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How Ireland Banned Fracking – The Importance of Connecting Across Struggles

Global Frackdown 2017 – the international day of action against fracking – has a particular significance in the Republic of Ireland this year.  It will be marked by a huge party in Leitrim in North West Ireland – the centre of resistance to fracking in the country – celebrating the national ban on onshore fracking approved by the parliament on the 28th June 2017.

More on fracking

"Not here, not anywhere": Questions for fracking movements in the Global North

Democracy Center team members Philippa de Boissière and Thomas Mc Donagh were in the Irish Parliament to see the Bill finalised and were later able to sit down with eight people involved in different capacities in the Irish campaign. Our interviewees were Meg Rybicki and Lucy Maunsell from the North West Network Against Fracking; Nuala Mc Nulty, Eddie Mitchell, Scott Coombs, Jamie Murphy and Dervilla Keegan from Love Leitrim; and Donal O’Kelly from Dublin-based NGO, AFRI-Action from Ireland. We discussed many aspects of the campaign and one of the things that came across really strongly in our conversations was the importance of connecting across struggles – a constant conversation in activist communities all over the world.

At a time when it has never been more urgent to prevent the expansion of extractive projects and with our dire international political moment placing renewed emphasis on local action, here we present some of the insight gained from these experienced campaigners about the role and importance of connecting across struggles generally – looking in detail at three examples of how these connections occurred in the context of the Irish campaign, and some of the general lessons that can be drawn for campaigns elsewhere.

Connection 1 – Down the Road – The Corrib

”The first time the word fracking was used in Leitrim as far as I know” recounts Donal O’Kelly “was in the Glens Arts Centre when we showed Risteard O’Domhnaill’s documentary, ‘The Pipe’, and got a few of the people who’d opposed [Shell’s project in Mayo] to come over from Mayo to Manorhamilton to be there”.

The Scottish moratorium

Interview with Callum McLeod, Our Forth, Scotland

After the documentary screening John Monaghan – who features in The Pipe – took part in a post-screening group discussion. When asked about some emerging news of potential gas exploration in the Lough Allen basin in the North West of Ireland, he said “if it’s gas exploration and they’re using hydraulic fracturing – fracking – you need to watch a documentary called Gaslands’.

St. Patrick’s Day parade, Sligo 2012. North West Network Against Fracking.

Monaghan wasn’t just speaking with the authority of a professional chemical engineer, he was also by now a well-known seasoned activist who’d been at the centre of one of the most controversial resistance battles by local communities against the fossil fuel industry in Irish history – The Corrib Gas controversy, about which ‘The Pipe’ was made.

According to Donal O’Kelly, looking back on the event, “if he hadn’t done that, it would have been months before the wheels were turning on resistance to [fracking]…in fact within two weeks a touring cinema was going around towns and villages in Leitrim showing Josh Fox’s film Gaslands and loads of people saw it.”

Although international connections were to prove vital to the successful campaign against fracking in Ireland, it was the connection to this struggle much closer to home that was crucial in not just raising the alarm, but also providing some hard won lessons about community organising and combatting the powers that be.

VIDEO: Risteard O’Domhnaill’s documentary beautifully captures the voices of the community members on the frontlines of resisting Shell’s plans to bring gas onshore to be processed in a remote rural community in the Corrib basin in County Mayo. The resulting conflict saw five community members spend 94 days in prison at the behest of Shell; witnessed police and private security repression and corruption, as well as the infiltration of activist groups by British police. It has also severely damaged and divided the local community. In the words of local resident and campaigner Willie Corduff “it will never be the same, never, never…it left a mark on the community that will never be healed.”

That initial warning from the Corrib campaigners about the prospect of fracking for those in Leitrim in 2011 was followed in 2012 with a meeting in a remote primary school in county Mayo between what Donal O’Kelly described as ‘the luminaries of the anti-Shell campaign’ – including John Monaghan – and a group of Love Leitrim campaigners.

