Latin Americans pay the price for corporate climate destruction

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Photo: flickr/Development Planning Unit

Information contained in a new report that details how multinational corporations are destroying the environment and causing serious climate damage in Latin America brings attention to an important area not being discussed at the UN COP 20 climate negotiations being held in Peru.

The report describes in detail how the destruction caused by three European multinational corporations is typical of the damage caused by multi-nationals throughout the continent.

While the climate discussions in Lima are focussing on what nation states need to do to reach a binding climate agreement a year from now, what is missing is a discussion about how corporations are not held accountable for the climate damage they cause in developing countries -- damage that those countries are held accountable for.

"Multinational corporations are relentlessly expanding their operations into ever more vulnerable and remote regions of the world," says the report, written by three public interest groups: The Democracy Centre of San Francisco, the Corporate Europe Observatory of Brussels and the Transnational Institute of Amsterdam.

Accused in the report are Repsol, the Spanish fossil fuels giant; the Swiss-based mining and resources conglomerate Glencore-Xstata; and Enel-Endesa, an Italian consortium:

  • "In the case of Repsol, the Spanish fossil fuels giant, we see how the relentless pursuit of new gas and oil reserves in Peru takes direct aim at the region's indigenous territories and forests, leaving social destruction and in its wake," says the report.

  • "Another Peruvian case is that of Glencore-Xstata ... Political manipulation has allowed the Swiss-based mining and resources conglomerate to expand its copper mining operations in the region. Scarce water resources, already stretched by climate change, are being contaminated with impunity."

  • "In Colombia, the Italian-based consortium Enel-Endesa is attempting to portray a massive hydroelectric dam as a 'clean energy' project via its Latin American subsidiary Emgesa. But rather than benefitting local people, the electricity is destined for dirty industry at discount prices."

The results in Latin America of such poor corporate behaviour are environmental damage, overuse of water resources, increasingly high levels of carbon emissions and often hardship for Indigenous communities.

What is not being considered in the COP 20 talks is that most developing world governments are not capable of forcing corporations to be more respectful of the environment and climate. Moreover, back in Europe, corporations are not held accountable for what they do in developing countries.

The Latin Americans lose in three ways: their climate and environment are severely damaged, they have to pay for their carbon surpluses and practically all the profits from intrusive mega-projects go back to rich developed countries.

This irresponsible corporate behaviour is further reason for northern countries to agree to commit billions of dollars to the Special Climate Change Fund, which is intended to compensate Southern countries for damaged done by the North.

With profits down at many Northern corporations since the 2011 recession, they are "invading" every country in Latin America.

In particular Spanish corporations have become so well known for their numerous and ambitious development projects in Latin America that they are often called the "Corporate Conquistadors," a referenced to the way the Spanish conquered much of Latin America centuries ago in search of gold, silver and cheap labour.

Repsol -- one of the largest of the many Spanish companies -- is criticized for extracting natural gas from the middle of Peru's delicate rainforest, using dozens of drilling platforms, hundreds of kilometres of pipelines and the construction of a recovery plant, and roads, etc.

The report says that Repsol will be expanding further "at the cost of devastation of Indigenous communities and their cultures, as well as the destruction of forests, biodiversity and water resources ... ."

In another part of Peru, the southern Andes, the mining activities of Glencore Xstrata is putting "extreme pressure" on the water supply, says the report. The lives of Indigenous communities are closely tied to one hundred lakes and four river basins.

In 2009, dangerous levels of contamination led to miscarriages, deformations and death in livestock in the area. Independent studies showed the company had polluted the water supply with heavy metals such as arsenic. Harsh and sometimes violent confrontations have taken place, but still local citizens are at risk.

The report explains that powerful, wealthy multinational corporations manage to overcome resistance to their damaging environmental practices by infiltrating a country's political process, making promises that are never met or by simply ignoring local opposition.

At COP 20 in Lima on December 4, Indigenous people from different parts of the world made a strong appeal for UN leaders and national governments about the damage suffered by their communities.

"Due to global warming, our people are suffering a constant variation of the climate," said Klaus Quicque Bolivar, who lives in the Peruvian Amazon. "There is an excess of heat. The rivers are warming up; there are less agricultural production and natural reproduction of fishes. Some animal species are disappearing and the cycle of wild fruits are varying."

But many Indigenous participants at COP 20 have expressed concerns about whether their views will be included in the final document.

While the Indigenous community had its say during a brief session, delegates from the multinational corporate sector are getting much more attention and have been busy lobbying national government delegates at the conference to adopt industry-friendly solutions to fight climate change.

If the outcome of this UN climate conference is anything like others held in recent years, the recommendations of the Indigenous community will receive only token acknowledgement in the final communique -- an outcome that is sure to remind them of what it's like to fight powerful corporations back in their own countries.

The COP 20 will conclude December 12. Participating countries hope to be able to produce a final document of agreements that will be the basis for a final accord to be signed in Paris a year from now.  

Nick Fillmore is a Toronto freelance journalist and blogger who slaved away in the dungeons of the CBC for nearly 30 years. He likes to hear from folks: fillmore0274@rogers.com

Photo: flickr/Development Planning Unit 

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.