The hidden face of renewable energies that affects Latin America

The world needs an energy transition towards renewable, sustainable, and carbon-neutral sources. However, this implies tremendous challenges, beyond the economic investment, to make it a fair and responsible process.

Hydrocarbon extraction machinery

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LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: La cara oculta de las energías renovables que afecta a Latinoamérica

One of the most important issues being discussed at COP27 is the decarbonization of industries and the acceleration of the energy transition. Said transition is the process by which it is intended to change an energy system based on fossil fuels, mainly oil, gas, and coal, towards a system with low carbon emissions, or without emissions, which is achieved from the use of renewable energies.

Renewable energies include hydroelectric, solar, geothermal, wind, solid and liquid biofuels, biogas, marine, and waste. In addition, there is green hydrogen, which is created by the electrolysis of water from using other renewable sources of electricity. To develop the technologies that support renewable energy systems, elements such as rare piles of earth, lithium, graphite, copper, nickel, or cobalt are necessary. Taking into account information from the World Bank, from now to 2050 around 3 billion tons of minerals and metals will be required in order to achieve the energy transition in the world.

The Other Side Of The Coin: Extractivism In Latin America And Other Regions

According to ECLAC, "Latin America and the Caribbean occupies a key place in the global context due to its vast endowment of critical and strategic natural resources to move towards greater availability of renewable energy, achieve global climate objectives and combat climate change." ”. Likewise, this entity projects that "for South America, new investments are projected up to 2030 for 74,000 million dollars in renewable energy projects, 36,000 million dollars in non-conventional renewable energies and 38,000 million dollars in hydroelectric energy". This is because, in Latin America, specifically in South America, large reserves of minerals and materials are necessary to promote the energy transition.

On another front, ECLAC points out that the region has an industrial opportunity in the area of electric mobility through the manufacture of vehicles and the processing of raw materials such as copper or lithium. Lithium, known as white gold, will be essential for the economic drive of Latin America since it is essential for the construction of electric car batteries. Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru host 67% of world reserves, as indicated by data from the US Geological Survey, 2021.

And while this data sounds like good news in economic and investment terms, as well as driving carbon reductions, it is a much more complex situation than it seems. The presence of these resources is also a problem for the region since it does not distance it from the social and environmental conflicts of extractivism. The contamination of rivers, the displacement of communities, with the consequent impact on their ways of life and culture, the destruction of forests, the use of violence, and the loss of life are just some of the consequences.

In this sense, the implementation of renewable energies cannot be analyzed only from the economic and energy security point of view, since the socio-environmental aspect is also crucial. If alternative models to the traditional exploitation of these resources are not thought of, which implies respect for human rights and planning that allows mitigating the harmful effects of mining on ecosystems and life, this exploitation will only further deepen the problems that are already present.

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"There is no climate justice if it is extractivist"

An investigation carried out by the Environmental Justice Atlas and Mining Watch, analyzed the impacts of the mining necessary for the energy transition in the Americas. In countries like Chile, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia there are important reserves of these metals and materials and their extraction processes are already generating environmental and social conflicts. Said the report, which carried out mapping with the collaboration of more than 25 organizations in 9 countries in the Americas, points out that " This "green mining boom" is increasingly affecting human rights and those of indigenous peoples, as well as the environment. environment and the livelihoods of communities.

This report concludes that the extraction processes that are being applied with the metals necessary for energy transformation are only a market change for mining companies. However, it is essential that it suppose a change of model both at a political and social level. In this sense, he points out that “efficiency or recycling are necessary components to address the climate crisis, but these strategies alone will not solve the growing demand for these materials. Therefore, for a just transition, it is unavoidable to significantly reduce the consumption of materials and energy, especially in the global north”.

Likewise, the investigation indicates that " mining corporations, mostly Canadian and Australian in the documented cases, and governments promote a model that does not question the lifestyle of the global North, nor does it pose key questions such as energy for what, for who and at what socio-environmental cost" . In this sense, he summarizes that the movements of America and the world warn that "there is no climate justice if it is extractivist."

The energy transition must be developed as a fair transition, and not only in terms of access to energy. Most countries in the global north, such as those in the European Union, Canada, or the United States, do not have large reserves of materials such as copper or lithium, so they will have to obtain them from other regions such as South America, Australia, East Africa, and Africa. Central or Asian. For this reason, the climate justice component must be a key component in the global energy transition.

In addition, it is necessary to carry out a pedagogy and awareness about climate justice so that more citizens understand that behind every good and service there is a process. It is necessary to adopt a change in world consumption modes.

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