The Ghost of Oil Haunts Mexico’s Lacandona Jungle

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Lacandona, the great Mayan jungle that extends through the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, is home to natural wealth and indigenous peoples' settlements that are once again threatened by the probable reactivation of abandoned oil wells. Image: Ceiba

Lacandona, the great Mayan jungle that extends through the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, is home to natural wealth and indigenous peoples’ settlements that are once again threatened by the probable reactivation of abandoned oil wells. Image: Ceiba

MEXICO CITY, Jan 19 2024 (IPS) – The Lacandona jungle in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas is home to 769 species of butterflies, 573 species of trees, 464 species of birds, 114 species of mammals, 119 species of amphibians and reptiles, and several abandoned oil wells.

The oil wells have been a source of concern for the communities of the great Mayan jungle and environmental organizations since the 1970s, when oil prospecting began in the area and gradually left at least five wells inactive, whether plugged or not.

“The situation is always complex, due to legal loopholes that do not delimit the jungle, the natural protected areas are not delimited, it has been a historical mess. The search for oil has always been there.” — Fermín Domínguez

Now, Mexico’s policy of increasing oil production, promoted by the federal government, is reviving the threat of reactivating oil industry activity in the jungle ecosystem of some 500,000 hectares located in the east of the state, which has lost 70 percent of its forest in recent decades due to deforestation.

A resident of the Benemérito de las Américas municipality, some 1,100 kilometers south of Mexico City, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told IPS that a Mexican oil services company has contacted some members of the ejidos – communities on formerly public land granted to farm individually or cooperatively – trying to buy land around the inactive wells.

“They say they are offering work. We are concerned that they are trying to restart oil exploration, because it is a natural area that could be damaged and already has problems,” he said.

Adjacent to Benemérito de las Américas, which has 23,603 inhabitants according to the latest records, the area where the inactive wells are located is within the 18,348 square kilometers of the protected Lacandona Jungle Region.

It is one of the seven reserves of the ecosystem that the Mexican government decreed in 2016 and where oil activity in its subsoil is banned.

Between 1903 and 2014, the state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) drilled five wells in the Lacandona jungle, inhabited by some 200,000 people, according to the autonomous governmental National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), in charge of allocating hydrocarbon lots and approving oil and gas exploration plans. At least two of these deposits are now closed, according to the CNH.

The Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, in the Lacandona jungle in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, faces the threat of oil exploration, which would add to phenomena such as deforestation, drought and forest fires that have occurred in recent years. Image: Semarnat

The Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, in the Lacandona jungle in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, faces the threat of oil exploration, which would add to phenomena such as deforestation, drought and forest fires that have occurred in recent years. Image: Semarnat

The Lacantun well is located between a small group of houses and the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve (RBMA), the most megadiverse in the country, part of Lacandona and near the border with Guatemala. The CNH estimates the well’s proven oil reserves at 15.42 million barrels and gas reserves at 2.62 million cubic feet.

Chole, Tzeltal, Tzotzil and Lacandon Indians inhabit the jungle.

Other inactive deposits in the Benemérito de las Américas area are Cantil-101 and Bonampak-1, whose reserves are unknown.

In the rural areas of the municipality, the local population grows corn, beans and coffee and manages ecotourism sites. But violence has driven people out of Chiapas communities, as has been the case for weeks in the southern mountainous areas of the state due to border disputes and illegal business between criminal groups.

In addition, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), an indigenous organization that staged an uprising on Jan. 1, 1994 against the marginalization and poverty suffered by the native communities, is still present in the region.

Chiapas, where oil was discovered at the beginning of the 20th century, is among the five main territories in terms of production of crude oil and gas in this Latin American country, with 10 hydrocarbon blocks in the northern strip of the state.

In November, Mexico extracted 1.64 million barrels of oil and 4.9 billion cubic feet of gas daily. The country currently ranks 20th in the world in terms of proven oil reserves and 41st in gas.

Historically, local communities have suffered water, soil and air pollution from Pemex operations.

As of November, there were 6,933 operational wells in the country, while Pemex has sealed 122 of the wells drilled since 2019, although none in Chiapas, according to a public information request filed by IPS.

Since taking office in December 2018, leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has strengthened Pemex and the also state-owned Federal Electricity Commission by promoting the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels, to the detriment of renewable energy.

The state of Chiapas is home to hydroelectric power plants, mining projects, hydrocarbon exploitation blocks and a section of the Mayan Train, the most emblematic megaproject of the current Mexican government. Image: Center for Zoque Language and Culture AC

The state of Chiapas is home to hydroelectric power plants, mining projects, hydrocarbon exploitation blocks and a section of the Mayan Train, the most emblematic megaproject of the current Mexican government. Image: Center for Zoque Language and Culture AC

Territory under siege

The RBMA is one of Mexico’s 225 natural protected areas (NPAs) and its 331,000 hectares are home to 20 percent of the country’s plant species, 30 percent of its birds, 27 percent of its mammals and 17 percent of its freshwater fish.

