Crisis Hits Oil Industry and Energy Transition Alike

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Energy

Mexico's state-run oil giant Pemex faces a difficult outlook due to the fall in international oil prices and the crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, which threatens its production and finances, in a situation analysed during the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Mexico’s state-run oil giant Pemex faces a difficult outlook due to the fall in international oil prices and the crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, which threatens its production and finances, in a situation analysed during the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

MEXICO CITY, May 22 2020 (IPS) – While it attempts to cushion the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the Latin American and Caribbean region also faces concerns about the future of the energy transition and state-owned oil companies.


These questions were discussed at the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised by the Institute of the Americas. It was held online May 18-22, rather than bringing together more than 50 speakers at the institute’s headquarters in the coastal district of San Diego, in the U.S. state of California, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alfonso Blanco of Uruguay, executive secretary of the Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE), said during a session on global trends and the regional energy industry that the changes seen during the pandemic will spread after the crisis and will be long-lasting.

“There will be structural transformations and we are convinced that most consumer behaviors will change after the pandemic. Demand will vary due to changes in the main areas of transportation and other energy areas. The effects on fossil fuel consumption will be strong and there will be a greater impact on renewable energies,” he said.

OLADE, a 27-member regional intergovernmental organisation for energy coordination, estimates that electricity demand has fallen by 29 percent in Bolivia compared to 2019, as a result of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes COVID-19, and by 26 percent in Argentina, 22 percent in Brazil and 11 percent in Chile.

“There will be structural transformations and we are convinced that most consumer behaviors will change after the pandemic. Demand will vary due to changes in the main areas of transportation and other energy areas. The effects on fossil fuel consumption will be strong and there will be a greater impact on renewable energies.” — Alfonso Blanco

Likewise, final energy demand plummeted 14 percent in Brazil compared to 2019, 11 percent in both the Andean and Southern Cone regions, nine percent in Mexico, seven percent in Central America and five percent in the Caribbean.

As countries went into lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, electricity consumption by businesses and factories declined, due to the suspension of activities.

Leonardo Sempertegui, legal advisor to the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), said the pandemic may be a wake-up call for countries lagging behind in the energy transition.

“This may be the new normal. The structure and governance of the energy architecture to cope with the next phase are changing dramatically. Energy poverty and the energy transition cannot be solved regardless of who controls a resource; these challenges cannot wait,” he said in the same session.

In Latin America, nations like Argentina, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras and Uruguay have made progress in the energy transition since 2015, while Brazil has slid backwards and countries like Mexico are stuck in the same place, according to the World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, released May 13.

As the region heads into the fourth month of the pandemic, countries are assessing their electricity markets, which have been shaken by the crisis.

Nations like Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru have resorted to long-term electricity auctions, which have generated low prices for renewables, while Mexico suspended such schemes in 2019.

In Argentina, as Andrés Chambouleyron, a non-resident fellow at the Institute of the Americas, explained, industrial consumption fell by 50 percent and electricity distributors have not been able to obtain sufficient revenues to cover fixed costs or electricity purchases.

The government has thus provided financing to Cammesa – the electricity wholesale market administration company – to pay the generators, since it is bound by contracts to buy the energy.

“There will be a permanent change in electricity consumption in Argentina. We have cheaper gas than before; the models say that you have to use more gas because it is cheaper than other sources. We won’t see much change in Argentina’s energy mix, and that could extend to all of Latin America,” said Chambouleyron, who warned of breach of and renegotiation of contracts for energy purchases.

Low oil prices threaten to slow down the energy transition in Latin America, although renewable energies already compete with the costs of fossil fuels, agreed experts at the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. The photo shows solar panels on a house in Ajijic, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Low oil prices threaten to slow down the energy transition in Latin America, although renewable energies already compete with the costs of fossil fuels, agreed experts at the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. The photo shows solar panels on a house in Ajijic, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

While renewables are already competing in price with conventional sources, low oil and gas prices undermine their expansion, a predicament that alternative energy sources have been facing in recent years.

In addition, the rise in the cost of international credit and the fluctuations of the dollar against local currencies may make generation more expensive.

In another session on the outlook for state-owned oil companies, Marta Jara, former president of Uruguay’s public oil company ANCAP, said the current crisis could accelerate the transition, but called it a “major challenge”.

“The temptation is to be opportunistic and forget the roadmap of the energy transition. We must invest in sustainable energy systems, decarbonise transport. It is important to secure funding and create jobs. I hope the crisis opens the door to be more innovative,” she said.

Viable or not?

The plunge in fossil fuel prices is damaging the finances of the region’s oil producing countries, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, and state companies in the sector are facing problems with regard to planning and operations.

