We must ensure that transforming our energy system does not mean violating the rights of people who have lived for generations on lands containing valuable resources. This #HumanRightsDay we celebrate the activism of Indigenous leaders, and highlight key lessons from Oxfam’s work in Peru in defending the right to decide.
We know climate chaos is already costing lives. And we know we need bold and decisive collective action to transform our energy system to limit warming to below 1.5 C and avoid catastrophic climate change. However, even at the climate conference in Glasgow last month, when faced with the urgent and existential threat, rich countries simply failed to act.
Transforming our energy systems is no small feat. We must rapidly decarbonize our energy systems and end our addiction to fossil fuels—especially in wealthy economies like the US—while also increasing energy access for historically excluded communities. This will inevitably mean building new low-carbon energy infrastructures—such as solar and wind farms to power our homes, hospitals, and schools, and batteries to store the electricity to power our vehicles.
Yet, any meaningful discussion of how—and from where—we source the raw minerals needed to build this renewable energy system was largely missing from the recent climate meeting.
As the urgency to respond to the climate crisis grows, competition for already finite land resources to extract minerals like lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, and copper—minerals that are used in many clean energy infrastructures—will also continue to grow. A “climate rush” to extract at all costs will only accelerate if business and the mining industry are left to operate as usual, putting increased pressure on the world’s already finite land resources and the communities whose cultures and livelihoods are tied to those land resources.
According to one analysis, roughly 46% of extractive companies’ mineral reserves lie on land inhabited by indigenous peoples.
Indigenous peoples across the world have continuously asserted and defended their rights and customary land tenures against the unlawful enclosure of their territories. Throughout history, colonialist imperatives to widen and deepen “extractive” frontiers—whether for sugar, oil, gas, mining, logging, or commercial agriculture—have consistently been used to justify these enclosures, and legitimize the violation of Indigenous peoples and the dismissal of their land rights.
We have seen the toll fossil fuel extraction has taken on indigenous people and their lands. Will the clean energy transition be exploited to justify another wave of colonialist dispossession of Indigenous lands? Or will we finally learn the lessons from the past?
Lessons on defending rights from Indigenous people in Peru
If we are to avoid more natural resource conflicts in the future, we should look to learn from countries that have long histories of contested relationships between governments, companies, and Indigenous peoples involving governance of the subsoil. Peru is one of those geographies. A new publication from Oxfam—Negotiating Consent—draws together research examining the politics and practices of defending Indigenous rights in Peru.
Peru is an important context in which to examine these issues. The last decade has seen a dramatic expansion of extractive industry concessions, which has heightened tensions with Peru’s Indigenous peoples who, alongside rural communities, collectively manage almost 50% of Peruvian territory. Peru was also the first country in Latin America to introduce, ten years ago, a national Indigenous peoples’ consultation law.
Reflecting on this anniversary, Oxfam partners in Peru—Cooperacción, ONAMIAP, and PUINAMUDT—published research examining the politics and practices of the implementation of this law. Negotiating Consent synthesizes this work and offers practical guidance for improving the implementation of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) processes and in the process, safeguarding the rights of Indigenous peoples, across the globe.
For Indigenous peoples, the power to give or withhold consent to extractive industries or other large-scale infrastructure projects is a right protected by international law, and it has become a crucial safeguard for the protection and realization of their collective autonomies, resilience, and self-determination.
In the last decade, important global normative progress on Indigenous rights has been made, as evidenced by the sheer growth in the number of standards, policies, and jurisprudences requiring FPIC. Companies spanning the extractive industries and agribusiness sectors, as well as international financial institutions and global banks, today recognize FPIC, and have incorporated it into their corporate policies and lending conditions.
Yet translating these company and investor commitments into improved outcomes on the ground has not been easy.
While Peru’s consultation law was celebrated at the time, in the final legal text the Peruvian government held onto the power to override a community decision not to consent to a project. This significant departure from the evolving international norms is something that in practice left communities—forced into negotiating extractive industry projects—in vulnerable negotiating positions.
Experiences from Peru show how histories, memories, and existing forms of discrimination all impede the effective realization of processes of consultation and consent. But, there are concrete actions that governments, companies, and investors can take to support the full and effective implementation of the safeguards provided by FPIC. This means:
- Protecting and defending the political space for people to speak out, even if they voice opposition to or criticism of an investment project;
- Companies being prepared to cede power to Indigenous peoples and use their influence with governments and business partners to ensure community rights are respected (companies can start by committing not to proceed with a project if community consent is not obtained);
- Adequately resourcing community consent processes at each of the key decision points in the project cycle, including ensuring communities have access to the independent technical and legal support they need to negotiate on a more equal footing;
- Ensuring consultation and consent processes help overcome the existing forms of discrimination women and other vulnerable groups face in influencing, including around women’s access to communal land and forest resources;
- Strengthening communities’ negotiating power by improving coordination, information sharing, and coalition building among and between Indigenous peoples and allies, as well as making more effective use of nonviolent direct action; and,
- Enshrining the standard of consent in national law when Indigenous peoples seek it; doing so gives effect to international law and jurisprudence, but also creates legal certainty for project developers and investors, while helping to balance negotiating power between Indigenous peoples, mining companies, and government agencies
Without putting Indigenous rights first and guaranteeing the effective implementation of safeguards like FPIC, we will fail to learn the lessons of history—and our efforts to transform our energy system will become just the next iteration of colonial expansion.
Take action: As the US Senate considers the Build Back Better Bill, we urge the Senate to uphold the highest human rights, environmental, and fiscal transparency standards, including FPIC, when sourcing transition minerals, whether at home or abroad, and vote against any efforts to weaken those protections.
Read the new report from Oxfam: Negotiating Consent.