Like all of the Lacandona rainforest, the RBMA faces deforestation, the expansion of cattle ranching, wildlife trafficking, drought, and forest fires.

Fermín Ledesma, an academic at the public Universidad Autónoma Chapingo, said possible oil exploration could aggravate existing social and environmental conflicts in the state, in addition to growing criminal violence and the historical absence of the State.

“The situation is always complex, due to legal loopholes that do not delimit the jungle, the natural protected areas are not delimited, it has been a historical mess. The search for oil has always been there,” he told IPS from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas.

The researcher said “it is a very complex area, with a 50-year agrarian conflict between indigenous peoples, often generated by the government itself, which created an overlapping of plans and lands.”

Ledesma pointed to a contradiction between the idea of PNAs that are depopulated in order to protect them and the historical presence of native peoples.

From 2001 to 2022, Chiapas lost 748,000 hectares of tree cover, equivalent to a 15 percent decrease since 2000, one of the largest sites of deforestation in Mexico, according to the international monitoring platform Global Forest Watch. In 2022 alone, 26,800 hectares of natural forest disappeared.

In addition, this state, one of the most impoverished in the country, has suffered from the presence of mining, the construction of three hydroelectric plants and, now, the Mayan Train, the Mexican government’s most emblematic megaproject inaugurated on Dec. 15, one of the seven sections of which runs through the north of the state.

But there are also stories of local resistance against oil production. In 2017, Zoque indigenous people prevented the auction of two blocks on some 84,000 hectares in nine municipalities that sought to obtain 437.8 million barrels of crude oil equivalent.

The anonymous source expressed hope for a repeat of that victory and highlighted the argument of conducting an indigenous consultation prior to the projects, free of pressure and with the fullest possible information. “With that we can stop the wells, as occurred in 2017. We are not going to let them move forward,” he said.

Ledesma the researcher questioned the argument of local development driven by natural resource extraction and territorial degradation as a pretext.

“They say it’s the only way to do it, but that’s not true. It leaves a trail of environmental damage, damage to human health, present and future damage. It is much easier for the population to accept compensation or give up the land, because they see it is degraded. A narrative is created that they live in an impoverished area and therefore they have to relocate. This has happened in other areas,” he said.


Guatemala’s Chance for a New Beginning

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Democracy, Featured, Headlines, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: Emmanuel Andres/AFP via Getty Images

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Jan 18 2024 (IPS) – Guatemala’s new president, Bernardo Arévalo, was expected to be sworn in on 14 January at 2pm –the 14th at 14:00, as people repeated in anticipation for months. It was a momentous event – but it wasn’t guaranteed to happen.

One year earlier, Arévalo – co-founder of the progressive Movimiento Semilla (Seed Movement), a political party born out of widespread 2015 anti-corruption protests – was largely unknown, freshly selected as his party’s presidential candidate. He wasn’t on the radar of opinion polls. A long chain of unlikely events later, he’s become the first Guatemalan president in living memory who doesn’t belong to the self-serving elites who Guatemalans call ‘the corrupt pact’, which he has credibly promised to dismantle.

The fear this caused among corrupt elite that has long ruled Guatemala was reflected in a series of attempts to try to stop Arévalo’s inauguration. The huge and sustained citizen mobilisation that came in response can largely be credited with keeping alive the spark of democracy in Guatemala.

Last-minute delays

All the Guatemalan Congress needed to do on the morning of 14 January was certify its newly elected members so the body could swear in the new president. But this routine administrative procedure was dragged on for many hours. The Indigenous movement, at the forefront of the months-long protests that had successfully kept at bay successive attempts to reverse the election results, called on Indigenous communities throughout Guatemala to remain on the alert.

In the late afternoon the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, surrounded by members of numerous foreign delegations, read a declaration calling on Congress to hand over power, ‘as required by the Constitution’, to the president-elect. This signalled that the world was watching.

As tensions mounted, Semilla reached an agreement for one of its representatives to be elected as president of Congress. This allowed the certification process to resume, and Arévalo was finally sworn in shortly after midnight. Night-long celebrations followed.

A coup attempt in stages

Arévalo’s election was unexpected. He only made it into the 20 August runoff because several other contenders not to the elite’s liking had been disqualified ahead of the first round. His candidacy wasn’t blocked because he scored so poorly in the polls. People’s expectations were extremely low, and first place went to invalid votes.

But once Arévalo entered the runoff, his rise was unstoppable. Death threats soon poured in, and an assassination plot involving state and non-state forces came to light days before the runoff.

As soon as the first-round results were announced, nine parties submitted complaints about supposed ‘irregularities’ that had gone undetected by all international observers. Their supporters converged outside the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) calling for a rerun.

The Constitutional Court instead ordered a recount and instructed the TSE to suspend official certification until complaints were resolved. Following the recount, the TSE eventually endorsed the results two weeks later.