But it benefits net importers, like the countries of Central America or Chile, whose oil bills have shrunk, while for consumers in both oil producing and importing countries the cost of electricity could go down.

“The most competitive will be the countries with lower oil extraction costs. Some projects will not be economically viable. We will see greater economic problems than in 2019,” predicted Lisa Viscidi, director of the Energy, Climate Change and Extractive Industries Programme at the non-governmental Inter-American Dialogue, during a panel on the situation in several Caribbean nations.

The pandemic and a rise in Saudi production announced on Mar. 10 led to a collapse in oil prices and the consequent risk of bankruptcies in the industry. State-owned oil companies have fared better than others so far in the crisis.

In another session on the outlook for state-owned oil companies, John Padilla, managing director of the private consulting firm IPD Latin America, stated that “it will take time to get out of this situation, with effects for the region, and the need for great efficiency.

“Most nations have been exporters, efficiency will be the key. What has not been done is to cultivate domestic and regional markets, state enterprises are not going to play the same role as they always have,” he said.

Public companies such as Brazil’s Petrobras and Colombia’s Ecopetrol entered the crisis in a better position than Mexico’s Pemex, Venezuela’s PDVSA and Argentina’s YPF, according to experts.

“These are difficult times, even for the best prepared. We can hope that if the country and its company are in trouble, if governments need money, they can get more out of the companies,” said Francisco Monaldi, interim director of the Baker Institute for Public Policy’s Latin America Initiative at the private Rice University in the U.S. state of Texas.

In his view, “Mexico is in better fiscal conditions, it should not be a problem. But Pemex can drag Mexico down. If the government doesn’t change direction, it could become a serious problem,” he said as an example.

Although Pemex will increase its investment in 2020, the oil company reported losses of 20 billion dollars in the first quarter of this year. Due to the crisis, Petrobras limited its investment to 3.5 billion dollars and its daily production to 200,000 barrels, and postponed the sale of eight refineries.

For Lucas Aristizábal, a senior director in Fitch Ratings’ Latin American corporates group, some state-owned oil companies are viable and others are not.

“In 2021, the financial contribution of oil will be lower for governments. If they want the companies to play a key role, they will put more pressure on their financial structure. The current situation illustrates the economics of these corporations,” he said during the forum.

Pemex and YPF were already losing money per barrel in 2019, while Petrobras has more balanced production costs.

On the oil horizon, and in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Guyana has become the rising star, although there is still political uncertainty, as the result of the Mar. 2 presidential elections is still unclear.

“It’s hard to predict what will happen. There is a risk of U.S. sanctions that would not affect investment in the sector, but would pose a political risk to the country,” said Thomas Singh, in the Department of Economics at the public University of Guyana.

The country expects to extract 600,000 barrels per day by 2024 and take in revenues of five billion dollars, with reserves exceeding five billion barrels.

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Mexico’s Development Banks Fuel the Fossil Energy Trade

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Energy, Environment, Featured, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories

Energy

Demonstrators demand clarification of the murder of land rights activist Samir Flores and the shutdown of a thermoelectric plant in the state of Morelos, in central Mexico, in a February 2019 protest on Mexico City's emblematic Paseo Reforma. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Demonstrators demand clarification of the murder of land rights activist Samir Flores and the shutdown of a thermoelectric plant in the state of Morelos, in central Mexico, in a February 2019 protest on Mexico City’s emblematic Paseo Reforma. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

MEXICO CITY, May 20 2020 (IPS) – Since 2012, Teresa Castellanos has fought the construction of a gas-fired power plant in Huexca, in the central Mexican state of Morelos, adjacent to the country’s capital.


“We don’t want the power plant to operate, because it will cause irreparable damage, polluting the water and air. This project was imposed on us; we have to defend the water and the land. This is not an industrial zone,” the activist, coordinator of the Huexca Resistance Committee, told IPS.

During the tests, the constant noise of the turbines also altered the life of this small community of just over 1,000 people, mostly farmers, near the Cuautla River, within the rural municipality of Yecapixtla.

“Development banks must have safeguards and principles for sustainable investment. National regulations are needed, which define climate finance and green finance, what principles govern them, what are the climate risks. The trend should be to increasingly finance green projects and less and less hydrocarbons.” — Liliana Estrada

The Central Combined Cycle Plant, located in Huexca and with a capacity of 620 megawatts based on gas and steam, is part of the Morelos Integral Project (PIM), developed by the state Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). It also consists of an aqueduct and a gas pipeline that crosses the states of Morelos, Puebla and Tlaxcala.