The meeting was facilitated by Leitrim-based artist-activist Sorcha Fox. In O’Kelly’s words “it was Sorcha Fox who had been down at AFRI events in Rossport in County Mayo and got to know people and just said ‘I have to get these people together in the room so they know each other’.”

In the resulting five-hour meeting, in the words of Eddie Mitchell, ‘our minds were opened to a community much further down the track”. Here, Mitchell talks about the importance of that initial exchange between the Corrib/Rossport campaign and the Leitrim anti-fracking campaign and some of the lessons he drew from it.

Learning from this campaign that was much ‘further down the track’ was to prove invaluable. The lessons were myriad and diverse but included three major themes: coping with divisive strategies from without; handling internal division; and messaging and dealing with the media.

A. Divide and Conquer

One of the consequences of the hard fought Mayo campaign against Shell was the division and conflict sewn between members of the local community, and the repression brought to bear on campaigners by police and private security. Promises of ‘development’ and local jobs versus the desire to preserve local farming and fishing lifestyles pitted neighbour against neighbour. And when political avenues were exhausted, direct action tactics were employed to prevent construction works – that were in turn violently repressed, compounding the division and acrimony.

How a ban on metals mining was won in El Salvador

El Salvador – When The Seeds Of Resistance Bloom

Fracking campaigners were acutely aware of what had happened in Mayo and at every step sought to prevent the same thing happening in their communities. Here, Meg Rybicki and Lucy Maunsell, of the North West Network against Fracking, talk about the importance of the connection to the Corrib campaign (known as Shell to Sea) for them and share some of the ways that they incorporated the lessons learned into their own campaigning work.

One of the main reasons that fracking campaigners avoided similar major confrontations was because they weren’t defending a fracking site. Although southern campaigners were present when the threat of drilling was imminent at a site just across the border in Belcoo in Northern Ireland in 2014, there was never actually an identified site to defend in the Republic.  Nevertheless there were other ways in which they needed to show restraint, such as when the offer of €20,000 was made to local community groups by the corporation involved, Tamboran.

Eddie Mitchell again:

Meg Rybicki here comments on the way she handled the same issue:

“Luckily we’ve been told about how Devon Energy operated -the CEO of Tamboran started off at Devon Energy…they’ve got thousands of environmental citations against them. And these are the gold-plated, robust regulations he’s talking about”.  Meg Rybicki

B. Divisions Within – The Futility of Control

While ways of countering external tactics intent on splintering the campaign was an important part of the advice from the Corrib, managing internal campaign dynamics was just as important for our interviewees.

Campaign Poster – North West Network Against Fracking

Donal O’Kelly had witnessed the damage some of these dynamics had caused to the campaign in the Corrib. “With people being squashed under this fist of oppression coming down on them, it’s inevitable that this splintering happens..there is a certain generosity of spirit needed.” He goes on: “Some of the advice that came from the Corrib was not to “try to have one big organisation with a few people in charge – and when differences emerge, let it be and agree to differ…because in the resistance to Shell in the Corrib there were splits into different strands of how you do it, and some of them were pretty bitter, but it’s nearly inevitable that that happens.”

‘It’s inevitable that fracturing happens in community resistance campaigns’ Donal O’Kelly

In this clip Eddie Mitchell shares more of the community organising advice that came from the Corrib, including some reflections on managing splits in campaigns and what, for him, is an essential ingredient for successful campaigning: bringing as many people along as possible.

C. The Mainstream Media – Bias and Manipulation

A third, related lesson for our interviewees taken from the Corrib campaign was the role of the mainstream media in portraying the campaign in a negative light and perpetuating and deepening divisions.

According to Donal O’Kelly, “it was very hard for them to counter the whole media bias against them”. So much so that O’Kelly and others were involved in organizing a series of three major events called Airing Erris – all livestreamed to big audiences and focused specifically on calling out the media bias against the challengers to Shell in the Corrib.