But meanwhile, Attorney General Consuelo Porras Argueta, an official under US sanctions for corruption, launched an investigation into Semilla for alleged irregularities in its registration process and had its offices raided. She also ordered two raids on TSE offices, and when the TSE officially announced Arévalo as one of the runoff contenders, she ordered Semilla’s suspension. The Constitutional Court however blocked this order and the runoff ran its course. Arévalo took 58 per cent of the vote, compared to 37.2 per cent for the pro-establishment candidate.

Efforts to stop Arévalo’s inauguration began immediately, with yet another attempt by the Public Prosecutor to have Semilla suspended. The Constitutional Court continued to receive and reject legal challenges until the day of the inauguration.

For 100 days, two different visions of Guatemala wrestled with each other: people eager for change protested nonstop while corrupt forces linked to organised crime strove to preserve their privileges at any cost.

Democracy on life support

Guatemala has long been classified as a ‘hybrid regime‘ with a mix of democratic and authoritarian traits. Under outgoing president Alejandro Giammattei, civic freedoms steadily deteriorated. State institutions grew even weaker, ransacked by predatory elites and coopted by organised crime.

One of the last acts of Giammattei’s predecessor and ally, Jimmy Morales, was to end the work of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Charged with supporting and strengthening state institutions to investigate and prosecute serious crimes, CICIG helped file over 120 cases in the Guatemalan justice system and its joint investigations with the Attorney General’s Office led to over 400 convictions.

Under Giammattei, the Attorney General’s Office dismantled all anti-corruption efforts and criminalised those in the legal profession who’d worked alongside CICIG. Impunity flourished. Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index found evidence of strong influence by organised crime over politics and politicians, with some crime bosses seeking and securing office.

It’s no wonder that Guatemalans’ trust in state institutions hit rock bottom. According to the latest Latinobarómetro report, in 2021 satisfaction with the performance of democracy stood at a meagre 25 per cent.

Challenges ahead

Arévalo came to the presidency on a credible anti-corruption platform. But dismantling dense webs of complicity, rooting out entrenched corruption and rebuilding state institutions are no easy tasks.

Among the many challenges is a highly fragmented Congress in which 16 parties are represented, with Semilla on only 23 out of 160 seats. A large majority of Congress remains on the payroll of the interests Arévalo has promised to take on, along with most of the justice system. The 14 January events made clear that the ‘corrupt pact’ will do anything it can to stop Arévalo.

Arévalo’s to-do list is long, ranging from reducing political spending and improving social services to reversing laws that criminalise protest and establishing an effective protection mechanism for human rights defenders. At the top is forcing the resignation of Attorney General Consuelo Porras, the highest official presiding over a judicial network set up to ensure the impunity of the ‘corrupt pact’.

Arévalo can’t remove the Attorney General unilaterally, and so will have to negotiate her departure. This will be a key early test of the hope invested in him to keep democracy alive. Many more are sure to come.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


Global Civil Society Launches Manifesto for Ethical AI

Civil Society, Climate Change, Environment, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Inequality, Labour, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: Forus

NEW DELHI, India, Dec 6 2023 (IPS) – We, a global coalition of over 50 civil society and human rights organizations from over 30 countries have co-developed the “Civil Society Manifesto for Ethical AI”, a groundbreaking initiative aiming to steer AI policies towards safeguarding rights and deconolonising AI discourse. We question, and we are not the only ones: whose voices, ideas and values matter in AI ?

“If Silicon Valley was a country it would probably be the richest in the world. So how genuinely committed is Big Tech and AI to funding and fostering human rights over profits? The barebones truth is that if democracy was profitable, human rights lawyers and defenders including techtivists from civil society organizations wouldn’t be sitting around multistakeholder engagement tables demanding accountability from Big Tech and AI. How invested are they in real social impact centred on rights despite glaring evidence to the contrary?,” asks Nina Sangma, of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, a regional organization founded in 1992 by Indigenous Peoples’ movements with over 40 members across 14 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

We are currently at a critical juncture where most countries lack a comprehensive AI policy or regulatory framework. The sudden reliance on AI and other digital technologies has introduced new – and often “invisible” – vulnerabilities, and we have just seen the tip of the iceberg, literally melting from the effects of climate change.

Some things we have already seen though: AI is still a product of historical data representing inequities and inequalities. A study analyzing 100+ AI-generated images using Midjourney’s diffusion models revealed consistent biases, including depicting older men for specialized jobs, binary gender representations, featuring urban settings regardless of location, and generating images predominantly reinforcing “ageism, sexism and classism”, with a bias toward a Western perspective.

Data sources continue to be “toxic”. AI tools learn from vast amounts of training data, often consisting of billions of inputs scraped from the internet. This data risks to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and often contains toxic content like pornography, misogyny, violence, and bigotry. Furthermore, researchers found bias in up to 38.6% of ‘facts’ used by AI.

Despite increased awareness, the discourse surrounding AI, like the technology itself, has predominantly been shaped by “Western, whiteness, and wealth”. The discrimination that we see today is the result of a cocktail of “things gone wrong” – ranging from discriminatory hiring practices based on gender and race, to the prevalence of algorithms biases.