The People’s Front in Defence of Land and Water of Morelos, Puebla and Tlaxcala and its ally, the Permanent Assembly of the People of Morelos, have managed to get several court orders that have blocked the operation of the plant, the 12-km aqueduct and the 171-km gas pipeline since 2015.

Castellanos, who has won an international and a national award for her activism, has been involved in the battle against the plant from the very start, which has earned her persecution and threats.

The opposition to the power plant by local communities that depend on planting corn, beans, squash and tomatoes and raising cattle and pigs, focuses on the lack of consultation, the threat to their agricultural activity, due to the extraction of water from the rivers, and the discharge of liquid waste.

In February 2019, a public consultation that did not meet international standards supported the completion of the project.

A few days earlier, activist Samir Flores had been murdered, a crime that remains unsolved – just one more instance of violence against environmentalists in Mexico. Despite Flores’ murder, the government of leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador went ahead with the referendum and upheld the result.

Public funds have fuelled the conflict, as the state-owned National Bank of Public Works and Services (Banobras) lent some 55 million dollars for the pipeline.

As in the case of other projects, development banks have become a financial pillar for the oil industry in Latin America’s second-largest nation, population 130 million.

The National Bank of Foreign Trade (Bancomext), Banobras and Nacional Financiera (Nafin) have funneled millions of dollars into building pipelines and oil and gas facilities in recent years, even though the climate change crisis makes it necessary to abandon such investments.

They have also financed renewable energy projects, but in much smaller amounts than fossil fuels.

The construction and operation of the Central Combined Cycle Plant, of the state Federal Electricity Commission, financed with public funds, unleashed a conflict with residents of Huexca, a small community in the central Mexican state of Morelos, which has brought the operation of the thermoelectric plant to a halt. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The construction and operation of the Central Combined Cycle Plant, of the state Federal Electricity Commission, financed with public funds, unleashed a conflict with residents of Huexca, a small community in the central Mexican state of Morelos, which has brought the operation of the thermoelectric plant to a halt. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Energy reform pillar

The energy reform that then conservative president Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) enacted in 2013 opened the sector to private capital, broke the monopoly of the state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) oil giant and CFE, and made Mexico an attractive market for international investment in the sector.

To support this transformation, the state development banks also opened their coffers.´

Since 2012, Banobras, which finances infrastructure and public works and services, has lent at least 721 million dollars for the construction of gas pipelines, 10.2 billion dollars for oil and gas projects, 251 million dollars for electrical cogeneration, from steam generated in hydrocarbon plants, and eight million dollars for the construction of a thermoelectric plant that will burn fuel oil in the northwestern state of Baja California Sur.

Bancomext, which provides financing to exporters, importers and nine strategic sectors, has delivered some 500,000 dollars to oil companies in the eastern state of Tamaulipas and another 446 million dollars in Mexico City. It has also provided 65.4 million dollars to gas initiatives in the northern state of Nuevo Leon and 626.7 million dollars in Mexico City.

In addition, it has contributed 1.5 billion dollars for the supply of gas through pipelines to the final consumer; 324 million dollars for the extraction of oil and gas; 216 million dollars for the construction of public works for oil and gas; 126 million dollars for the manufacture of products derived from oil and coal; nearly seven million dollars for oil refining; 0.65 million dollars for the commercialisation of fuels; 0.25 million dollars for the drilling and maintenance of hydrocarbon wells; as well as 0.25 million dollars for oil platform maintenance and services.

In February, Bancomext granted a loan of 7.1 million dollars to Grupo Diarqco, in what it presented as the first credit to a private Mexican company in the industry, to exploit an oil field in the southeastern state of Tabasco.

Nafin, which grants credits and guarantees to public and private projects, created in 2014 the Energy Impulse Programme for these initiatives, endowed with more than a billion dollars.

It also manages, along with the economy ministry, the Public Trust to Promote the Development of Energy Industry National Suppliers and Contractors, designed for the industrial promotion of local production chains and direct investment in the energy industry, which this year has a fund of some 41 million dollars.

Missing: social and environmental safeguards

As in the case of the Morelos Integral Project, the gas pipelines have been a source of conflict with local communities, arising from the lack of socio-environmental safeguards and standards to guarantee that a project and its financing will respect the human rights of potentially affected communities.

Nafin and Banobras lack such safeguards, while Bacomext has had an “Environmental and Social Risk Management System Guide” since 2017, with no evidence of whether and how it has been applied to energy projects financed since then.

Since 2003, three platforms of international standards have emerged, to which Mexico’s development banks have not adhered, on human rights; social and environmental assessments and impacts; the application of safeguards; stakeholder participation; complaint resolution; and transparency.