Eddie Mitchell was very aware in the early days of the campaign about “all the bad PR they had got [in the Corrib] and people were already saying ‘that this was another Corrib’” – there was a reluctance on their part to be pigeonholed as protestors.

Here, Love Leitrim fracking campaigners Jamie Murphy and Dervilla Keegan reflect on what they learned from the Corrib campaign and how they incorporated that in to their own campaign strategy, particularly in relation to the media. (RTE is the Irish state broadcaster )

Although the battle against Shell in the Corrib proved highly destructive, and ultimately failed to block gas coming ashore on North West Mayo, in terms of generating community expertise and experience that would then nourish the roots of nascent resistance campaigns elsewhere, it proved to be an invaluable asset.

Connection 2 – Jessica Ernst and the Warnings from North America

The connections between the Irish fracking campaign and both individuals and campaigns in North America were wide-ranging. Some of those connections that stood out most for our interviewees included: the work of Tony Ingraffea from Cornell University – mentioned as being both crucial for conceptualizing fracking and understanding what a solid prohibition must include; the work of Theo Colborn looking at the effects of benzine on public health was also highlighted; the visit to a small Irish town by Greg Palast – award-winning investigative journalist and author of Vultures’ Picnic – was remembered as important; as was the brave work of Dr. John O’Connor on exposing the health impacts of the tar sands in Canada.

Love Leitrim Marchers.

However, it was the connection with former industry insider turned anti-fracking campaigner, Jessica Ernst, that made the strongest impression on our interviewees. Her visits to Ireland and public interventions in the debate in key places at key times bolstered the campaign in important ways.

Turning Point

For Love Leitrim’s Nuala McNulty, there was a precise moment in the campaign, at a meeting in the Rainbow Ballroom of Romance in Glenfarn, when she felt an intervention by Ernst helped the campaign to reach a major turning point.

The importance of having somebody like Ernst with the authority of being a former industry player to convince certain sectors in the Irish political landscape was highlighted by several interviewees.

“That was a turning point in the campaign, we had all of the landowners on board after Jessica spoke”. Nuala McNulty

Local Organising.

McNulty also spoke about some of the advice she took from Ernst in terms of local organizing:

Lucy Maunsell reflected on travelling extensively with Ernst on her speaking tours and hearing the advice she gave in numerous locations, particularly on managing difficult campaign relationships and alliances.

“It’s such an attack on your being”. Lucy Maunsell

Both Maunsell and Rybicki also highlighted the importance of having as broad a spectrum of people involved in as broad a range of campaign actions as possible.

Public Health

One of the major contributions of both Ernst and other North American allies was to strengthen the emerging focus of the Irish campaign on public health.

For Eddie Mitchell “we became aware quite quickly that we needed to re-frame things from our point of view, and eventually we realised that our concern was a public health concern. Although there are a lot of environmentalists, people who think we should be talking about climate change and things like that – but our concern was really about the effect on our community”.

Scott Coombs of Love Leitrim talks here about the importance of the connections made with Ernst and the New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eilish Cleary in the context of re-focusing the campaign on the issue of public health.

The role of Concerned Health Professionals of New York was also highlighted by Jamie Murphy and Dervilla Keegan in strengthening the campaign’s public health arguments.

“It wasn’t scaremongering….we’re going with what’s happening in other places” Jamie Murphy

Ernst’s interventions in the public debates as someone with industry experience, her advice in relation to community organising and campaigning, and the scientific research and quantifiable data on health impacts coming through from Ingraffea, Colborn and the Concerned Health Professionals were just some of the ways that the Irish connections to North America helped to strengthen the campaign and prepare the ground for the national ban.

As well as participating in the celebrations in Ireland to mark the Global Frackdown event, Ernst will also be speaking at locations in the UK this October.

Jessica Ernst returns to Europe for a UK Tour – October 2017.