“Biases are not a coincidence. Artificial intelligence is a machine that draws conclusions from data based on statistical models, therefore, the first thing it eliminates is variations. And in the social sphere that means not giving visibility to the margins,” declares Judith Membrives i Llorens, head of digital policies at – Organitzacions per la Justícia Global.

“AI development isn’t the sole concern here. The real issue stems from keeping citizens in the dark, restricting civic freedoms and the prevalence of polarisation and prejudice on several dimensions of our societies. This results in unequal access, prevalent discrimination, and a lack of transparency in technological processes and beyond. Despite acknowledging the potential and power of these technologies, it is clear that many are still excluded and left at the margins due to systemic flaws. Without addressing this, the global development of AI and other emerging technologies won’t be inclusive. Failure to act now and to create spaces of discussion for new visions to emerge, will mean these technologies continue to reflect and exacerbate these disparities,” says Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, civil society leader in Burkina Faso and across the Sahel region, and Chair of the global civil society network Forus.

The Civil Society Manifesto for Ethical AI asks, what are the potential pitfalls of using current AI systems to inform future decisions, particularly in terms of reinforcing prevailing disparities?

Today, as EU policymakers are expected to close a political agreement for the AI Act, we ask, do international standards for regulating machine learning include the voice of the people? With the Manifesto we explore, challenge, disrupt, and reimagine the underlying assumptions within this discourse but also to broaden the discussion to incorporate communities beyond the traditional “experts.” Nothing about us, without us.

“We want Artificial Intelligence, but created by and for everyone, not only for a few,” adds Judith Membrives i Llorens.

From the “Internet of Cows” to the impact of AI on workers’ rights and on civic space, developed by over 50 civil society organisations, the Manifesto includes 17 case studies on their experiences, visions and stories around AI. With each story, we want to weave a different path to build new visions on AI systems that expand rather than restrict freedoms worldwide.

“The current development of AI is by no means an inevitable path. It is shaped by Big Tech companies because we let them. It is time for the civil society to stand up for their data rights,” says Camilla Lohenoja, of SASK, the workers’ rights organisation of the trade unions of Finland.

“Focusing on ethical and transparent technology also means giving equal attention to the fairness and inclusivity of its design and decision-making processes. The integrity of AI is shaped as much by its development as by its application,” says Hanna Pishchyk of the youth group Digital Grassroots.

Ultimately, the Manifesto aims to trigger a global – and not just sectorial and Western-dominated dialogue – on AI development and application.

Civil society is here not just as a mere token in multistakeholder spaces, we bring forward what others often dismiss, and we actively participate worldwide in shaping a technological future that embraces inclusivity, accountability, and ethical advancements.

Bibbi Abruzzini, Forus and Nina Sangma, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)

IPS UN Bureau


A Climate Scientist’s View of COP 28

Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conferences, COP28, Energy, Environment, Global, Headlines, Indigenous Rights, TerraViva United Nations


Research team in the Arctic. Professor Tjernström is standing on the left.

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Dec 4 2023 (IPS) – This year’s UN Climate Change Conference is taking place in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December. The so-called COP summits are organised every year and constitute a means for the global community to agree on ways to address the climate crisis, such as limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, supporting vulnerable communities to adapt to the effects of climate change, and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

More than 70,000 delegates are attending the COP28 in Dubai. Main delegates are the 47 representatives of the member states (called Parties), which constitute the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Business leaders, young people, climate scientists, Indigenous Peoples, journalists, and various other experts and stakeholders are also among the participants. Officially, COP 28 stands for the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC.

UNFCCC was established in 1992 to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system”, in part by limiting the greenhouse gas emissions that compromise Earth’s entire ecosystem, a prerequisite for human existence. Among other items on its agenda COP 28 will address progress made in accordance with the Paris Agreement of 2015, when 195 Parties of the UNFCCC agreed to keep the rise of global temperature to well below 2 °C (3.6 °F), compared to pre-industrial levels, and preferably limit the increase to 1.5 °C (2.7 °F).

To gain a scientific perspective of the meaning and influence of COP28, IPS asked Professor Tjernström about his views on climate change and what he assumes might be done to amend it. Michael Tjernström is since 2001 professor of Meteorology at Stockholm University. He has spent several periods at institutions such as CIRES, The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and The Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) and National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), all in Boulder, Colorado, USA. Professor Tjernström’s main research interests concern climate change in the Arctic. He has participated in several scientific expeditions to Arctic areas and is since 2011 a member of the International Arctic Science Committee.

Michael Tjernström

IPS: Professor Tjernström, can the outcomes of COP28 drastically affect current climate changes?

Michael Tjernström: The COPs are a necessary and essential factor when it comes to addressing climate change. A COP summit might be likened to a regular check-up visit to the dentist. It can be painful, but is necessary for good dental hygiene. The dentist might find that your teeth are in a very bad state and to save them, urgent measures have to be taken – caries has to be amended, maybe a bad tooth has to be extracted, dental bridges inserted, etc . The point is that the dentist is an expert and you have to trust him. However, the decision to save your teeth is all yours. In a similar fashion the COPs intend to amend already present damages to the climate, determine their causes and try to prevent a negative development. But it is up to the members to act.