The planet needs 80 percent of the global hydrocarbon reserves to stay underground in order for the temperature increase to remain at 1.5 degrees Celsius, as set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The treaty, signed by 196 countries and territories in 2015, will enter into force at year-end and is considered indispensable to avoid irreversible climate disasters and human catastrophes.

Liliana Estrada, a researcher with the Climate Finance Group of Latin America and the Caribbean, told IPS that most investment in energy still goes to fossil fuels.

“After the reform, they have to enter into strategic projects and follow the guidelines of the government; they cannot go against these strategic lines. The gas and gas pipelines became strategic,” with the boost to the megaprojects of the López Obrador administration, said the representative of this coalition of non-governmental organisations and academics.

These credits are part of the fossil fuel subsidies that Mexico has pledged, to several international bodies, to eliminate.

The Mexican energy industry has also attracted international private banks, which have lent 55.95 billion dollars to 12 corporations, according to “Banking on Climate Change: Fossil Fuel Finance Report 2020”, released in March by six international environmental organisations.

The CFE received some 5.4 billion dollars from 12 banks between 2016 and 2019, and Pemex received 48.3 billion dollars from 20 foreign banks.

Based on Huexca’s experience, Castellanos demanded that these investments be stopped.

“If it’s our company, as the government says, then we can close it down. We have to defend the space in which we live, because we only have one planet and it belongs to all of us, it belongs to every living being, and it is our obligation to contribute something to this planet, because we are only here for a short while, we are guests of the earth”, she said.

Estrada called for sustainable financing regulations and questioned the lack of government leadership in this regard.

“Development banks must have safeguards and principles for sustainable investment,” she said. “National regulations are needed, which define climate finance and green finance, what principles govern them, what are the climate risks. The trend should be to increasingly finance green projects and less and less hydrocarbons.”

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Harness Youth to Change World’s Future

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Conferences, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Gender, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequity, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment, Women & Climate Change

Women bear the brunt of climate change disasters. Credit: Women Deliver

NEW YORK, Mar 31 2020 (IPS) – Vanessa Nakate of Uganda may have been cropped out of a photograph taken at the World Economic Forum, but she along with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg have made the climate crisis centre stage.


Women Deliver Young Leader Jyotir Nisha discusses with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada on how to harness young people to overcome gender inequality and address climate change in a recent wide-ranging interview.

Quesada says key strategies to designing policy to fight climate change require unconventional decision-making to address challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, the fourth industrial revolution, and inequality.

“These are intertwined factors that can hinder development if unattended but, if tackled, they could potentially accelerate progress and wellbeing for all,” he says.

“And, of course, this is a task that young leaders are able to handle and produce the timely answers that are necessary.”

Bringing in her experience in the non-profit sector, Nisha says training girls and women in up-cycling plastic waste to produce handmade goods has assisted them to contribute to their family income and their empowerment in the community. The question is, how can this be broadened.

Quesada says women, in particular young women, are leading the way.

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada. Credit: Women Deliver

“From cooperative seed banks, to early warning networks, from solar engineers to women politicians carving a path of sustainable policymaking. They are at the forefront of forest conservation, sustainable use of resources, and community enhancement, and restoration of landscapes and forest ecosystems,” he says.

However, women’s roles are often underestimated, unrecognised, and unpaid.

“Women and girls with access to technology have already begun developing innovative tools to reduce emissions by targeting sustainable consumption and production practices, including food waste, community waste management, energy efficiency, and sustainable fashion.”

The solutions exist, but much more is needed.

“It takes a whole-of-society approach for collaboration and cooperation on a bigger and enhanced scale.”

The President suggests that the way investments are made could be fundamental to ensure a flow of finance to the communities, including women, and youth. This will, he believes, provide “a stable source of funding for businesses and services that contribute to the solution of social or environmental challenges.”

The impact of this will be partnerships between traditional sources of finance, like international cooperation and development banks, and new partners, like philanthropy, hedge funds, or pension funds.

“And what better than young people giving the thrust that all this requires?”

Nisha says she was pleased to see the massive mobilisation of young people at the inaugural Climate Action Summit last year. The summit had little good news for climate change with concerns raised that the accelerating rise in sea level, melting ice would have on socio-economic development, health, displacement, food security and ecosystems. However, beyond taking to the streets, they also need to hold decision-makers accountable.

“In the last months we have witnessed the irruption of massive mobilisations in different parts of the world, lead mostly by young people. This would seem surprising for a generation that has been accused several times of passivity, indifference, and individualism,” Quesada says. “I truly believe that, as long as these demands are channelled through democratic and pacifist means, they are extremely important to set a bar and a standard of responsibility for us, decision-makers — who are, by the way, more and more often, young people.”

