Why the production of renewable energy must be in line with the guarantee of human rights

The concept of fair energy transition is raising questions about a development model that sees human life as an obstacle

Parque eólico instalado no litoral cearense: comunidades locais lutam por transição energética justa (Foto: Jeferson Batista/Conectas) Parque eólico instalado no litoral cearense: comunidades locais lutam por transição energética justa (Foto: Jeferson Batista/Conectas)

Many people who live in traditional communities on the Ceará coast depend on the ocean for their livelihoods. This is why the fisherwoman, Luciane Santos, of the Cumbe quilombo, is concerned about the projects to build offshore wind farms. She understands this cause, as her community has been affected for years by the wind generators installed on the dunes in her region.

“We do not want it (the offshore wind energy project) to come to Cumbe. We know at first hand the upset that this has caused for our social and economic lives. They had said we didn´t have anything to worry about when it was on land. Imagine now that it´s going to be at sea and the impact will be so much bigger”, the fisherwoman said in May, at the first public hearing to denounce the state´s violation of laws. Those participating included the Articulação Povos de Luta (ARPOLU), which is made up of the coastal communities of Ceará, as well as the Organização Construindo Poder Popular, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra, Instituto Terramar and Conectas. During the hearing, leaders and civil society organisations denounced violations involving disregard for environmental licencing procedures, lack of consultation and free, prior and informed consent and dynamics of environmental racism.  

The growing demand for the production of renewable energy is an urgent need given the climate emergency. The world can no longer shoulder the impact of fossil fuels and real efforts to reduce carbon emissions are now needed. But this shift must take into consideration the need to respect the most vulnerable people, particularly traditional communities, like indigenous peoples, quilombolas and fishing communities which have always been guardians of natural resources, the environment and the preservation of life. In a recent report by the United Nations Framework Convention  on Climate Change, it said that “shifting to a low carbon economy can unlock new jobs and opportunities but it must be done in a way that is as socially and economically fair for everyone as possible”. This is the main concern of the fair energy transition concept. 

According to the director of Mitigation at UN climate change, James Grabert, to ensure no one is left behind, countries need just transition and economic diversification policies that are comprehensive, inclusive and based on social dialogue. He said these policies need to be integrated into national climate action plans, as well as into national adaptation plans to avoid exacerbating inequality. In practice we see a worrying gap between the energy sectors with climatic and socioenvironmental implications, which is the reason why movements like the artisanal fishers of Ceará are speaking out in defence of their territories and rights.

“They want to destroy us because our way of life hampers the system”

The concept of fair energy transition was also totally ignored when the Araripe III Wind Energy Complex was built. It sits on the border between Pernambuco and Piauí. 

In 2020, a team made up of fishers and officers from Conectas and IAP (International Accountability Project), visited the region to interview families whose lives had been affected by the venture and confirmed that as well as changing the local landscape, the complex had also caused disruptions and a split in the community.

According to inhabitants in the region, the principal complaints were about the loud noises caused by the blades, which increased dramatically with the strength of the wind, making it difficult for people to sleep. An increase in incidences of lightning and the deaths of animals, principally flying ones, were also signalled as something new following the arrival of the wind farms.

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“Wind energy is one of the alternatives that is available for the necessary and urgent shift from the fossil fuel supplies to renewables. However, for energy to be truly ´clean and cheap´,  it has to respect local communities. So-called sustainable ventures cannot commit the same human rights violations as the ones that occurred at the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Power Plant (Pará), at the Pequena Central Hydroelectric Plant in Capão Grande (Paraná) and that we saw on our trip to Araripe”, said Julia Neiva, Coordinator of the Conectas Defending Socioenvironmental Rights programme. “It is clear that the production of clean energy must be fostered and that Brazil needs to reduce carbon emissions in its energy supply, but not to the detriment of local populations and their rights.”

Available alternatives 

Several mobilisations, some at the national level, offer alternatives to the current scenario. In September 2022, some organisations held a national seminar entitled: “A Transição Energética que Queremos: Justa, Popular e Inclusiva” (The Energy Transition We Want: Fair, for the People and Inclusive). It was set up by the Frente por uma Nova Política Energética para o Brasil (Front for a New Energy Policy in Brazil), Fórum Mudanças Climáticas e Justiça Socioambiental (the Forum for Climate Change and Socioenvironmental Justice) and Comitê de Energia Renovável do Semiárido (the Committee for Renewable Energy in the Semi-Arid Region). A public letter was approved at the event demanding presidential election candidates commit to energy transition and categorically stated that “an energy transition model that replicated the exploitative model in which rights were violated must be avoided”.

Mobilisations have continued this year under the newly elected Federal government. Organisations led by the Working Group on Infrastructure and Socioenvironmental Justice, presented a letter to President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva requesting government policy for an interdisciplinary approach to environmental matters and another letter, addressed to the Mines and Energy Ministry (MME), requesting that robust analyses of socioenvironmental and economic viability are guaranteed, as well as full respect for the rights of the local communities, in the legal and institutional benchmark for planning renewable energy generation ventures.

Cases like the Chapada do Araripe and the Ceará coastline demonstrate that energy transition has to be aligned with a total guarantee of human rights. As the fisherman, João Batista dos Campos, from Tatajuba beach, warned during the public hearing in Ceará: “They want to destroy us because our way of life hampers the system”. For society, business and government it is time to reflect on the type of development that will go hand in hand with these energy transition ventures, which until now have been viewing human life as a hindrance. 

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