention: this discussion seems to be led by business interests, promoters of green energy, diplomatic representations, environmentalists and experts in economic competition. Serious impacts to the right to development and healthy environment are the converging criticisms of the new policy. However, not a single voice was given to the holders of these rights: the individuals and communities affected.
When did a human right cease to be a people’s discussion? Unfortunately, it is common to see how genuine debates about these rights end up being de-legitimised by economic actors, generating dichotomous narratives that appear at best as superfluous and as polarising rhetoric.
Corporations influence public opinion, manipulating the media and propagating dominant narratives about progress and development, in a phenomenon known as corporate capture. The construction of narratives by corporations often creates myths that divert public attention away from relevant conversations to the benefit of corporations, but also makes invisible and delegitimises the struggles of the groups and communities affected by corporate activities or who oppose their interests.
These are the myths that make it possible to build the epic of renewable energy projects as synonymous with development and the fight against climate change.
Since 2011, ProDESC has been accompanying indigenous Zapotec communities in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, where we have observed common trends in the wind parks of Energía Eólica del Sur in Juchitán, and Piedra Larga and Gunaa Sicarú in Unión Hidalgo.
These are projects run by transnational companies that arrive to indigenous lands with permits and authorisation already granted, disadvantageous land leases already signed. Communities are not invited to participate in the design and the definitions of these projects, nor do they receive enough information that is objective, clear, and culturally appropriate.
Companies undermine the decision-making processes related to their investment projects, so that state consultations with indigenous communities to decide on the installation of wind projects are a mere procedure for decisions that have already been decided elsewhere. That is, if they are consulted at all.
The economic incentives created within communities and the development discourse that projects raise legitimise attacks on community defenders, many of whom are women, who are labeled as “anti-wind,” that is to say enemies of progress. It is not a coincidence that Oaxaca is the most dangerous place in Mexico for human rights defenders.
To this we must add that inequality in communities where wind parks operate has increased, and the energy produced in parks is not done for the communities, but for other major corporations. Transnational companies take advantage of a situation of structural discrimination against indigenous. It is a global trend: whether in Brazil or Kenya, the exploitation and the racism of renewable projects follow the same design as fossil fuels.
An energy transition at the expense of the rights of indigenous peoples and communities does not seem to be a just or sustainable model of development.
However, none of this is part of the dominant discourse among those designing Mexico’s new energy policy under the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and its war against renewables.
At ProDESC, we have promoted the construction of a different narrative of development; one that is founded in the recognition and rectification of the historical exclusion of many groups that have long resisted: agrarian communities, indigenous peoples, women, sexual diversity groups, environmentalists, and trade unionists.
The development, is decided by and with these voices in resistance, with human rights, gender and intersectional perspectives, and a prioritisation of the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights. The development we support promotes corporate accountability and prevents abuses and violations. In short, it is a model built from a comprehensive, integral vision.
The current global pandemic of the novel Coronavirus has highlighted the dangers of putting projects in the hands of private companies in sectors with critical public implications, like health. An energy model, like Mexico’s, subject to the whims of markets, sounds very similar.
If the Mexican administration, the first one on the left to reach the presidency, wants to realise its aspirations of a radical transformation, it is time to work in earnest to deconstruct the myths of green development and construct a new scheme of corporate accountability regardless of the industry involved and in an open and respectful dialogue with the communities and indigenous peoples of this country.