He adds that world leaders owe them explanations of the decisions made.

“We must also have the wisdom to pay attention to these demands and take into account their opinions and proposals to reach agreements that have the legitimacy of consensus-building.”

However, Nisha notes, while campaigns like the Deliver for Good campaign is working across sectors reports at COP25, and the recent World Economic Forum (Davos), “climate change continues to threaten progress made toward gender equality across every measure of development.”

At WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2020 showed that it would take more than a lifetime, 99.5 years in 2019 for gender parity across health, education, work and politics to be achieved.

Quesada says the climate catastrophe “demands that policymakers and practitioners renew commitments to sustainable development — at the heart of which is, and must continue to be, advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, and realising women’s rights as a pre-requisite for sustainable development.”

Costa Rica, he says, has been recognised internationally on two significant areas: the respect of human rights and environmental protection.

“The present Administration has taken these objectives a step further by paying particular attention to women’s rights, inclusion, and diversity, and including them as part of our core policy principles and our everyday practices,” he says. “We expect to increase women’s integration into productive processes and achieve women’s economic empowerment through specific policies linked to our long-term development strategy — the Decarbonization Plan — allowing the transformational changes our society needs.

However, the critical question, Nisha says, is: “What can world leaders and governments do today to ensure young people have a seat at the decision-making table?”

Quesada is confident that young people will be part of the solution.

“The challenges we are facing today are unprecedented precisely because previous generations did not have to face situations such as biodiversity loss, global warming, or the emergence of artificial intelligence and technology. Thus, we need new answers and solutions from Twenty-First Century people, and those should and will be put forward by the youth,” he says.

The importance of youth involvement was recently highlighted too at the meeting of African Leaders for Nutrition in Addis Ababa. African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina said Africa should invest in skills development for the youth so the continent’s entrepreneurs can leverage emerging technologies to transform Africa’s food system to generate new jobs. This is especially urgent as the population on the continent is expected to double to 2.5 billion people in 40 years putting pressure on governments to deliver more food and jobs in addition to better livelihoods.

In a recent interview with IPS International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Director General, Nteranya Sanginga, explained that this change is neither easy or necessarily something all leadership has taken on board.

“Our legacy is starting a programme to change the mindset of the youth in agriculture. Unfortunately (with) our governments that is where you have to go and change mindsets completely. Most probably 90 per cent of our leaders consider agriculture as a social activity basically for them its (seen as a) pain, penury. They proclaim that agriculture is a priority in resolving our problems, but we are not investing in it. We need that mindset completely changed.”

Quesada is unequivocal that this attitude needs to change.

“My advice to world leaders is to have the humility to listen to the people and to allow more inclusive and participatory decision-making. And to the young people, I can only encourage them to own their future, and to act accordingly, with vision, courage, and determination.”

 

Why Empowering National Human Rights Institutions Helps on the Quest for Healthy Earth?

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Education, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Population

Claudia Ituarte-Lima, Stockholm University, Sweden and University of British Columbia, Canada

 
Claudia Ituarte-Lima is researcher on international environmental law at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and affiliated senior researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. She is currently a visiting researcher at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia. She holds a PhD from the University College London and a MPhil from the University of Cambridge.

On March 2020, over 330 students, women champions, government officials, NGO members and community members from around Kampot and Kep gathered in an effort to plant 3,000 mangroves and conserve Cambodia’s coastline. The local activity took place as part of a larger mangrove planting and marine exhibition under Action Aid’s 100,000 Mangroves campaign, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the project ‘Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems in Cambodia’. The campaign aims to plan 100,000 mangroves in eight community fisheries by May 2020, and raise awareness of the importance of marine ecosystems. Credit: ManuthButh/UNDP Cambodia

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada, Mar 24 2020 (IPS) – We are living in a critical time. As we face existential environmental challenges from climate crises to the mass extinction of species, it is difficult sometimes to see solutions and new ideas. This is why we all need to celebrate and give visibility to creative and courageous efforts of people and organizations striving towards a healthy planet for all.


I write today about the key role played by National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the Global South in our collective fight against climate change. The time has come to empower NHRIs.

Their unique position mandated by law yet independent from the government can make an urgent needed bridge between legal and policy advances, and ground-up efforts such as youth and women movements, thereby contributing to the enjoyment of the right to a healthy environment.