IPS: How do you perceive the UN’s role in this endeavour?

Michael Tjernström: There is absolutely no other global organization other than the UN which would be able to organize and be in charge of such a process. No other national, international, political or private, organisation would be able to establish a global consensus and general awareness, as well as maintaining the perseverance, stamina, objectivity and legal strength to do so. An endurance against all odds, but nevertheless made possible through the UN’s established rules, combined with its global and local outreach. Of course, there are cracks and concerns, but the administrative structure and operations of the UN are firmly based on the commitment of its member states.

People, who in general are prone to criticize the UN system are often only perceiving the actions of the Security Council and how its commitment is crippled by the veto power of its five permanent members. However, this does not apply to the UNFCCC and its scientific support organisation, ICCP. As a scientist and propagator for awareness about climate change, I perceive the lack of understanding the great importance of the UN as a marketing problem. People are not aware of what this global organisation stands for, and even less so – its support of the global scientific community.

IPS: Will you attend the COP summit in Dubai?

Michael Tjernström: No, most scientists have through their research already made their fair contribution to efforts to combat climate change. The current state of research, results and warnings are comprehensively explained and diffused through the ICCP reports and scientists have thus no need to attend the COPs. Whether or not politicians listen to science or not is not determined by my presence at a COP.

COP summits are more politically than scientifically motivated. However, they are based on the factual basis provided by ICCP reports. The COPs mainly attract other stakeholders than scientists, such as government representatives, spokespersons for environmentalist pressure groups and lobbyists representing the interests of fossil fuel-based industries, as well as oil and coal producing companies. Many such lobbyists try to find a place among decision makers, while environmentalists might be looking for political scapegoats.

People and organisations are trying to highlight their own, often specific interests, some of them being based on doubtful assumptions and moral priorities. Environmentalists have often demanded that certain interest groups be excluded from COP summits, like those lobbying for the use of fossil fuels, interests of oil producers, as well as industrialists who, for the sake of their own profit, try to minimize the threat from global warming.

Nevertheless, it is important that influential stakeholders are present . The global outreach demands this. Everyone has to be allowed to have their voice and concerns heard, as well as being provided with an opportunity to be informed about scientific achievements, new environmentally friendly technologies, and the threats of global warming.

Industrialization based on non-polluting and zero emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as new eco-friendly technology, are essential for change and improvement. Environmentalism’s contributions are also important. Like most revolutionary movements radical environmentalists highlight political and capitalist motivational reasons and misconduct, while they demand change and sacrifice. Historically did socialists and suffragettes contribute to emancipation and justice. However, some revolutionaries have turned into fanatics, and some have concentrated on relatively minor but easily targeted issues while ignoring an overall picture. For example, opponents to air travel are maybe not fully aware of the fact that it actually contributes to only three percent of global greenhouse emissions, while private cars and other fossil-fuel based transportation means account for much more of carbon dioxide emissions . It might be stated that it would be more beneficial for the environment to limit the use of your car, than avoid travelling by air. Veganism may be considered as beneficial when it comes to emission of greenhouse gases, though methane emissions from ruminating animals constitutes less than five percent of greenhouse gas emissions. If we could stop throwing away a third of all the food we produce, this would be much more efficient and would also have other benefits. However, every effort to limit greenhouse emissions is worthy of attention, though decisive and comprehensive political actions are particularly crucial for achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. It is not enough to limit them; they must be eliminated.

IPS: But can COPs really have the impact you could wish for?

Michael Tjernström: In several respects, development is moving in the wrong direction, especially when it comes to acquiring knowledge. Many confide in badly informed, or even deceitful, social media and populist politicians. In certain circles a negative attitude to research and science is thriving. Science might by such groups be perceived as an essentially separate activity, practiced by an intellectual elite devoting itself to mutual admiration.

The COPs make participants aware of the fatal threat of global warming. But more than that, it also makes the general public aware and therefore participants can be held accountable for their actions, or lack thereof, and are through legally binding agreements forced to take social and economic measures to amend the ongoing destruction of natural resources, and the atmosphere.

IPS: What exactly is ICCP and what is its connection with the COPs

Michael Tjernström: Generally speaking, people are not knowledgeable, most don’t know what ICCP is. The task of ICCP, i.e. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is to advance scientific knowledge about climate change caused by human activities and it does so by examining all relevant scientific literature on the subject. This comprehensive review and dissemination of scientific insights and research results include natural, economic and social impacts and risks. ICCP also covers possible responsive options. IPCC does not conduct its own original research, its mandate is to survey the research situation, while aiming at being objective and comprehensive, and only openly published results that have already been reviewed by experts can be used. Thousands of scientists and other experts then volunteer to review the findings and publications of ICCP, before its key findings are compiled into a Synthesis Report intended for policymakers and the general public. Experts have described the work of ICCP as the biggest peer review of the global scientific community. COP28 will discuss the 6th ICCP Synthesis Report, issued in March 2023.

