A KAIROS Partner’s Views on the Climate Talks

Today I sat down with Javier Balderas, a KAIROS partner from the Tepeyac Human Rights Centre in Oaxaca, Mexico to learn about how climate change is being experienced in one of Mexico’s poorest states. Javier described how the campesinos and Indigenous peoples of Oaxaca are already being gravely hurt by changes to the local climate. Over the last 10 years floods have been so severe that crops often can’t be sown. The corn kernels rot before they can germinate and then when the rains end unusual periods of drought tend to follow. People are forced to buy food whereas they used to be self-reliant. Moreover, production of mangoes, their major export crop, has fallen by 60% over the last 3 years. As a result, many have abandoned their fields and migrated to cities or to the USA to look for work.

When I asked Javier his impressions of the UN climate negotiations here in Cancún he said he doesn’t think the governments actually intend to lower greenhouse gas emissions or provide financing to assist low-income countries to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Rather they want to keep the system unchanged. He referred to two of the items on the agenda here – the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the proposal for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). Both the CDM and REDD would allow industrial countries to “offset” their greenhouse gas emissions by paying developing countries to plant trees or preserve forests, for example. Theoretically these trees will then absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere allowing the industrial countries to emit an equivalent amount of CO2. But Javier says CDM and REDD are “ways of transferring the burden of cleaning up the atmosphere to developing countries.” Developed countries want the Cancún conference to approve REDD because “it would allow them to continue polluting,” he added.

Javier criticized the UN conference as secretive and undemocratic because peoples’ voices are not heard, nor is any attention given to genuine alternatives like agro-ecological farming.

Oaxaca is blessed with strong prevailing winds and hence has potential for small-scale, decentralized wind energy. However, Javier recounted how the Mexican government’s project to build large-scale wind turbines has led to further exploitation for the people. The campesinos were deceived with promises of great riches if they signed contracts allowing a Spanish company to build turbines on their lands. However, they are actually being paid only US$10 to US$12 a year for each hectare they turn over to wind farms. Clearly the principle of free, prior and above all informed consent was not adhered to when they signed away the rights to their land.

The Oaxaca wind turbines have only made things worse for the local population. It remains to be seen whether the Cancún conference will have the same result. Some Southern countries, led by Bolivia, are resisting efforts by industrial countries, especially Japan, Canada and Russia, to forestall making new commitments to emission reductions under the Kyoto Protocol. Bolivia is also insisting that a commitment to respecting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples be restored to the official text after it was dropped from the latest version.

John Dillon

Filed in: Indigenous Rights

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