WATCH THIS! NGO Newsletter #7: Bonyic: an opportunity to comply with CDM rules and international law

In the next few days, review of the Bonyic Hydroelectric Project’s request for registration will start. If rejected, the CDM Executive Board would be sending a strong message to the world for the need to  comply with CDM rules and international law.

The Bonyic Hydroelectric Project is a 31.8 MW hydroelectric power plant located on the Bonyic River, in the Republic of Panama. Panamanian. Several  international organizations, including Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo (ACD), Asociación Ambientalista de Chiriquí (ASAMCHI), International Rivers, FERN and CIAM, have requested rejection of the project.

The Bosque Protector Palo Seco Protected Area, where the project is located, serves as a buffer zone for the Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves/La Amistad National Park, a World Heritage site in Panama and Costa Rica. Approval of Bonyic would directly contradict UNESCO World Heritage Committee recommendations.

The project claims to be additional because it is located within a protected area and indigenous people lands.

A significant barrier for project implementation has been the project location in a sensitive social and biophysical environment, which has led to major obstacles in obtaining project financing…

(PDD, p.16)

Indeed, the project is located in a previously pristine area within the Bosque Protector Palo Seco Protected Area. Conditions for construction in the area are certainly hostile, but these would affect similarly any proposed projects in the area. The high biodiversity of the area cannot be considered an investment barrier; its protection is the fulfillment of Panama’s legal obligations in accordance with the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The location is also within the traditional territories of the Naso indigenous people. Various factors, including lack of legal recognition of its territories, have caused a profound internal crisis among the Naso. Compensation given to community leaders recognized as “legitimate” cannot possibly alleviate the situation, and has in fact demonstrated to stir more conflict.  Hence, CDM revenue cannot ameliorate the situation.

In August 2013 the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, recognized the territorial insecurity of the Naso people as particularly alarming. The CDM Executive Board, as a United Nations body, has an obligation to ensure universal respect and observance of human rights; and should not disregard the State’s failure to fulfill the Naso’s right to communal property.

Moreover, the Validation Report does not explain how the construction of the project has managed to achieve over 50% progress without CDM revenues despite the alleged investment barriers.

The Bosque Protector Palo Seco Protected Area, where the project is located, serves as a buffer zone for the Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves/La Amistad National Park, a World Heritage site in Panama and Costa Rica. Approval of Bonyic would directly contradict UNESCO World Heritage Committee recommendations.

The registration of Bonyic Hydroelectric Project would violate international law requirements regarding common heritage and indigenous people’s rights.

 Since 2010, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has warned the Panamanian government about the highly likely negative impacts of the Bonyic Project and others on the biodiversity of the PILA, and it has repeatedly asked that  all dam constructions in the area be halted.  In July 2013, the Committee “regret[ted] that construction of the Bonyic dam has continued without prior consideration of the results of the on-going Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), and urge[d] the State Parties to complete it as a matter of priority and in line with international standards of best practice.” (See all decisions by the Committee here)

These and other important issues were raised by stakeholders, but not taken into account by the Designated Operational Entity (DOE), the body that approves the project on behalf of the host country’s government.

CDM rules require the DOE to take into account all the comments received during the validation of the proposed project activity and to report the details of the actions and take due account of the comments received. However, several important comments submitted by stakeholders were not taken into account. See our full submission to the CDM EB here.

By Joana Abrego, Legal Consultant, Climate Change Program, Environmental Advocacy Center of Panama (CIAM)

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