Connection 3 – ‘The Australian Model’ – Annie Kia and Lock the Gate.

A third international connection highlighted by our interviewees was the one with Lock the Gate – the national alliance of grassroots groups resisting the coal and unconventional gas industries in Australia.

Annie Kia, a Lock the Gate coordinator, visited Ireland in 2013. Both her public presentations on her campaigning experience in Australia, and further research and study of ‘the Australian model’ of community organising, provided useful insights that were then incorporated into the Irish fracking campaign.

Meg Rybicki here reflects on some of the lessons learned, particularly in relation to the challenge of appealing to the wider public and the implications of this for messaging and working with the press.

“They had to realise that backlash could start…the media is so captured” Meg Rybicki

Finally, Rybicki and Maunsell went on to reflect on some of the creative actions they used to recruit supporters – always seeking to appear respectable and likeable, even when camped out at road-side protests.

As well as the three connections covered, there were also a number of other encounters organised by campaigners. They included representatives of mining-affected communities in Latin America, including the Conga No Va campaign in Peru; Nimmo Bassey talking about the destruction wrought by Shell in Nigeria; and family members of the victims of the Bhopal-Union Carbide disaster in India. As well as being inspiring and energising, our interviewees talked about how useful their visits were for sharing stories of resistance in much more difficult political contexts, and for flagging future threats.
Campaigns are complex and multifaceted and there are lots of things that make them successful, not least the persistence and determination of campaigners and the political environment they find themselves in. But what came across really clearly in this campaign was that the connections generated to other struggles contributed in very significant ways to the success of the campaign in Ireland.
Pre-election actions in Sligo/Leitrim. North West Network against Fracking.
At a time when activists and campaigners working on extractive and climate issues are constantly looking at how to make effective connections across struggles and build stronger movements, they provide us with some valuable insights into ways of doing this.

Until We Win

From what we’ve heard there a few things that stick out as being particularly important.

Communities that are further down the track in their campaign experience have a great deal of expertise. Oftentimes this expertise has been developed through hard-fought battles with incredibly powerful foes that have left their communities severely damaged. However that experience, when passed on to others, is gold dust to budding campaigners.

It is the direct contact between frontline communities that is most powerful. In the words of Donal O’Kelly: “I always think that that’s the crucial thing, to try to get people to meet, to talk…The truth and honesty of somebody’s testimony is really apparent in their eyes…that makes a deep impact in the listener…I think it’s the best way to learn”.  Sorcha Fox’ instinct right at the start of the fracking campaign that she had to get the Corrib campaigners in the same room as the fracking campaigners was a seasoned activist putting this important general principle into practice to great effect.

People coming from communities that were fracked, their advice was so different from the NGOs – Jessica Ernst told us that ‘Many fleas make big dog move’ -i.e. you need to have all those people doing all those little things.”  Eddie Mitchell

There are certain phases in a campaign when support and connections across campaigns are particularly important to steady the ship in the face of what Lucy Maunsell described as ‘the trauma of such an attack on your being’.  One of the major benefits of the international networks, according to Maunsell, is that “they can calm you down and tell you what’s happening and tell you what you’ve got to do – you need that because the oil companies have done this twenty times before and they know”.

Connecting across struggles is a powerful weapon against corporate spin and manipulation. Being able to counter the claims from multinational corporations of ‘gold standard regulations’ and ‘jobs and prosperity for all’ with evidence from experiences in other places was another important overall function of connecting across struggles, highlighted by our interviewees and put in to practice to great effect in the Irish campaign.

While NGOs can be allies, they can also be liabilities. Eddie Mitchell captured one of those liabilities succinctly: “the ENGO comes in and it is like a peacock. ‘I know about climate change and I know about this and that’ and then they give all of this advice and then they leave. They might come back in six weeks time but in six weeks nothing has happened. And that is the problem. You can’t build a house without having people there to build it.”  While Mitchell and others agreed that there is a role for NGOs in facilitating dialogue and exchange across struggles, he was adamant that they must also know when to step back and allow communities to develop their own capacities and resilience…”You can’t do anything for them, they have to build it”.