I have recently had the chance of learning real-world success stories by brave NHRIs working in some of the most challenging contexts. While being a member of the facilitators’ team of a series of webinars* for technical staff and decision-makers working in NHRIs and prior face-to-face interaction with them, it became crystal clear that strengthening the skills and capacities of NHRIs can contribute positive outcomes for both human rights and the environment.

In Mongolia, for instance, the NHRI with the support of civil society organizations and environmental researchers has recently developed a draft law for safeguarding the rights of environmental defenders.

The NHRIs have also intervened in a variety of sectoral issues from pesticides and agriculture in Costa Rica, to mining in South Africa and the connections between coal mining and transportation in Mongolia. The Morocco NHRI has prompted other African NHRIs and civil society organizations to actively participate in international climate negotiations.

Business and human rights was a key issue raised by our NHRIs colleagues.

Nazia, 38, proudly shows off her home-grown tomatoes in Nadirabad village, Pakistan. She participated in kitchen gardening training offered under the joint UNDP-EU Refugee Affected and Host Areas (RAHA) Programme in Pakistan. Credit: UNDP Pakistan

The significant legal, institutional and financial obstacles that national duty bearers face to investigate transnational corporations and their responsibilities concerning their impacts to a safe climate has not proved insurmountable for NHRIs.

The Philippine’s NHRI has a mandate to promote human rights which, creatively interpreted, allowed it to investigate the climate change and human rights nexus beyond its national borders.

The systemic nature of climate change justified a national inquiry rather than a field visit. Because climate change is an existential issue not only to Filipino people but globally, the Philippines national inquiry on climate change turned into an inquiry with strong global dimensions.

It included public hearings in the Philippines, New York and London, virtual hearings and expert advice from the former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment, academics from different parts of the world and the Asia-Pacific regional network of NHRIs.

A major comparative advantage presented by the NHRIs is their unique position in working hand in hand with right holders in addressing environmental – human rights gaps facing the most vulnerable populations.

Costa Rica NHRI has found, for instance, that women, girls, men and boys and elder living in coastal areas become especially vulnerable to climate change because their access to clean drinking water and fish become scarce.

The South African NHRI together with food sovereignty civil society organizations has developed a draft climate charter, to be presented to the parliament, with a more holistic approach to the current climate policy.

In recent years, the awareness of the linkages between human rights and climate change has greatly increased. The legal recognition of the right to a healthy environment in more than 150 countries, together with judicial decisions, and academic studies on the safe climate dimension of this right has grown rapidly. NHRIs can be instrumental in translating them into results and action, including under difficult circumstances.

Their role in advising duty bearers, working together with right-holders helps to understand and act upon systemic environmental challenges. Their synergies with environmental human rights defenders can also contribute to more effective investigation and advocacy, not least in the context of informal and unregulated business activities where it is especially difficult to collect data and hold businesses accountable.

Time has come for the international community to do more to support NHRIs in the Global South, a key player often overlooked in climate and biodiversity talks, debates and funding. Due to the intrinsic connections between human rights and environment, the NHRIs need to be further supported to perform their innovative roles in safeguarding life-support systems at various jurisdictional scales, including advocating for the global recognition of the right to a healthy environment by the United Nations.

* The series was organized by the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), UNDP, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and UN Environment. A final report with key messages from the webinar series is available on the UNDP website.

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Young People Bring Solar Energy to Schools in the Argentine Capital

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Education, Energy, Environment, Featured, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Projects, Regional Categories, Special Report, TerraViva United Nations

Energy

Sebastián Ieraci (L), a member of the group of students who in 2014 pushed for the switch to solar energy at the Antonio Devoto High School, stands next to the school's principal Marcelo Mazzeo on the rooftop of the educational institution located in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Villa Devoto. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Sebastián Ieraci (L), a member of the group of students who in 2014 pushed for the switch to solar energy at the Antonio Devoto High School, stands next to the school’s principal Marcelo Mazzeo on the rooftop of the educational institution located in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Villa Devoto. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

BUENOS AIRES , Mar 19 2020 (IPS) – “The idea came to a group of schoolmates and me in 2014, but we never thought it could become a reality,” says Sebastián Ieraci, 23, as he points to a multitude of photovoltaic solar panels shining on the roof of the Antonio Devoto High School in the Argentine capital.


The secondary school is one of the first public centres in Buenos Aires that has managed, since last November, to cover 100 percent of its electricity needs from renewable energy generated in the building itself.

Although today only seven of the city’s public schools have solar panels, the authorities have identified another 140 school buildings with the conditions to generate solar energy, and the plan is to gradually equip all of them with solar panels.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this case is that it was the students’ own enthusiasm for clean energy and community involvement that allowed the school to be chosen for an experiment that is new to Buenos Aires.

