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Fake Climate Solutions Spread Across Latin America

A map of fake solutions shows projects with climate-friendly intentions or appearances but with counterproductive social and environmental impacts. Indigenous communities are one of the most affected population sectors. Credit: Platform for Climate Justice

A map of fake solutions shows projects with climate-friendly intentions or appearances but with counterproductive social and environmental impacts. Indigenous communities are one of the most affected population sectors. Credit: Platform for Climate Justice

CARACAS, Jun 14 2024 (IPS) - Government and private initiatives and programmes to address the climate crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean are in fact a vast array of fake solutions, according to a new regional map made by environmental organisations in several of its countries.

The map “offers an overview to understand the dynamics and the deceptive language of fake solutions, which allow big polluters to obtain allocations to continue their activities and contribute to global warming,” Ivonne Yánez, president of Ecuador’s Acción Ecológica, told IPS.

Made by the Latin American and Caribbean Platform for Climate Justice, a network of environmental groups, the map shows the fake solutions of dozens of projects for green energy and the production of its inputs, and for storing carbon in forests, other ecosystems and agricultural systems.

There are also geoengineering projects to prevent climate change, and climate change adaptation based on ecosystems, infrastructure and engineering projects.

"The map offers an overview to understand the dynamics and the deceptive language of fake solutions, which allow big polluters to obtain allocations to continue their activities and contribute to global warming": Ivonne Yánez

“More than a format, it is a tool for visibility, a pedagogical tool that joins very diverse players, such as scholars, researchers, NGOs and activists gathered in the Platform,” said Liliana Buitrago, a researcher at the Observatory of Political Ecology of Venezuela, which released the map in May, to IPS.

The network “states that transition initiatives coming from the territorial fabric and communities, outside the frameworks imposed by the green economy, corporate greenwashing and corporate capture” of carbon emissions, “are urgent,” Buitrago said.

Presenting the map, Yánez explained that “what green capitalism seeks is not only to appropriate nature’s ability to cleanse itself, to recreate life, to photosynthesise”.

“Through fake solutions, it also takes advantage of and appropriates what indigenous peoples have done for thousands of years, which is protecting and taking care of forests, or peasants that care for the soil. And for what? To carry on an escalation of fossil fuel extraction,” said the activist.

In March 2021, environmentalists from Greenpeace threw green paint on the fuselage of an Air France plane at Paris airport to protest the company's purchase of carbon credits. Major firms purchased the offsets without backtracking on the expansion of carbon-intensive operations. Credit: Fenis Meyer / Greenpeace

In March 2021, environmentalists from Greenpeace threw green paint on the fuselage of an Air France plane at Paris airport to protest the company’s purchase of carbon credits. Major firms purchased the offsets without backtracking on the expansion of carbon-intensive operations. Credit: Fenis Meyer / Greenpeace

Carbon, an unscathed villain

An analysis of the 83 cases that make up the first map – 100 more will appear in future editions – shows that 70 per cent of fake solutions to the climate crisis are privately funded, and that indigenous communities and small farmers are the most affected.

The most common among fake solution categories are projects to store carbon in forests, other ecosystems and agricultural systems, in 50 per cent of cases.

REDD+ projects (Reducing Emissions – mainly carbon dioxide, CO2 – from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries) account for 33 per cent of the cases.

The REDD+ framework allows countries to issue and market carbon offset certifications “that are put in the financial system at the disposal of companies that want to use them as licenses to continue polluting and generating emissions”, criticizes Yánez.

Wind energy projects, and new forestry plantations justified by carbon sequestration, comprise 10 and 11 per cent of the projects on the map.

The Platform considers the recent launch of blue carbon credits (debt issues that finance ecosystem conservation projects) in oil-producing Trinidad and Tobago, for work in the southwest of Tobago and in the Caroni swamp in Trinidad, as a form of greenwashing.

In Brazil, among several cases, Portel-Pará is shown at the head of four carbon storage projects in 7,000 square kilometres of forests and other ecosystems, through land negotiations and agreements on deforestation boundaries with communities in the northern Amazonian state of Pará.

The Latin American platform Alianza Biodiversidad criticises that these projects create carbon credits that are bought by large firms that continue to pollute, such as Repsol (oil), Air France, Delta Airlines and Boeing (aviation), Amazon and Aldi (commerce) or Samsung and Toshiba (technology).

View of a solar farm in Namasigue, southern Honduras. In several countries in the region, large solar and wind energy installations force the displacement of communities, due to alterations in land tenure and use, with impacts on water and crops. Credit: Scatec / Cepad

View of a solar farm in Namasigue, southern Honduras. In several countries in the region, large solar and wind energy installations force the displacement of communities, due to alterations in land tenure and use, with impacts on water and crops. Credit: Scatec / Cepad

Displaced people, a cliché

Looking at the map from North to South, the fake solutions start in Mexico, with the example of lithium mining in 13 salt flats in the states of Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí (north-central Mexico) by the Canadian firm Advance Gold Corp.

This project has caused displacement of peasant populations, pollution, and changes in land ownership and use.