Most climate-related risks assessed in the Fifth Synthesis Report, issued in 2014, are in the Sixth Report deemed to be higher than earlier predicted and projected long-term impacts are worse than they were assumed to be in 2014. The Sixth Synthesis Report highlights that climatic and non-climatic risks will increasingly interact, creating compound and cascading risks, which will be extremely difficult to manage. The confidence of the conclusions has also been gradually increasing across the reports.

The development of climatological research is quite fast, the lag in actual efforts to halt global warming is mainly to be found in decisive decision-making. The original ICCP reports contain tens of thousands of pages that few decision-makers can assimilate. The summary for policy makers is reviewed and edited by several stakeholders. Efforts may thus be made to mitigate alarming findings and adapt them to political concerns. However, changes and adaptions are carefully wetted in order to secure that none of them contradict actual and fact-based research results, predictions and warnings.

IPS: Do you perceive yourself as a pessimist, or as an optimist?

Michael Tjernström: I am both hopeful and worried. As a researcher I cannot allow myself to fall victim to paralyzing dystopias. As a scientist I contribute to the measurement of climatological processes, while taking the pulse of the current situation, but also looking for trends and measures to mitigate, and perhaps even hinder, a worrisome development. Accordingly, a scientist has to be a kind of optimist even in the face of despair. Furthermore, I consider that my role as a researcher has to involve the popularization and dissemination of research results. A role I appreciate and feel comfortable with.

It is reasonable that we in the West, who so far have contributed by far the most to the ongoing climatological damage, also take our responsibility when it comes to mitigation and adaptation. We have the technological, historical and scientific prerequisites to make amends for all the damage we have caused and should therefore also go into the breach for the realisation of necessary improvements, while contributing to the economic means to do so.

But the picture is complicated. China is making great progress in climate research, but is at the same time contributing to the world’s largest emissions of greenhouse gases in total, and is number two in the world in per capita emissions, yet is still claiming they should still be treated as a developing country and indeed has a large poor population in the face of a rapidly growing middle class. Africa is lagging behind in its industrial development and consequently have limited emissions, but must nevertheless already now end its dependence on fossil fuels.

We in the West live well and safely and could without any major problems dismiss a lot of the gratuitous comfort we currently are enjoying. The drama is undeniable, even when the Paris Agreement was signed it was by some researchers pointed out that the 1.5 target was unattainable in reality. There is much talk about tipping points, when much of the existing ecological balance suddenly collapses, and that this might happen at a two degree rise in global temperature. But contributing factors are manifold and I don’t believe it will be happening in the near future. There is no really compelling evidence for most of these suggested tipping points. The most important thing is to immediately stop the burning of fossil fuels. In spite of all, I assume that much can and will be done to stop the worrisome development.

IPS interchange with Professor Tjernström was quite extensive and informative. In a following article we will return to Professor Tjernström describing his own research and thoughts about current, and future climatological changes.

IPS UN Bureau


Brazil: A Step Forward for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

Civil Society, Climate Change, Environment, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: Evaristo Sa/AFP via Getty Images

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Oct 24 2023 (IPS) – Brazil’s Supreme Court has delivered a long-awaited ruling upholding Brazilian Indigenous peoples’ claims to their traditional land. It did so by rejecting the ‘Temporal Framework’ principle, which only allowed for the demarcation and titling of lands physically occupied by the Indigenous groups who claimed them by 5 October 1988, when the current constitution was adopted. This excluded the numerous Indigenous communities who’d been violently expelled from their ancestral lands before then, including under military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985.

The case was brought in relation to a land dispute in the state of Santa Catarina, but the ruling applies to hundreds of similar situations throughout Brazil.

This was also good news for the climate. Brazil is home to 60 per cent of the Amazon rainforest, a key climate stabiliser due to the enormous amount of carbon it stores and the water it releases into the atmosphere. Most of Brazil’s roughly 800 Indigenous territories – over 300 of which are yet to be officially demarcated – are in the Amazon. And there are no better guardians of the rainforest than Indigenous peoples: when they fend off deforestation, they protect their livelihoods and ways of life. The best-preserved areas of the Amazon are those legally recognised and protected as Indigenous lands.

But there’s been a sting in the tale: politicians backed by the powerful agribusiness lobby have passed legislation to enshrine the Temporal Framework, blatantly ignoring the court ruling.

A tug of war

The Supreme Court victory came after a long struggle. Hundreds of Indigenous mobilisations over several years called for the rejection of the Temporal Framework.

Powerful agribusiness interests presented the Temporal Framework as the proper way of regulating article 231 of the constitution in a way that provides the legal security rural producers need to continue to operate. Indigenous rights groups denounced it as a clear attempt to make theft of Indigenous lands legal. Regional and international human rights mechanisms sided with them: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples warned that the framework contradicted universal and Inter-American human rights standards.