“Now they come to see us from schools in different parts of the country, to see what we have done and to try to replicate it.” — Marcelo Mazzeo

Ieraci, who arrives in a hurry at his former school after his workday at a paint factory, was in his last year of high school in 2014, when law teachers suggested to him and his classmates that they come up with a project for the programme The Legislature and Schools.

The programme, carried out for over 20 years, invites final-year high school students to submit proposals to the Buenos Aires city legislature, in the areas of environment, public spaces, traffic and transport and security.

Once they do so, the students sit on the city legislature for an afternoon to discuss their proposals with students from other schools.

“We came up with the idea of installing solar panels because we knew that the school’s rooftop was not being used for anything and that doing so could be doubly beneficial, both environmentally and economically, since the school could generate its own energy,” says Ieraci during IPS’s visit to his former school.

Aerial view of the rooftops of the primary and secondary schools located across from the main square in Villa Devoto, a residential neighborhood in the Argentine capital. The adjacent schools now have 200 solar panels with an installed capacity of 70 kilowatts, and the surplus is injected into the Buenos Aires electricity grid. Credit: Courtesy of Buenos Aires city government

Aerial view of the rooftops of the primary and secondary schools located across from the main square in Villa Devoto, a residential neighborhood in the Argentine capital. The adjacent schools now have 200 solar panels with an installed capacity of 70 kilowatts, and the surplus is injected into the Buenos Aires electricity grid. Credit: Courtesy of Buenos Aires city government

“Then we started looking for information, and after a month we presented the project. Back then it was a utopia and today seeing these panels makes me very proud, because this is a school that generates a sense of belonging,” he explains.

The school is located in a large two-storey building that preserves the style of the old manor house that Italian immigrant Antonio Devoto had built there at the beginning of the 20th century. Devoto is considered the founder of the middle-class residential neighbourhood that today bears his name.

The school is located across from the main square of Devoto, in an area with many old trees and few tall buildings, full of bars and restaurants, and bursting with vitality far from the centre of Buenos Aires.

The Devoto teenagers’ solar panel project was the winner among more than 70 initiatives that students presented in 2014 to the local legislature, and in 2016 the Buenos Aires city government launched it. The first step was to start feasibility studies in more than 600 school buildings.

But it was in 2017 that the school received the definitive push to move towards solar energy, when it once again presented the project in a competition, this time in BA Elige (Buenos Aires Chooses), a citizen participation programme in which the more than three million inhabitants of Buenos Aires proper vote on the projects they want to see carried out.

On that occasion, the residents of Devoto expressed their opinions online, supporting the installation of solar panels in the neighbourhood schools and thus enabling the authorities to allocate budget funds.

The installation of the solar panels began in August 2019 and took three months. Since November, 87 two-by-one meter solar panels have been in operation on the rooftop of the Antonio Devoto High School.

The primary school next door was soon incorporated into the programme, and since January 113 solar panels have been operating, bringing the total to 200 panels on the adjacent rooftops of the two schools that serve a combined total of 500 students.

Solar panels nearly cover the entire rooftop of the Antonio Devoto High School in Buenos Aires. Until last year the rooftop area was not put to any use. The idea of using that space to generate renewable energy came from students in their final year in 2014, who presented a project to the Buenos Aires city legislature. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Solar panels nearly cover the entire rooftop of the Antonio Devoto High School in Buenos Aires. Until last year the rooftop area was not put to any use. The idea of using that space to generate renewable energy came from students in their final year in 2014, who presented a project to the Buenos Aires city legislature. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

“In secondary schools, the panels have 30 kilowatts (kW) of installed capacity, and in primary schools, 40. But the most interesting thing is that the primary school injects its surplus energy into the city’s electricity grid, generating credit with the power company,” engineer Andrés Valdivia, head of climate action in the city government’s Ministry of Education, told IPS.

The Ministry reports that the 140 school rooftops declared suitable for the installation of solar panels – because there are few high buildings surrounding them and they receive good solar radiation – have a combined surface area of 145,000 square meters and could have a total installed capacity of 13 megawatts (MW).

Renewable energies – basically, solar and wind – have experienced major growth in Argentina since a fund was created by law in September 2015 to finance the construction of facilities and to guarantee the purchase of the energy generated.

By late 2019, nearly eight percent of the electricity produced in the country came from renewable sources, up from just 2.2 percent in early 2016, according to official statistics.

However, that growth will not continue because the recession and the devaluation of the local currency in Argentina mean that almost no new projects will be launched, say industry analysts.

