Human Rights and Kyoto's Carbon Offsetting Scheme

Katy Yan
Weni Bagama, speaking at the Human Rights in the CDM side event
Weni Bagama, speaking at the Human Rights in the CDM side event
Photo: IISD

Update: Twelve civil society organizations, including International Rivers, have sent letters to the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment urging them to conduct formal investigations into the human rights impacts of the Barro Blanco dam located on the Tabasará River in Panama.

The Kyoto Protocol's carbon offsetting scheme, the Clean Development Mechanism, continues to be rocked by controversy. This week, at a side event called "Human Rights Protections in the CDM," held during a UNFCCC climate change conference in Bonn (Germany), two representatives for the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous community and the M10 Movement from Panama gave the UNFCCC Secretariat and climate negotiators a powerful account of the negative impacts of the CDM-supported Barro Blanco Dam

Speaking of her personal experience as a member of the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous community, Weni Bagama described the Barro Blanco hydropower project on the Tabasará River in western Panama, and the struggle of her organization, the M10 Movement of the Tabasará River, to fight against this project.

Oscar Sogandares from the Environmental Association of Chiriquí, Panama, described the lack of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) by the Ngäbe community, according to the international conventions signed by Panama, as well as the lack of consultation as required by the CDM's own rules on stakeholder consultation. 

The side event followed an unprecented open dialogue within the CDM about its projects and operations on human rights. Parties to the CDM agree to “fully respect human rights in all climate change related actions.” The review of the CDM's modalities and procedures during this conference was meant to provide the CDM with an opportunity to address these flaws in both structure and implementation. 

Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam under construction.
Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam under construction.
Photo: Okke Ornstein

While the CDM is struggling to stay afloat (with carbon offset slumping from over 20 euros in 2008 to around 40 cents today), and more and more countries becoming disenchanted with destructive hydro projects (see "Norway to stop buying CO2 credits from wind, hydro"), over 6,500 projects have already been registered. Many of these projects are slowly starting to apply for a renewal of their initial crediting period. Currently, no appeals mechanism exists for communities affected by CDM-registered projects, nor is there a process for deregistering a project that violates CDM rules, unless a host country chooses to withdraw their initial letter of approval.

As a result, Weni, Oscar, and the organizations in support of their campaign (including the Center for International Environmental Law, Earthjustice, Carbon Market Watch, and groups within the Climate Action Network International) have called on the CDM to:

  • Establish international safeguards to protect human rights;
  • Strengthen requirements on how to conduct local stakeholder consultations;
  • Establish a grievance process that allows affected peoples and communities to raise concerns about harms associated with CDM projects; and
  • Develop a process to deregister projects where there are violations of CDM rules.

Stay tuned as we update you on other actions to stop the Barro Blanco project in its final months of construction. If you have not signed the community petition to the project's participants, please do so here and help spread the word. Thank you.

Panel on human rights in the CDM (L-R): Eva Filzmoser, Carbon Market Watch; Oscar Sogandares, Environmental Association of Chiriquí, Panama; Abby Rubinson, Earthjustice; Weni Bagama, Panama; Wolfgang Sterk, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy; Alyssa Johl, CIEL. Photo: IISD

More information: 
Tuesday, June 11, 2013