In their 21 September decision, nine of the Supreme Court’s 11 members ruled the Temporal Framework to be unconstitutional. With a track record of agribusiness-friendly rulings, the two judges who backed it had been appointed by former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, and one of them had also been Bolsonaro’s justice minister.

As the Supreme Court held its hearings and deliberations, political change took hold. Bolsonaro had vowed ‘not to cede one centimetre more of land’ to Indigenous peoples, and the process of land demarcation had remained stalled for years. But in April 2023, President Lula da Silva, in power since January, signed decrees recognising six new Indigenous territories and promised to approve all pending cases before the end of his term in 2026, a promise consistent with the commitment to achieve zero deforestation by 2030. The recognition of two additional reserves in September came alongside news that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon had fallen by 66 per cent in August compared to the same month in 2022.

Agribusiness fights back

But the agribusiness lobby didn’t simply accept its fate. The powerful ruralist congressional caucus introduced a bill to enshrine the Temporal Framework principle into law, which the Chamber of Deputies quickly passed on 30 May. The vote was accompanied by protests, with Indigenous groups blocking a major highway. They faced the police with their ceremonial bows and arrows and were dispersed with water cannon and teargas.

The Temporal Framework bill continued its course through Congress even after the Supreme Court’s decision. On 27 September, with 43 votes for and 21 against, the Senate approved it as a matter of ‘urgency’, rejecting the substance of the Supreme Court ruling and claiming that in issuing it the court had ‘usurped’ legislative powers.

The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil’s (APIB) assessment was that, as well as upholding the Temporal Framework, the bill sought to open the door to commodity production and infrastructure construction in Indigenous lands, among other serious violations of Indigenous rights. For these reasons, Indigenous groups called this the ‘Indigenous Genocide Bill’.

The struggle goes on

As the 20 October deadline for President Lula to either sign or veto the bill approached, a campaign led by Indigenous congresswoman Célia Xakriabá collected almost a million signatures backing her call for a total veto. Along with other civil society groups, APIB sent an urgent appeal to the UN requesting support to urge Lula to veto the bill.

On 19 October the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office said Lula should veto the bill on the basis that it’s unconstitutional. On the same day, however, senior government sources informed that there wouldn’t be a total veto, but a ‘very large’ partial one. And indeed, the next day it was announced that Lula had partially vetoed the bill. According to a government spokesperson, all the clauses that constituted attacks on Indigenous rights and went against the Constitution were vetoed, while the ones that remained would serve to improve the land demarcation process, making it more transparent.

Even if the part of the bill that wasn’t vetoed doesn’t undermine the Supreme Court ruling, the issue is far from settled. The veto now needs to be analysed at a congressional session on a date yet to be determined. And the agribusiness lobby won’t back down easily. Many politicians own land overlapping Indigenous territories, and many more received campaigns funding from farmers who occupy Indigenous lands.

While further moves by the right-leaning Congress can’t be ruled out, the Supreme Court ruling also has some problems. The most blatant concerns the acknowledgment that there must be ‘fair compensation’ for non-Indigenous people occupying Indigenous lands they acquired ‘in good faith’ before the state considered them to be Indigenous territory. Indigenous groups contend that, while there might be a very small number of such cases, in a context of increasing violence against Indigenous communities, the compensation proposal would reward and further incentivise illegal invasions.

But beneath the surface of political squabbles, deeper changes are taking place that point to a movement that is growing stronger and better equipped to defend Indigenous peoples’ rights.

The 2022 census showed a 90-per-cent increase, from 896,917 to 1.69 million, in the number of Brazilians identifying as Indigenous compared to the census 12 years before. There was no demographic boom behind these numbers – just longstanding work by the Indigenous movement to increase visibility and respect for Indigenous identities. People who’d long ignored and denied their heritage to protect themselves from racism are now reclaiming their Indigenous identities. Not even the violent anti-Indigenous stance of the Bolsonaro administration could reverse this.

Today the Brazilian Indigenous movement is stronger than ever. President Lula owes his election to positioning himself as an alternative to his anti-rights, climate-denying predecessor. He now has the opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to respecting Indigenous peoples’ rights while tackling the climate crisis.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


Brazil Back on the Green Track

Credit: Mauro Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images

By Inés M. Pousadela
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Jul 24 2023 (IPS)

At a meeting with European and Latin American leaders in Brussels this July, Brazil’s President Lula da Silva reiterated the bold commitment he had made in his first international speech as president-elect, when he attended the COP27 climate summit in November 2022: bringing Amazon deforestation down to zero by 2030.

Lula’s presence at COP27 was a signal to the world that Brazil was willing to become the climate champion it needs to be. Following a request by the Brazilian Forum of NGOs and Social Movements for Environment and Development, Lula offered to host the 2025 climate summit in Brazil; it has now been confirmed that COP30 will be held in Belém, gateway to the Amazon River.