And finally, when communities do develop their own capacities, they are politicised for good.  In the words of Lucy Maunsell, “I’m educated, I can’t be uneducated….that’s the beauty if it…..We are like a standing army.”  This process of politicisation through participation in their own local campaign provides a well which can be drawn upon when the next local battle comes around, or indeed to support battles in other places from afar, such as the other communities (maybe in the global South) where Tamborin might move on to next.  This broadening of perspective and solidarity will be key to building the broad-based social movement we now so urgently need to push for a just transition away from fossil-fuels so that no community has to face such traumatic ‘attacks on their being’.

Thank you to the communities of Leitrim and Sligo and the activists of the North West Network Against Fracking and Love Leitrim for their warm hospitality and collaboration. 

The Pipeline Strikes Back: The Audacity of TransCanada’s $15B Suit Against the U.S.

In case you didn’t notice, the new blockbuster Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, ends pretty much the same way the first one did when it came out in the summer of 1977. The bad guys build a Death Star machine that can kill whole planets, the good guys fight back with pluck and grit, and, just in the nick of time, destroy the machine.

The political saga of the Keystone XL pipeline has followed essentially the same plot. TransCanada (playing the role of the Empire) sought to build a metal tunnel from Alberta to the Gulf Coast to transport oil from the Canadian tar sands. The pipeline, not unlike a Death Star, threatened the planet because it would have amped up carbon emissions and quickened the pace of global climate change. In the Keystone saga, pluck and grit came in the form of protests, lawsuits, arrests, and the encirclement of the White House—the equivalent of a Jedi counter-attack.

Those efforts paid off last November, when President Barack Obama announced that he was denying the required U.S. authorization for the pipeline to be built—the political equivalent of blowing up the Death Star’s thermal oscillator.

But as any good Star Wars fan knows, the Empire strikes back. True to form, TransCanada filed a $15 billion legal action against the U.S. government on January 6. The company is demanding that U.S. taxpayers compensate it for the profits it had hoped to make from a pipeline it won’t get to build.

How can the company do this? TransCanada is making use of a legal weapon so powerful that even Darth Vader would be envious—international trade rules.

Here is how the system known as “Investor State Dispute Settlement” works. Tucked neatly away inside the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and more than 90 percent of the thousands of other international trade agreements in force around the world are provisions that allow foreign corporations to sue governments whenever a change in policy interferes with the company’s profit-making plans. Companies are allowed to drag governments before closed-door tribunals operated by the World Bank, the International Chamber of Commerce, and others. Companies can force compensation not only for the funds they actually invested, but for many, many times more than that for supposed “lost profits.”

Who uses these secretive tribunals? The San Francisco-based engineering giant Bechtel sued Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, after the Cochabamba Water Revolt of 2000. This was a massive public uprising against the privatization of the city’s water and subsequent rate hikes for residents. After protests pushed Bolivia’s leaders to reverse the privatization, Bechtel sued Bolivia for $50 million, although it had invested just $1 million in the project.

In the end, Bechtel was forced to drop its case for a token settlement of less than $1, but that took years of protests and international organizing (in which my organization was involved) to achieve, and cost the Bolivian treasury millions of dollars in legal fees.

Many nations, including Mexico, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and Bolivia have been forced to pay vast sums to foreign companies that used these international investment tribunals.

In this most recent case, TransCanada is suing under the provisions of NAFTA and demanding an amount that would cover annual community college tuition costs for nearly five million U.S. students. In other words, $15 billion is a huge sum of money.

For years, the reason governments have given for granting multinational corporations such enormous legal power was that the companies needed it to protect against seizure of their assets. TransCanada’s claim, however, is not about U.S. soldiers showing up with guns at a pipeline and declaring ownership; it’s about a reasonable political choice to protect the planet’s climate. In the company’s view, however, making a choice they don’t like constitutes a theft.

