Chile does not protect human rights in the carbon market negotiations

Internally questioned by hundreds of mutilated eyes and more than twenty deaths during social protests in Chile, the government that holds the COP25 presidency does not defend human rights in climate negotiations. Carolina Schmidt limits her role to “seeking consensus”, while negotiations for Article 6 of the Paris Agreement fail to introduce human rights into the discussion.

On October 18, a wave of social protests began in Chile, one of the most stable countries in Latin America up to that moment. It all started with a claim from high school students against the rise of the Santiago metro tickets, but demands moved beyond that: low pensions, public health without supplies, education debts and the state continuously abandoning the so-called “sacrifice zones”.

More than 50 days have passed and the outbreak figures are still shocking. The latest report by the National Institute of Human Rights counts 27 deaths, more than 350 mutilated eyes, 192 cases of sexual violence and more than 400 cases of torture by Chilean police.

The precarious human rights situation in the country did not leave international organizations indifferent. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights expressed concern about the brutality with which Carabineros [the Chilean police] have operated since the beginning of the revolt.

Créditos: Nicolás Acuña.

As a result of the protests, Chile decided not to host COP25 but remained in the presidency of the Summit that is currently taking place in Madrid. It is in these negotiations where the Latin American country has not emphasized the issue of human rights. Even further, the negotiations for the Article 6 of the Paris Agreement – the so-called carbon markets -, have left out the concept of human rights, key to local communities that may suffer the social, environmental and cultural impacts that come from the climate inaction.

The issue, which is of concern amongst civil society and least developed countries, does not seem as important for the Chilean presidency. “Chile, when assuming the presidency, has the obligation to reach consensus,” said COP25 president and Chilean Minister of Environment Carolina Schmidt on Monday, when asked about the little progress on the matter during the first week. Just today is the international celebration of human rights day.

“The decisions within the COP are by consensus of all countries. So that is our obligation, to reach consensus on all regulations, amongst which is Article 6 and thus comply with the Paris Agreement. That is our focus and objective,” added Schmidt.

Sources from the Chilean negotiating team also supports this. The position of the Presidency is not to intercede on the issues and close agreements as soon as possible.

Erika Hier from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), says that it is “the minimum” that all projects that are going to be included in the new market have “strong and robust human rights safeguards. This new mechanism cannot violate human rights while promoting sustainable development.”

“It is the minimum that indigenous peoples and local communities participate because when they are involved before the project begins, it is more sustainable,” she adds. She believes that Article 6 must incorporate a revision mechanism, which goes beyond the text, to which communities can appeal if the spirit of the article is not respected.

Credits: Nicolás Acuña.

But none of this is happening. After more than a week of negotiations, human rights are far from being included in the discussion of Article 6, which remains trapped in issues such as double counting or the transfer of Kyoto Protocol credits.

The draft last Saturday does not even mention the word human rights. Since then, countries such as Switzerland, Mexico and Costa Rica have pushed it back in, but they have encountered sustained opposition from Arab countries and Brazil. In fact, Ricardo Salles, Minister of Environment of the far-right president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has had active participation in the negotiations.

And while the preamble to the Paris Agreement includes both the reference to the protection of human rights and the promotion of sustainable development, some countries have been questioning the subject in the discussion of markets as well as in gender.

Erika Hier says she is worried because the position of the Chilean presidency is to pressure for quick agreements, something that will increase this second week when the discussions move to a ministerial level. “I think it is important to define the rules well because if they are done badly and quickly, they will impact the integrity of the Paris Agreement itself. It is better to take the time, do them well, rather than rushing to an agreement that condemns us for 20 years,” says the expert, betting that the discussion will continue at COP26 in Glasgow.

The last available text, released on Tuesday morning, does not mention the issue of human rights but does refer to environmental and social protection.

For the last week of the COP, the Chilean Presidency decided to give the Minister of Environment of South Africa (Barbara Creecy) and New Zealand (James Shaw) the work of being co-facilitators in the negotiation of Article 6 and unlock disagreements.

Alto Maipo and the ghost of the Clean Development Mechanism

The Volcán, Yeso and Colorado rivers flow from the Cordillera de Los Andes to the Maipo River and are the source of drinking water for the Metropolitan Region. Today, more than 23% of Chileans drink and live off those waters.

The central area of ​​Chile has suffered for 10 years what scientists have called a mega-drought. But that has not stopped the construction of Alto Maipo, a mega hydroelectric project located in the vicinity of the mountain range of Los Andes, 50 kilometres southeast of Santiago. The initiative seeks to redirect the three main sources of Maipo through underground tunnels and turbines to generate electricity.

The waters of the Maipo River were acquired by the American company AES Gener, protected by the Water Code established by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1981, which establishes private ownership over water and as a good that can be traded in the market. The eradication of this Code, as well as guaranteeing the right to access water, is one of the repeated demands on Chilean streets in recent weeks.

Alto Maipo has faced years of opposition. Initially, the Spanish capital utility, Aguas Andinas, the main distributor of drinking water in Santiago, was an opponent of the project, precisely because it would affect the availability of water for the capital. But the Luksic group, one of the most powerful in Chile, owner of banks, mining, forestry and the main Shell distributor in Latin America, the owner of 40% of the project, entered with capital to Aguas Andinas itself and managed to lower that opposition.

Aguas Andinas is a subsidiary of Suez, a Spanish company that is one of the sponsors of COP25 in Madrid.

The years of drought without finishing the construction of the project have affected the projection of energy generated from the hydroelectric power plant. The company has recognized that a lot of the energy will go to the Los Pelambres Minera [a mining company], owned by the same Luksic group, who left the property of Alto Maipo a few years ago.

In June 2012, during the first government of Sebastián Piñera, the Alto Maipo energy project was selected to work within the Clean Development Mechanism.

But the ghost of the Clean Development Mechanism – the market system introduced with the Kyoto Protocol – remains in cases where, in the name of the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the fight against climate change, precisely the most vulnerable suffered for foreign investments in their territories.

Alto Maipo could not finalize the sale of carbon credits, because its construction is not yet finished.

This Monday in Madrid, Chile’s Minister of Energy, Juan Carlos Jobet, thanked AES Gener for its willingness. The company accepted the closure of two of its coal-fired thermoelectric plants in the “sacrifice zone” of Quintero-Puchuncaví as part of the Decarbonization Plan announced by the government.

While Jobet talked with journalists live on TV, Marcela Mella walked outside the Chilean pavilion at IFEMA. She is the spokeswoman for the citizen group No Alto Maipo and sees with indignation the negotiations of Article 6. “It is unacceptable what the states are doing and Alto Maipo is considered an example of ‘clean development’ while violating the fundamental rights of the community of the Cajon del Maipo. This negotiation is getting the territories, communities and ecosystems out of the discussion,” she says.

Credits: Nina Cordero.

The recognition of the CDM to Alto Maipo, she believes, is an image-washing of the company, whose matrix in Chile is based on fossil fuels. “You cannot kill the Maipo river basin to clean the image that AES Gener wants to promote. Here you have to understand that hydroelectricity is not clean, Chile suffers from water scarcity and hydroelectric generation must leave these ratings. Alto Maipo is an example of how corporations violate the human rights of communities.”

This information was produced as part of the Latin American Program of Journalistic Coverage COP25.

Francisco Parra
Climate Tracker's Latin America Programmes Manager. After covering 3 COP’s he’s now passionate about sharing his experience with journalists from across Latin America. Passionate drinker of Fernet and Terramotos. Working from Chile. Also speaks Spanish.