The Challenge of Deploying Wind Energy in Mexico – The case of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Watch This! #4)

See Watch This! #4, December 2012

By the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) and the Mexican Environmental Law Center (CEMDA)

The Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) is a nonprofit environmental law organization that works across international borders to defend threatened ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them. Its mission is to strengthen people’s ability to guarantee their individual and collective right to a healthy environment, via the development, implementation, and effective enforcement of national and international law. www.aida-americas.org

 

The Mexican Environmental Law Center (CEMDA) is a nonpartisan civic organization that promotes environmental protection and the right to a healthy environment. Its work contributes to the effective implementation of legislation, improvement of public policies, the strengthening of legality and the rule of law. The objective is to achieve better social welfare conditions in harmony with nature. www.cemda.org.mx


To combat climate change, low-carbon projects such as wind farms, must be promoted. Yet, despite their urgency, these projects must be carried out in a sustainable, equitable fashion. This article is an open call to Mexico and the world to improve planning and development practices for renewable projects guaranteeing the respect of the human rights of all affected communities.

Backed by international investment, including funds from the Inter-American Development Bank and benefiting from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) established in the Kyoto Protocol, the government of Mexico has authorized the development of at least 14 wind projects in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, one of the poorest states in the country, with more than 34% of the population of indigenous origin. Together, the 180 MW wind projects expect to produce more than 800 thousand MWs per annum. Alarmingly, these projects have generated negative social and environmental costs which outweigh the benefits, having ignored the human rights of local indigenous communities and their right to free, prior, and informed consent to projects that affect their land and livelihoods. This serious situation has to do with the fact that the Mexican government has failed to develop rules or mechanisms to regulate these investments, leading private companies to negotiate directly with local communities. Moreover, the situation is aggravated by several factors:

  • Locals lack information: The majority of local residents say developers have not been forthcoming with comprehensive and timely information about the projects. For example, in recent public forums, residents have said that they were not told of potential environmental impacts of the projects, such as the ones that are now affecting the possibility to cultivate their lands.
  • Threats and violence against locals who oppose: For more than two years, Jijot and Zapoteca communities have made accusations of threats and attacks against their leaders by paramilitary groups and state officials working to silence opposition to development.
  • Lack of free, prior and informed consent: In its rush to grant concessions and administrative permissions to wind developers, the Mexican government failed to fulfill its obligation to consult local indigenous communities, guaranteed by international law.
  • Unreasonable terms of land leases: Wind developers have signed contracts with local communities that offer paltry payments. Locals lack a process that allows for negotiation on fair and equal terms.
  • No comprehensive, community-wide benefit: The wind projects lack a comprehensive environmental and social development plan and thus benefit only a small sector of the population, mostly investors and the companies that will buy the energy. While some locals have leased their lands at a price, payments haven’t translated into true development, as was promised to the people.
  • Environmental impacts: The projects have caused extensive environmental damage, yet studies to identify, prevent, and alleviate damages have never been carried out. Impacts include the burning of large swaths of pastureland (a source of greenhouse gas emissions), mangrove deforestation, and the destruction of migratory bird habitats.

In order to mitigate the social and environmental impacts and to avoid the violation of human rights during the development of wind farms, the following actions are suggested:

Create a protocol for wind development that guarantees respect for human rights. The protocol should be observed in all relevant public policy and must meet the following standards: include criteria and indicators that serve to verify the fulfillment of all environmental and social conditions; incentivize economic growth in the region, particularly benefiting non-landowners; promote collaboration between private sector developers, state and local governments, and local communities.

Guarantee that all stakeholders and affected communities receive timely, comprehensive and clear information regarding the projects. The communities’ right to free, prior, and informed consent must be observed, which means that their decisions must be respected, even in the case of opposition. Additionally, stakeholders should seek opportunities to benefit local communities, including job creation and the support of communal projects.

Elaborate and implement a process for measuring the externalities of the projects, in which Mexico’s Federal Electricity and Hydrocarbons Regulator will evaluate sustainability based on independent assessments. The commission must be able to deny access to the electricity grid when assessments indicate that development will not benefit local communities.

As representatives of civil society who work for the protection of the environment and the communities that depend on them, through this article we intend to raise the voices of the affected communities. Together with this alert, we will continue giving advice and supporting their actions in search of justice and equity.