Projects for solar photovoltaic power plants in Quetzaltepeque (eastern Guatemala) and Namasigüe (southern Honduras), run by private consortiums with capitals from the Norwegian firm Scatec, have in common the displacement of peasant and fishing populations, loss of habitats and biodiversity.

In Colombia, the San José ranch received funding from the Green Climate Fund and Dutch banks for a project in the eastern department of Vichada to expand its cattle herd from 9,000 head on 8,000 hectares to 750,000 animals on 180,000 hectares.

The company is singled out in the Fund for sequestering more carbon than it emits, but the Platform questions the cattle expansion’s contribution to climate and highlights risks to a neighbouring reservation of the Sikuani people.

Helicopter view of the last, diminished glacier in the Venezuelan Andes, whose end is being delayed with plastic sheeting. Some climate action initiatives are not only misguided in their goals and approaches, but can also become pollution hotspots. Credit: Minec

Helicopter view of the last, diminished glacier in the Venezuelan Andes, whose end is being delayed with plastic sheeting. Some climate action initiatives are not only misguided in their goals and approaches, but can also become pollution hotspots. Credit: Minec

Energy with colour

In Costa Rica, a hydroelectric “green energy” facility was proposed in 2013 in the southwestern canton of Pérez Zeledón. It lacked the necessary documentation, had falsified land-use permits by the mayor’s office, and would cause foreseeable pollution and loss of habitats and biodiversity.

The state environmental technical secretariat granted it expedited permits but, in the face of public criticism and rejection, the government cancelled the project.

In Jamaica, a “green energy” project has been underway since 2016, 90 kilometres west of Kingston. A wind farm of 11 wind turbines, with funding from the United States and Canada, is supposed to cover three percent of the island’s electricity demand and reduce emissions by 66,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

The map points out that, at the same time, Jamaica is handing out concessions for bauxite mining and aluminium reduction, a key material for energy transition but whose production causes desertification, disease, and deepens extractivism.

The Dominican Republic hosts the largest photovoltaic power plant in the Antilles, the Girasol solar park, in the southern municipality of Yaguate, west of Santo Domingo. It has 268,200 panels installed, with an investment of 100 million dollars by the Cayman Islands-based firm Haina Investment.

The map shows the changes in territorial dynamics, the relationship of locals with the environment, and the impact caused in the lands from which minerals are extracted to produce the installed technology.

Monocultures and deaf ears

In 2006, oil-producing Venezuela presented a project for ethanol production with sugar mills, using sugar cane grown on 300,000 hectares in the southwestern plains. This never came to fruition but showed an inclination to favour monoculture for fuels instead of diversified food production.

The map also shows the country recently initiated a project to slow down the extinction of its last glacier, more than 4,000 metres above sea level on Humboldt Peak, in the southwestern Andes, by covering it with polystyrene mesh.

The project ignored recommendations from the University of the Andes concerning risks in its implementation, plastic pollution of air, water and soil, and because it will not prevent the glacier from melting due to global warming.

The Luxembourg-based Arbaro Fund, active in seven countries in the South, bought 1,080 hectares of land in three Ecuadorean provinces and is planning another 500 hectares for monoculture tree plantations, whose management aims, in theory, to protect the environment and capture CO2.

The same fund acquired 9,000 hectares in the central department of San Pedro in Paraguay, and two thirds will be planted with eucalyptus trees. The Platform warns that the project legalises land grabbing, with devastating effects on the environment and on indigenous and small farming communities.

Some 100 civil society organisations alerted the Green Climate Fund in 2020 about the harm small farmers may suffer from land regime change and pollution, plus the loss of habitats, biodiversity and agro-diversity. However, Arbaro Fund received 25 million dollars to support its plantations.

A view of Yasuní National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon, where a nationwide public consultation determined a major oil field was to be left in the ground undeveloped. Environmental groups see these measures and initiatives as part of a successful climate drive. Credit: Snap

A view of Yasuní National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon, where a nationwide public consultation determined a major oil field was to be left in the ground undeveloped. Environmental groups see these measures and initiatives as part of a successful climate drive. Credit: Snap

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A stark contrast to the “fake solutions” on the map are initiatives such as Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s decision to set a deadline on his country’s dependence on fossil fuels, or the rejection of certain oil and mining operations decided in a referendum by the people of Ecuador.

“The people’s decision to leave oil in the ground is a clear contribution to the fight against climate change, as is the decision to ban mining in the Andean Chocó, which is rich in biodiversity,” Yánez stressed.

In the referendum held on 20 August 2023, 59 per cent of Ecuadorians voted to prevent oil exploitation in the Yasuní national park in the Amazon. In Quito, 68 per cent of the vote vetoed gold and copper prospecting in the Andean Chocó area, west of the capital.

Buitrago believes that, “far from being solutions to the problem, fake solutions are ways of perpetuating the extractivist and exploitative model of accumulation that has caused the climate crisis”.

That is why the map, by showing contrasts and criticisms of fake solutions, “also seeks to state that other organisations can make the real ones visible”, said Yánez.

 
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