View of the front of the Antonio Devoto High School, which was built in an old manor house belonging to the Italian immigrant recognised as the founder of the Villa Devoto neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Credit: Courtesy of Marcelo Mazzeo

View of the front of the Antonio Devoto High School, which was built in an old manor house belonging to the Italian immigrant recognised as the founder of the Villa Devoto neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Credit: Courtesy of Marcelo Mazzeo

“Ours is not a technical school; we have an orientation in economics and administration. But the kids’ interest in the energy transition surprised us and led us to gather a lot of information together about the subject,” said Marcelo Mazzeo, the principal of the Antonio Devoto High School.

“Now they come to see us from schools in different parts of the country, to see what we have done and to try to replicate it,” he told IPS.

Félix Aban, one of the law teachers who worked with the students on the project and is now the school’s vice-principal, said that “one of the most interesting things was that in 2014 the kids suggested that the surplus energy generated by their schools could be injected into the power grid, when that possibility was not even being discussed in Argentina.”

In fact, the law on distributed (or decentralised) energy was not approved by Congress until 2017, under the official name “Regime to foment distributed renewable energy generation integrated into the public electricity grid”.

“They investigated and found that in other countries individual generators fed power into the grid. So we can say that the kids at this school were really ahead of the game,” said Aban.

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Could the Coronavirus Pandemic have been Avoided if the World Listened to Indigenous Leaders?

Active Citizens, Climate Change, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Climate Change

William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 percent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. At a Covering Climate Now panel in New York on Friday, indigenous leaders reiterated the need for the world to listen to them in addressing climate concerns. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 19 2020 (IPS) Mina Setra remembers the story clearly. As a Dayak Pompakng indigenous person from Indonesia, when  visitors from the city who came into her community; brought bottled water with them because they were worried about the water not being suitable for drinking. 

Setra, who is the deputy secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), recalls one of the elders telling the visitors, “This is the problem of you city people: You eat and drink all the dead things. Like the water that is already in a bottle? It is dead water. The vegetables that you buy from the freezer in the supermarket, they’re all dead plants.”

The anecdote sums up a much bigger conversation that is relevant today: how climate change is linked to coronavirus, and why it’s important to listen to indigenous leaders on the matter.

Setra shared the story with IPS when asked about links between climate change and coronavirus, during a panel talk by Covering Climate Now in New York on Friday, where indigenous leaders reiterated the need for the world to listen to them in addressing climate concerns — and reminding them how climate change can lead to or exacerbate a global health crisis as grave as the current virus. 

The talk took place as global communities scrambled to take effective measures against the deadly virus, and just as the U.S. announced a global emergency while struggling to contain its coronavirus cases. More than two months since the world became aware of coronavirus — and increasingly learned of its alarming implicants — the pandemic has globally claimed 8,810 lives, with more than 218,800, cases. 

While global conversations have mainly focused on the issue of death rate, or the racism attached to the virus, or different countries’ isolation methods (or lack thereof), little has been said about the link to climate change.

This remains a much bigger conversation that indigenous leaders want people to be aware of: how climate change can exacerbate the dangers of something like the coronavirus, and why the world should’ve been listening to indigenous leaders to avoid such a catastrophic spread.  While many believe that coronavirus started with a bat, experts argue it’s not so black and white. A February report established what the leaders discussed at the talk: how deforestation can lead to a loss of habitat for many wild animals and species. As a result, they move to habitat that brings them to closer proximity to humans which can lead to repeated contact between them.  

“The inequilibrium of our planet is not just about climate change, but it’s also about the global economy,” Levi Sucre Romero, a member of the BriBri indigenous community from Costa Rica, told IPS at the panel talk. “So coronavirus is now telling the world what we have been saying for thousands of years: that if we do not help protect biodiversity and nature, that we will face this and worse future threats.”

Romero, a coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, further highlighted a United Nations’ statement for why it’s important for global communities to work with indigenous leaders and learn from their knowledge. United Nations for Indigenous Peoples did not respond to the IPS’ request for comments. 

While wild animals and species are forced to find a home in close proximity to humans as a result of deforestation, another crucial concern is the treatment of animals by people from commercial hubs and cities that can act as a catalyst for such a global crisis.

“Our animals are not contaminated by themselves. They get contaminated by people,” Tuxá said in response to IPS’ question about the link between coronavirus and climate change. “And the proof is that these viruses start in the commercial centres of the world. There is a direct correlation between this and coronavirus and other pandemics that are to come.”

Tuxá added the next pandemic’s cure can be found in the diversity of indigenous peoples’ lands. 

“That’s why it’s really important to demarcate and recognise our lands, to protect our lands and our biodiversity because future life depends on it,” he said.

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