Climate change greenwashing

Peru’s climate change talks open to allegations of hypocrisy and deception, Stephanie Boyd reports.

Jorge Rios, surrounded by his family. Rios was one of the environmental activists killed in September 2014. © Global Witness

On Monday, 1 December, the Conference of the Parties (COP 20), the United Nations climate change talks, opened in Lima, Peru, to accusations of hypocrisy and deception from the country’s indigenous leaders and activists.

Peru has lavished $54 million on hosting the event, which sees leaders from 195 countries and over 10,000 delegates converge in Lima, the nation’s smog-ridden capital.

However, behind the government’s carefully laid green carpet, President Ollanta Humala and his aides pursue destructive policies, which include back peddling on environmental legislation, failing to protect indigenous communities’ rights over their land and water resources and violent police repression of opposition.

Alfonso Lopez, a Kokama leader from Peru’s Amazon, told the country’s most-watched news station, Canal N, that COP 20 was ‘a farce’.

Lopez says the government-owned PetroPeru has spilled oil for over a decade in his community’s rivers, and that none of their water sources are apt for human consumption.

‘The conference is an attempt to cover up the disgrace in which indigenous communities are living in Peru’s interior.’

Peru is the fourth most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists, according to a new report by the non-profit Global Witness. At least 57 environmental defenders have been assassinated in this Latin American country since 2002, the majority of deaths related to mining projects.

Two years ago, three men were killed by police during protests against a Glencore-Xstrata mine in the southern Andes. A few weeks later, five protesters died at the hands of police during a strike against Newmont’s Yanacocha mine in the northern Andes.

New legislation against social protest in Peru allows the police to fire on peaceful demonstrators with impunity and the survivors to be given 20-year jail sentences for crimes such as blocking a road.

The Global Witness report highlights the assassination, this September, of Edwin Chota and three other Amazonian leaders by suspected illegal loggers.

Chota’s native Ashaninka community has been demanding recognition of its ancestral lands for over a decade and the four men were outspoken critics of illegal logging.

Peru’s illegal lumber industry is big business – a single old-growth mahogany tree can be worth more than $11,000 in the United States.

The rate of deforestation in Peru doubled between 2011 and 2012, and destruction of the country’s Amazon is responsible for half of Peru’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Indigenous communities are key defenders of the forest, but Peru has been slow to recognize their land rights. Over 20 million hectares of indigenous land claims await processing by the government, and new legislation weakens the rights of original peoples to their territory.

The government’s poor environmental record has led to an increase in conflicts, with Peru’s ombudsman’s office registering 135 socio-environmental conflicts in October, most of them related to mining, oil and gas projects.

Indigenous and farming communities say they face contamination of water resources and loss of farmland from transnational mines and oil and gas pipelines. There’s also widespread deforestation from illegal mining, palm oil and cocoa plantations.

How NOT to save the planet

Hardly a showcase for the world’s annual climate summit. Unless perhaps the UN was hoping to show delegates how NOT to save the planet?

Peru’s activist community decided to confront the government’s greenwashing and has organized a parallel event, the ‘People’s Forum against Climate Change’, which runs from 8 to 11 December.

Organizers expect thousands of people from five continents at the forum, and a nationwide march of indigenous peoples and farming communities will join them in Lima on 9 December.

The list of indigenous speakers include Mina Setra of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance in Indonesia, Joseph Itongwa from the Congo, Candido Mezua, a Cacique chief from Panama and Ruth Buendia of the Ashanika in Peru and winner of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize.

It is time the world’s leaders were called to task on climate change. Lima’s summit marks the 20th anniversary of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other destructive activities.

However, according to the Climate Action Network, ‘no single country is yet on track to prevent dangerous climate change.’ The non-profit research organization produces a yearly ranking of countries, based on their policies for climate protection.

‘The conference is an attempt to cover up the disgrace in which indigenous communities are living in Peru’s interior’ - Alfonso Lopez

Out of 61 spots, Canada and Australia ranked 58 and 57 respectively, beating only the oil-barons of Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan and Iran for the world’s worst record on climate change. The US ranked at 43 and Britain at 5.

After 20 years of climate summits, there have been a lot of pledges and speeches, but the world’s leaders have failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the impact is already being felt.

A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that ‘warming of the climate system is unequivocal… the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.’

This may not seem like news to those of us who have being paying attention, but the report was issued by a UN scientific body – meaning that even the world’s conservative governments can no longer deny the devastating impacts of climate change.

Despite this evidence, the world’s nations have failed to sanction the real culprits of climate change: the big polluters, like the oil, mining and gas industries, car manufacturers and agro-industry.

Even worse, last year’s summit, held in Warsaw, included corporate sponsorship by companies such as General Motors, BMW and a Polish petroleum corporation.

Industry needs to start taking responsibility for its collateral damage – otherwise, it’s like having a tribunal on war crimes sponsored and paid for by the perpetrators.

Delegates at COP20 can nod and smile for the cameras, but glossy photos and empty promises are not enough to save our dying planet. It’s time for real action.

Stephanie Boyd is a writer and documentary film maker who has been based in Peru for the past 17 years. She is working on a book about her experiences on the front-lines of the world’s mining wars. Her latest film, The Devil Operation, can be previewed here.

ACTION: You can sign a petition on deforestation, which Rainforest Rescue will present to Peru’s government at the COP 20.