As a representative of TransCanada recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “When the U.S. government signed NAFTA, it committed to provide Canadian investors with various protections against unfair, inequitable, and uncompensated expropriatory and discriminatory U.S. regulatory actions.” In other words, the Obama administration “expropriated” TransCanada’s hopes of making billions off a project that was also a weapon aimed directly at the planet’s future.

International investment rules like these undermine democracy and the right of nations to freely choose their futures, which makes it all the more a mystery why the Obama Administration wants to supersize the system with the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP, which would cover nearly 40 percent of global GDP, essentially copies the investment rules under which TransCanada is suing the United States, a new legal Death Star run amok.

TransCanada’s Keystone XL case should be a warning. The United States is no more immune than Bolivia and El Salvador to multibillion-dollar raids on its treasury any time a change in public policy runs afoul of a company’s plan for profits. Cases like these have even become a commodity market of their own, drawing investors who help finance the legal costs for a share of the big potential payouts. The Obama administration and other boosters of the TPP like to boast about exports and the like, but they never directly answer one simple question: Why it is in the interest of any nation to give foreign companies the right to sue it for lost profits in secretive international tribunals?

As Yoda would say, “Beware of the dark side.” Or at least don’t hand the dark side special legal rights. The battle over the Keystone XL may have had a happy ending in its first episode, but global trade rules have ensured we’ll see a sequel.

Corporate Conquistadors

Just as the processes of colonization devastated territories and peoples in the search for gold, silver and labour, today’s multinational corporations offer powerful echoes of the same. They come not on horseback but by jet, speaking the language of economic growth and prosperity but touting a business model that is destructive in many of the same ways.

The Corporate Conquistadors report shows how extractive industries cause damage on the ground, drive climate change in the atmosphere – and yet are able to push their own agenda through influence over climate policy-making processes.

Multinational corporations are relentlessly expanding their operations into ever more vulnerable and remote regions of the planet. As they do so they both drive the climate crisis and exacerbate its impacts. They bear responsibility for a global crisis which affects us all, and they bring social end environmental destruction to the local communities where they operate. A further legacy of their oil drilling, industrial mining and mega hydro-electric projects is the erosion of those communities’ resilience just as the impacts of climate change begin to take effect.

These same multinationals are also the biggest barrier to meaningful action on climate change, blocking urgently needed regulations and genuine transformational solutions.

Despite the amassed evidence of the great damage they are causing, corporations are gaining increasing access to climate policy-making spaces, both at national and international level, allowing them to put forward their own so-called ‘solutions’. But their market-based proposals are not aimed at tackling the crisis at all. Rather, they allow the biggest polluters to line their pockets with public money while continuing business as usual. Denouncing the connections between corporations and our decision makers, and de-legitimising the corporate seat at the policy-setting table, is crucial if we are to chart a different course.

Published to coincide with the UN’s climate negotiations in Lima, Peru in December 2014, Corporate Conquistadors is a collaboration with Corporate Europe Obervatory and the Transnational Institute which puts a spotlight on activities in the Andean region by three specific multinational corporations:

These emblematic cases – for their combination of environmental and social destruction and covert political manipulation at national, regional and international level – offer a chilling yet urgent look into the realities of the zero-sum game between climate change and corporate power.

In this short video report contributors and a representative of one of the affected communities featured in the report launch Corporate Conquistadors at the People’s Assembly during UNFCCC COP20 in Lima, December 2014:

Here Pascoe Sabido of Corporate Europe Observatory, who worked with us on the report, speaks in Lima with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! about the issues raised in its pages:

 

 

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.

IMG_0888
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?

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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!

 

Getting Action: Reclaim Power – Global Month of Action on Energy

reclaim power logoLast Friday saw the start of Reclaim Power: Global Month of Action on Energy. The month runs from 11th October until the 11th November. Here Lucy Patterson of Push Europe offers readers an overview of the month’s aims and the context in which it takes place.

