Climate Change Exacerbates the Impacts of Extractive Industries in Peru

Author Conrado Oliveira
Author Conrado Oliveira

Lee este artículo en Español.

The Joining Hands Against Hunger Network in Peru (Red Uniendo Manos Peru) is an organization made up of twelve associated institutions that focus primarily on themes of environmentalism and human rights at a national level.

At this time, we in Peru are encountering a period of setbacks in our efforts toward sustainability. Over the course of the last several years, we had achieved moderate advances in environmental law, institutions, and administration, but now, we are seeing a clear change of direction in government policies. We are seeing various mechanisms of bureaucratic “red tape” being applied, such as the failure of the government to comply with the Law of Prior Consultation of Indigenous Peoples. Disengagement of the processes of Territorial Legislation and Ecological and Economic Zoning Laws give priority to businesses in the extractive industries. The neglect of regulations that required the approval of Environmental Impact Studies for large businesses, the weakening of the Ministry of Environment’s transectoral administration, etc., all clearly demonstrate disregard for and abandonment of our ecosystems and the environmental biodiversity that support the sustainability of the Andean and Amazonian populations. All this to promote policies that lower to a dangerous level the hurdles for extractive industries entering Peru?!

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These measures are a continuation and reaffirmation of the model of growth set up in our country, one based on the massive exportation of raw materials with neither adequate planning nor regulation and auditing.
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These measures are a continuation and reaffirmation of the model of growth set up in our country, one based on the massive exportation of raw materials with neither adequate planning nor regulation and auditing. This is done without calculating the risks of the social conflicts and environmental factors that directly affect our ability to sustain ourselves as a nation. Through all of this, we lose our capacity for negotiation and governance; we become a community highly dependent on the fluctuation of international mineral prices. It is impossible to ensure sustainable development in such circumstances; instead, it puts our democracy in danger and facilitates authoritarian tendencies at the expense of the poor.

Open pit mine in Cerro de Pasco Photo Credit: source-international.org
Open pit mine in Cerro de Pasco
Photo Credit: source-international.org

It seems to me that Peru has not learned its lesson, even after the environmental losses we have accumulated thus far, which reflect some of the worst known environmental disasters, both in the region and the world. Such cases include: La Oroya (the fifth most polluted city in the world), the current situation in the city Cerro de Pasco (which is being essentially destroyed by the advance of open-pit mining), and the pollution of various Amazonian basins by petroleum companies and informal mining, among others. All of these situations – and many more like them – are yet to be resolved.

The expansion of the extractive industries brings population growth to different regions of the country, causing destruction of and imbalances in the biodiversity and the ecosystems that supply vital renewable resources and environmental services for the local populations.

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All of this points to the fact that Climate Change represents an imminent threat to balanced and well-adjusted development in our country.
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The effects of Climate Change, to which Peru is especially vulnerable, exacerbate this scenario. Peru fulfills 7 of the 9 characteristics of vulnerability to climate change established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Our daily experience, along with the predictions we’ve seen fulfilled, confirm that these extreme climate events keep taking place with greater frequency and intensity each year. This is threatening our food and energy security, especially considering that 60% of our country’s electricity production is based in hydroelectric power plants.

In the suburbs of Lima, water is already scarce, which will only be exacerbated by climate change.
In the suburbs of Lima, water is already scarce, which will only be exacerbated by climate change.

All of this points to the fact that Climate Change represents an imminent threat to balanced and well-adjusted development in our country. Because of this, there is an urgent demand to reduce the vulnerability of the population and increase the sustainability of systems of production.

Of course, we must also take into account the fact that this extractivist model, leading to greater risk from the effects of climate change and environmental variability, is not limited to Peru. These models, when observed at a global level, show us that systems of economic development based in consumerism, speculation, and intensive use of natural resources are in fact exhausting these essential resources. [1] Similarly, our world has reached a high level of demographic strain, accompanied by a completely unequal distribution of resources. According to information gathered in a report from the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, by the year 2000, 80.7% of the global population was concentrated in the less-developed regions of the world, despite the fact that this portion of the population only has access to 20% of the world’s resources. Additionally, more than half of the world’s population is settled in large cities. [2]

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Of course, we must also take into account the fact that this extractivist model, leading to greater risk from the effects of climate change and environmental variability, is not limited to Peru.
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Because of this, we are looking for a global strategy that incorporates the participation of youth and young adults. They are the ones who are receptive to proposing, agreeing upon, and carrying out measures on multiple levels, a joint plan of wide-scope, on a scale and amplitude that facilitates the changes we’re hoping for. Each year, youth and young adults concerned about environmental issues gather in either Bolivia or Peru for the Peru/Boliva Youth Congress, where they learn about and discuss the most pressing issues in their own contexts and efforts to address them.

Participants from the 2010 Youth Congress
Participants from the 2010 Youth Congress

The transitions to processes of greater balance and sustainability in human life are strongly linked to global questions and larger strategies. Each one of these issues concerns all the others, much like the relationship between human beings to nature and the Creation itself. In this struggle, each person, each organization, and each space – each with our own ideas, attitudes, beliefs, and personal ties – are all necessary for the process of transition and transformation.

From December 1-12 of this year, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP-20, will take place in Lima, Peru. Participants from 195 countries will come together to form agreements that are large-scale, ambitious, legally binding, and include shared responsibilities including the preparation of a document that the parties will sign in Paris next year.

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We have the ability to show the world in real, visible terms the grave threat of Climate Change and the impact it will have for human life and the ecosystems that are our ecological heritage.
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Logo of the Peru COP 20 Group that will organize civil society events and mobilize for binding climate agreements
Logo of the Peru COP 20 Group that will organize civil society events and mobilize for binding climate agreements

This is an opportunity for the world, for Latin America, and especially for Peru to contribute out of our wealth of diversity, knowledge, and wisdom. We have the ability to show the world in real, visible terms the grave threat of Climate Change and the impact it will have for human life and the ecosystems that are our ecological heritage.

When we hold the Peru/Boliva Youth Congress in Lima in December, we aim to provide our participants opportunities to attend civil society forums and access to other spaces of discussion and mobilization related to the COP-20 and the summit of the people. We are doing this in order to promote analysis and reflection on the challenges that humans face when we seek to live in harmony with the universe. We want to focus on development in terms of coexistence and responsible stewardship of the goods of creation.

Ultimately, we are seeking to motivate the search for new paths, both of theory and practice, for new opportunities and strategies. We seek to facilitate the development of individual lifestyles and comprehensive government policies that provide protection, care, and access for all of Creation.

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[1] Meadows et al. (1972). “Los Límites del Crecimiento: Informe al Club de Roma sobre el predicamento de la humanidad”. Fondo de Cultura Económica.
[2] UNFPA, 2002.

 

AUTHOR BIO: Conrado Oliveira is the Executive Director of the Peru Joining Hands Network.

Find out more about the Climate of Conflict trip to Peru!

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