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WATCH THIS! NGO Newsletter #7: Barro Blanco: A clear illustration of why CDM reform is needed

As we gear up for another round of climate talks, it is apparent that the time for CDM reform is now.  At the upcoming climate talks in Warsaw, the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) will present its recommendations for revisions to the CDM’s “Modalities and Procedures”.  The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Carbon Market Watch and others made our own recommendations, focused on establishing human rights safeguards that would help to prevent social and environmental harm, promote greater accountability, and ensure the effective participation of ALL stakeholders. 

Why are human rights safeguards needed?

As evidenced by the increasing accounts of human rights abuses associated with CDM projects, the CDM has failed to ensure that projects are designed, implemented and monitored in a manner that protects human rights.  One such example is the Barro Blanco project – a 29 MW hydroelectric dam that is currently under construction on the Tabasara River in western Panama.  During the initial phases of project development, the company GENISA failed to adequately consult or obtain the free, prior and informed consent of the affected Ngӓbe indigenous peoples, and failed to assess the project’s environmental impacts to their lands.  Despite these violations, the Panamanian government approved the environmental impact assessment in May 2008, allowing the project to move forward.  As Carbon Market Watch has reported, a number of actions have been taken to hold the government accountable for its failure to protect the rights of the indigenous Ngӓbe communities from the impacts of Barro Blanco.

UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples articulates human rights obligations with respect to Barro Blanco

Over the past few months, the campaign against the Barro Blanco project has reached new heights.  In late July, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, visited the Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca, and learned firsthand of the human rights abuses associated with Barro Blanco.  In his concluding statement, Anaya clearly articulated the international human rights obligations that apply in the case of the Barro Blanco, and described Barro Blanco (the only project mentioned) as emblematic of the many development projects that are threatening the lives and livelihoods of indigenous peoples in Panama.  This formal statement by a UN mechanism is a critical step in recognizing and addressing the human rights impacts of CDM projects such as Barro Blanco.  CIEL (and over 1,000 concerned citizens and partner organizations) have since asked Special Rapporteur Anaya to raise these concerns directly with the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol and the CDM Executive Board.

We have asked Special Rapporteur Anaya to raise these concerns directly with the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol and the CDM Executive Board

Despite growing international awareness of these human rights abuses, construction of the Barro Blanco project has continued.  In September, the UN Development Programme concluded its second independent assessment of the project’s impacts, and issued a report in which it confirms that Barro Blanco will cause significant harm to the Ngäbe people and their territories.  It further states that the Ngäbe people were not adequately informed of these impacts during consultations held by GENISA.  The report also confirms that the project will have significant impacts on Ngäbe culture due to threats to cultural and religious sites, such as burial grounds, archaeological artifacts and sacred plants that are highly valued by the Ngäbe people.  Notably, the report highlights that the project is subject to international norms and standards, specifically indigenous rights protections, although it does not assess compliance with those standards.

In Warsaw, CIEL, Carbon Market Watch and other civil society groups will continue to raise awareness of the human rights impacts associated with Barro Blanco and other CDM projects to illustrate the need for human rights safeguards in the CDM.  These changes would not only provide a means of recourse to the communities affected by Barro Blanco, but would also change the CDM’s institutional policies to help ensure that other CDM projects around the world do not cause environmental and human harm.

By Alyssa Johl, Senior Attorney, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

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