What’s good for the climate may not always be good for the neighbours of renewable energy projects, a report from the UK-based Business & Human Rights Resource Centre finds. The German Heinrich Böll Stiftung Foundation, meanwhile, calls for a sharp turn of international policy to “build a fair future in a 1.5º world.”
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre says it “has received 115 allegations of human rights abuse regarding renewable companies since 2005—94 since 2010.” When the centre asked 50 renewable energy companies about their policies regarding human rights, it adds, it “found an alarming lack of transparency, awareness, and implementation of responsibilities.” While nearly three dozen companies had “some commitment to consult with local communities, these vary significantly and the majority are weak or non-existent.” Only one in 10 explicitly mentioned Indigenous peoples’ internationally-recognied right to free, prior, and informed consent.
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“There is an alarming disconnect between companies’ policies and practice at the project site level,” the centre adds. “Local communities are faced with some of the most damaging impacts, including dispossession of their lands, livelihoods undermined, threats and intimidation, killings, displacement, among other abuses.” The report blames “a lack of adequate human rights due diligence procedures and impact assessment” for many of the abuses.
“Renewable energy plays an essential role in our urgent shift to a green economy,” the UK centre’s executive director Phil Bloomer states. “But wind and hydropower companies will not be able to drive this transformation at the expense of poor peoples’ land and livelihoods. Companies should act now to radically strengthen their respect for human rights.”
In another study, the German Heinrich Böll Stiftung Foundation identifies a similar disconnect between “countries of the Global North [that] are largely responsible for climate change with their fossil-fueled development and growing predilection for sports cars, air travel, steaks, and power-hungry electronics,” and “the consequences of this development which are being felt especially strongly by the Global South, which has far fewer financial and technical resources to adapt to increasing droughts, storms, and floods.”
Developed countries shouldn’t be allowed to indulge that disconnect through merely voluntary emission reductions, the foundation asserts. “Individual countries should not be allowed to decide for themselves what constitutes equitable climate protection,” its report declares. “Climate justice must be the fundamental principle of climate policy and the benchmark for the initial evaluation of national climate plans of all countries in 2018. This includes requiring greater contributions toward climate protection from historically responsible countries, as well as ensuring that they support poor countries adequately.”
The report includes specific recommendations for achieving a fairer climate response. It calls for a rail-based transportation system that phases out internal combustion and private car traffic, as well as a policy-driven shift from large-scale, industrial livestock agriculture to “small-scale organic farming and local structures [that] strengthens communities, ensures family farms’ incomes, and avoids CO2 emissions.”
The report questions the foundations of internationally-sanctioned instruments to support Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) as ineffective and often exploitive of local and traditional communities. It calls for “joint management by public authorities, local communities, and civil society [to] guarantee the transparent and democratic protection of forests.”