Civil society’s view on the CDM in Mesoamerica (Newsletter #13)

In response to the growing number of CDM projects in Central America, CDM Watch organized two workshops in Mesoamerica to discuss the role of civil society in the CDM with representatives of the region.

A first workshop was organised on 16 February in Mexico City and a second two-day regional workshop was organised on 26 and 27 February in Santa Cruz Michapa, Cuscatlán, El Salvador bringing together more than 150 participants from all seven Mesoamerican countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador. Representatives of environmental NGOs, social and gender movements, activists, leaders of peasant and indigenous communities, representatives of international networks, journalists and citizens came together to learn about possibilities for public participation and to exchange experience with the CDM in the respective host countries.

The workshops consisted of a detailed explanation of the origins and functioning of the CDM, in particular about the opportunities of public participation in the CDM project cycle. Participants also delivered presentations of case studies triggering country- and case specific discussions on the CDM and its impacts on livelihoods and the environment. Detailed discussions were concluded in “memorias” that provide summaries of demands and recommendations for improvements at local, national and international level for each of the participating countries.

Participants of both workshops clearly rejected the CDM as effective means to combat climate change. They did not agree that the CDM has achieved substantial emission reductions in developing countries but argued that many of the projects would be implemented anyway. Moreover, workshop participants heavily complained about enormous negative environmental and social impacts of large CDM megaprojects that are being implemented despite local resistance. They argued that when validating a project on the ground, local opinion was strategically avoided and ignored in the validation process. As regards the public participation process, the main problems faced by local communities were timely access to information, linguistic obstacles and tight deadlines combined with in-transparent closing times, according to the workshop participants. Many discussions were focused on how to use comments that were prepared with much effort but could not be submitted due to the 7 hour time difference – a seemingly small issue with a huge impact.

More specifically, the workshop conclusions call for a total reform of the CDM especially with regards to public participation rules, accessibility of information and transparency of procedures. Other demands include the automatic ‘disqualification’ of CDM projects proven to violate human rights or other international conventions, as well as the exclusion of projects with inherent harmful social and environmental impacts such as large hydro and monoculture projects. Equally the exclusion of projects extending the use of fossil fuels, such as supercritical coal and cement plant projects was demanded by civil society representatives.

In both events the level of active participation and constructive discussion was remarkable showing the interest of civil society representatives in the issue and the huge potential of young professional that are eager and keen to learn more about engaging in international climate policies. This was proven by the fact that several workshop participants immediately replicated the event in their home communities. The outcome of the workshop will be the basis of more coordination between local communities and international NGOs, such as CDM Watch.

The aim of these workshops is to empower local communities to understand the rights they were given to by the international community within the CDM process. With a public participation process in place, we believe that it should indeed serve as an instrument to highlight concerns about projects and if those concerns are justified, that appropriate measures are taken. If the CDM should be an international instrument to reduce emissions and contribute to sustainable development, it must be able to withstand an effective public participation mechanism. As long as the CDM’s reputation is famous for ignoring affected communities’ opinions and enforced megaprojects combined with a weak validation that allows those projects to slip through the process, public acceptance in CDM host countries will not be possible. A thorough reform is needed.