At COP27 Lula also said he intended to revive and modernise the 45-year old Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organisation, a body bringing together the eight Amazonian countries – Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela – to take concerted steps to protect the Amazon rainforest.

Four years of regression

In his four years in office, Lula’s far-right climate-denier predecessor Jair Bolsonaro dismantled environmental protections and paralysed key environmental agencies by cutting their funding and staff. He vilified civil society, criminalised activists and discredited the media. He allowed deforestation to proceed at an astonishing pace and emboldened businesses to grab land, clear it for agriculture by starting fires and carry out illegal logging and mining.

Under Bolsonaro, already embattled Indigenous communities and activists became even more vulnerable to attacks. By encouraging environmental plunder, including on protected and Indigenous land, the government enabled violence against environmental and Indigenous peoples’ rights defenders. A blatant example was the murder of Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips in June 2022. The two were ambushed and killed on the orders of the head of an illegal transnational fishing network. Both the material and intellectual authors of the crimes have now been charged and await trial.

Reversing the regression

Having being elected on a promise to reverse environmental destruction, the new administration has sought to restructure and resource monitoring and enforcement institutions. It strengthened the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), the federal agency in charge of enforcing environmental policy, and the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples (FUNAI), which for the first time is now headed by an Indigenous person, Joenia Wapichana.

Bolsonaro had transferred FUNAI to the Ministry of Agriculture, run by a leader of the congressional agribusiness caucus. Instead of protecting Indigenous land, it enabled deforestation and the expansion of agribusiness.

In contrast, Lula’s first political gestures were to create a new ministry for Indigenous peoples’ affairs, appointing Indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara to lead it, and to make Marina Silva, a leader of the environmentalist party Rede Sustentabilidade, Minister for the Environment, a position she had held between 2003 and 2008.

Lula also restored the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Amazon, launched in 2004 and implemented until Bolsonaro took over. In February, the government set up a Permanent Inter-Ministerial Commission for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation and Fires in Brazil to coordinate actions across 19 ministries and develop zero deforestation policies.

The strategy establishes a permanent federal government presence in vulnerable areas with the aim of eliminating illegal activities, setting up bases and using intelligence and satellite imagery to track criminal activity.

The newly appointed Federal Police’s Director for the Amazon and the Environment, Humberto Freire, launched a campaign to rid protected Indigenous land of illegal miners. It appears to be paying off: in July he announced that around 90 per cent of miners operating in Yanomami territory, Brazil’s largest protected Indigenous land, had been expelled. According to police sources, there were 19 mine-related deforestation alerts in April 2023 – compared to 444 in April 2022.

But the fight isn’t over. There are still a couple of thousand miners active and the criminal enterprises employing them remain very much alive. The key task of recovering damaged land and rivers can only begin once they’re all driven away for good. And an issue that cries out for international cooperation remains unresolved: violence and environmental degradation continue unabated in Yanomami communities across the border in Venezuela, and will only increase as illegal miners jump jurisdictions.

Achieving the ambitious zero-deforestation goal will require efforts on a much bigger scale than those of the past. And such efforts will further antagonise very powerful people.

Obstacles ahead

With the environmental agenda back on track, the pace of Amazon deforestation slowed down in the first six months of 2023, falling by 34 per cent compared to the same period in 2022. However, numbers still remain high and reductions are uneven, with two states – Roraima and Tocantins – showing increases. Deforestation is also still rising in another important part of Brazil’s environment, the Cerrado, where preservation areas are few and most deforestation happens on private properties.

For the Amazon, a crucial test will come in the second half of the year, when temperatures are higher. A stronger El Niño phase, with warming waters in the Pacific Ocean, will make the weather even drier and hotter than usual, helping fires spread fast. Anticipating this, IBAMA has scaled up its recruitment of firefighters to expand brigades in Indigenous and Black communities and conduct inspections and impose fines and embargoes. To discourage people from starting fires to clear land for agriculture, the agency prevents them putting that land to agricultural use.

But in the meantime, Brazil’s Congress has gone on the offensive. In June, the Senate made radical amendments to the bill on ministries sent by Lula, diluting the powers of the Ministries of Indigenous Peoples and Environment and limiting demarcation of Indigenous lands to those already occupied by communities by 1998, when the current constitution was enacted.

Indigenous leaders have complained that many communities weren’t on their land in 1998 because they’d been expelled over the course of centuries, and particularly during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship. They denounced the new law as ‘legal genocide’ and urged the president to veto it. Civil society has taken to the streets and social media to support the government’s environmental policies.

They face a formidable enemy. A recent report by the Brazilian Intelligence Agency exposed the political connections of illegal mining companies. Two business leaders directly associated with this criminal activity are active congressional lobbyists and maintain strong links with local politicians. They also stand accused of financing an attempted insurrection on 8 January.

Against these shady elites, civil society wields the most effective weapon at its disposal, shining a light on their dealings and letting them know that Brazil and the world are watching, and will remain vigilant for as long as it takes. The stakes are too high to drop the guard.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


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