On The Ground And In The Boardrooms – Strategies For Connecting Frontline Struggles With Corporate Capture Of Climate Policy

Thomas Mc Donagh and Philippa de Boissière report from Lima as the Democracy Center launches its new report: Climate Conquistadors – The Many Ways Multinationals Both Drive and Profit from Climate Destruction.

After spending many months focusing on how to make the most strategic use of the arrival of the UN climate negotiations to Latin America in 2014, the Democracy Center team finally arrived into Lima, Peru last Friday.


Members of the Democracy Center team in Lima

Our arrival coincided with two pieces of tragic news from the region.

Reports came in of the murders of indigenous environmental activists defending their communities and natural resources both in Ecuador and Peru (Peru is now the fourth most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists).

The Peruvian government, meanwhile, continues its push to ‘reactivate the Peruvian economy’ by cutting back environmental regulations for extractives projects.

The connection between the resistance of communities in Latin America to extractive industry expansion and the national and international policy spaces that facilitate this expansion has been a major focus of our work recently.

It was sad to see such a vivid demonstration of the same dynamics we’ve observed during our research over the last few months playing out on the ground in the region just as the COP20 has been getting started.

Although the media has covered the deaths of the indigenous community leaders, the headlines for the last week have mostly been dominated by the inflated promises of national governments seeking to maintain ‘Business As Usual’ in the official negotiation spaces.

You really have to push past the barrage of spin and PR to hear the voices of those on the frontlines of the struggle for climate justice. But once you do, what you hear are strong calls for restrictions on extractive projects such as large-scale mining and oil and gas expansion; demands for full and effective participation of affected communities in decisions that affect their territories; calls for accountability for the abuses by the corporations that profit from these destructive industries; and inspiring stories of communities bravely resisting the encroachment of climate change-causing industries in to their territories.

Corporate_Conquistadors English cover image-EN-cover

These are also the stories of the communities featured in our new ‘Corporate Conquistadors‘ report.

In the southeastern Peruvian Amazon, indigenous communities have been making some of these same calls for justice and accountability for many years. As the negotiations take place within their nation’s capital, these communities are witnessing first hand the consequences of the expansion of the fossil fuel industry into ever more vulnerable and remote regions of our planet.

Communities in the Espinar region of the southern Peruvian Andes are also on the frontlines. In a region that is already witnessing its glaciers melting at accelerated speeds, toxic chemicals used in mining processes are destroying their remaining fresh water sources, putting the very survival of these communities in question.

The struggle of farmers and fisherfolk of the Colombian province of Huila is also representative of many of these same dynamics. Community members from across seven municipalities are taking on a planned large-scale hydro electric dam, drawing on a mix of direct action tactics and legal challenges to force the corporations responsible out of the region.

Although the communities at the frontline of these projects struggle to have their voices heard in national and international policy spaces, the same cannot be said for the foreign corporations profiting from such destruction.

We have teamed up with Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute to use the COP20 as an opportunity to shine an urgent light on how three European multinational corporations – emblematic of corporate misconduct the world over – avoid accountability for the social and environmental destruction that they cause in Latin America. This new report aims to show how corporate activity, across three sectors, is exacerbating the climate crisis while the multinationals responsible manipulate political decision making spaces and profit from a lack of real progress on climate change.

How does Glencore-Xtrata steer international policy spaces towards its interests? While the Swiss-based conglomerate causes severe human rights abuses in southern Peru, what are the mechanisms it uses to ensure no decisions are made that would affect its existing destructive business model?

While Repsol likes to present itself as a “global company looking out for the well-being of all people”, what it doesn’t let on is that it is investing in future fossil fuel reserves at the highest rate in the industry. Its insatiable thirst for oil and gas is resulting in expansion into ever more remote and vulnerable parts of our planet. In its wake it is leaving destruction of indigenous peoples’ territories and Amazon rainforest. How does this dirty energy giant make sure it has a seat at the top table when we set our climate policies?


Contributors launch the ‘Corporate Conquistadors’ report in Lima during COP20

The third of these corporate giants featured in Corporate Conquistadors – the report we are launching today – also presents a clean and responsible image to the world while causing human rights abuses and blocking progress on the climate crisis. Italian-based Enel-Endesa, through its Colombian subsidiary Emgesa, is using a lucrative big hydroelectric project called ‘El Quimbo’ to provide a “green” veneer to its operations and to allow it to earn carbon credits for its European dirty energy business. Far from being “carbon neutral”, these mega-hydroelectric projects are high in emissions and provide cheap energy to ramp up fossil fuel extraction elsewhere. How does Enel-Endesa’s international web of political influence ensure that these false solutions to the climate crisis are included in international climate policy?

The lines have clearly been drawn in the international climate movement. Frontline communities and activists all over the world can see more clearly than ever that the interests of these corporate giants and those of climate justice are in direct conflict.

However, if we are to begin to take them on, we need a much clearer understanding of the ways in which they accumulate and exercise power. By exposing and denouncing the connections between corporations and our decision makers we can begin to delegitimize their seat at the negotiating table on climate change policy. If we can do this while lifting up the voices of marginalized frontline communities, we have a much stronger chance of broadening and strengthening international solidarity.

What we’re doing here in Lima is just the beginning of a longer-term process to connect struggles on the frontlines with efforts to keep dirty industry away from our policy makers. On Thursday we will be running a two-hour planning session with community members within the People’s Summit to think through how to build the stronger links of solidarity that are needed to form the basis for international action.

We hope to ramp up this strategy in the next year, with the aim of building citizen power toward, and beyond, COP21 in Paris. This way, we can start to tip the balance of power away from the vested corporate interests that currently have a stranglehold on international climate policy.

Read more about the report and download Corporate Conquistadors: The Many Ways Multinationals Both Drive and Profit from Climate Change

See/hear/read Amy Goodman interviewing Pascoe Sabido of Corporate Europe Observatory about the report for Democracy Now!


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