The climate movement is diverse. You only have to look at the range of battles fought by those on the front line to understand why. Every day, individuals and communities resist pipelines, open-pit mines, Arctic drills, oil spills, test wells, shale gas, palm-oil plantations, power stations, mega-dams and tar sands. The assaults inflicted are hugely varied, and so are the communities, and their responses. Such diversity lends strength and flexibility to the movement.

However, unlike the globalized, multinational corporations they face, these individuals and communities are, of course, localized. It’s easy to feel powerless when there are only a few dozen of you, and you’re up against an oil company with a multi-billion dollar turnover. Reclaim Power: Global Month of Action on Energy aims to build on the commonalities which bind the countless thousands of us standing up to dirty energy and demanding an alternative energy system.

All communities on the frontline of fossil fuel extraction defend their homes or indigenous land from destruction by corporate giants. All fight a system that is designed to maximize profit, not to meet needs. All demand an alternative energy future to that which is being forced upon them. These commonalities have helped to define the key demands of the month of action

1. A ban on all new dirty energy projects

This should be a no-brainer. As Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo put it: “If our governments, now that the science is clear, invest one more cent in new fossil fuel projects, that is an investment in the deaths of our children and future generations.”

2. An end to government subsidies and public handouts to dirty energy companies

Globally, our governments spend in excess of one trillion US dollars every year on handouts to fossil fuel companies – companies such as Exxon Mobil, whose net annual income exceeds the GDP of over a hundred countries.

3. An end to excessive energy consumption by corporations and global elites

Our planet is finite, yet our illogical global economic system assumes that we have limitless natural resources to consume and profit from year on year. Not only does this mean that we are on course for catastrophe, but the profit-based nature of our energy consumption (as opposed to needs-based) means that only a select few actually benefit from fossil fuels.

4. The redirection and mobilization of public finance to ensure universal access to energy, and to ensure the complete shift to decentralized community renewable energy systems as quickly as possible.

Our energy system is based on corporate gain and the enclosure of the commons. Subsidies and public funds should be redirected from overbearing dirty energy companies to community-owned, sustainable energy projects. Only then will our energy system be democratic, clean, universal and just.

Photo taken in Johannesburg, South Africa (source: Reclaim Power Facebook page)
Photo taken in Johannesburg, South Africa (source: Reclaim Power Facebook page)

It need not be said that countless millions already suffer, directly or indirectly, thedevastating effects of climate change. It is common knowledge that the overwhelming majority of those suffering are those who have contributed the very least to climate change: the poorest citizens of the world, those even without access to electricity, or cooking fuel, are those who are bearing the brunt of the changes. A new report confirms that the tropics will experience unprecedented climate change many years before the rest of the world – and “as the world’s population is disproportionately concentrated in the tropics, unprecedented climate conditions will impact a larger percentage of the world’s population”– the very same sector of the world’s population which is the least responsible for the problem.

This problem is the symptom of the dysfunctional energy system in place. During Reclaim Power month, the struggle for climate justice will go directly to the root of the disorder, and will demand a huge shift in power from the polluters to the people – at a moment that could prove to be pivotal in the struggle for climate justice. The month will build towards the UN climate talks in Warsaw, where civil society will demand that the most developed nations – those who are most responsible for, and most capable of, dramatic emissions reductions – act now to prevent the worst of these effects. Until now, progress within the global political community has been shamefully inadequate. We cannot afford to let the pressure drop.

We invite all individuals, groups and communities to either join one of the many actions taking place around the globe this month, or to start your own action (no action is too small!). Explore the website for information and resources, and get in touch if you have further questions. Add your voice to the thousands around the world demanding that we act now to change our energy system, not our climate.

The author, Lucy Patterson, is a Coordinator for Push Europe, the campaigns network of the European Youth Climate Network.