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Just ticking a box? Clean development consultations in Mexico

If a company wanted to build a wind park in your neighbourhood, you would hope that they would consult you first. You might know better than them what benefits that wind park could bring to your community and how best to ensure them. This is meant to happen with the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM, see box below). Companies vying for a project are obliged to meet with affected communities during a project’s design phase to have a conversation about its possible impacts.

The CDM has come under fire for allegedly failing to do this properly, with claims that consultation processes are inadequate or even forged. Yet in many cases, these claims were based on assumptions or the experience of a limited number of cases.

Our Mexican chapter, Transparencia Mexicana, has sought to plug that information gap through extensive research. They analysed all the design documents for CDM projects in Mexico, to try to get a sense of how involved communities had been in their development.

The chapter found that a lack of clear rules or guidelines affects the quality of consultation processes, the reporting of results and the possibilities for citizens to intervene in the approval of CDM projects in Mexico. Their research also indicates that it is essential to ask who participates in these consultations – that is, what type of people are being listened to.

Carbon offsetting and the Clean Development Mechanism

Carbon offsetting sounds great in theory. Instead of reducing their emissions at home, developed countries can invest in projects that contribute to emissions reductions in the developing world, like renewable energy or reforestation. Under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – the world’s largest offsetting scheme – these projects are also supposed to benefit host countries’ development, by creating jobs and providing an alternative to dirty energy and environmental degradation.

But the mechanism’s twin objectives are both problematic. By definition, reduced emissions do not exist, so measuring them is no easy task. This makes the system vulnerable to mistakes and manipulation. Likewise, sustainable development is a slippery definition. Projects like hydropower dams or biomass plants can bring a lot of money to a country, but for whom? In many cases it is hard to see how the CDM has benefitted local communities. In some it has reportedly even caused harm through forced displacement, land degradation or pollution. Keen to attract investment, countries can and do sign off on CDM projects without the due diligence or monitoring required to ensure that it will result in sustainable development gains.

Do citizens have their say in Mexico?

Eduardo Bohorquez and Bruno Brandão of Transparencia Mexicana

Transparencia Mexicana Executive Director Eduardo Bohorquez and Bruno Brandão, Programme Coordinator of the Climate Governance Integrity Programme in the country, present the research

After a decade of work in the field of corruption, we understand that risks to integrity arise not only from the quality of institutions but from the quality of the interactions and relationships that these institutions foster. This prompted us to launch a research programme into the various encounters between actors engaged with and affected by CDM projects.

As a first step we analysed all of the project design documents ever produced for CDM projects in Mexico. At the time of research, in June 2012, there were 150 such documents, for projects that had been either registered, rejected, withdrawn or placed under review.

The initial results reveal that a lack of proper regulations and guidelines affects the quality of the consultation processes, the reporting of results and the possibilities for stakeholders to intervene in the approval and accreditation of CDM projects in Mexico. Our study thus supports with empirical data the commonly made critiques of CDM consultation processes.

But the research does more than that. It also provides guidance as to what sorts of interactions these processes can generate. It is worth mentioning, for example, that mitigation measures – proactive measures aimed at avoiding or decreasing negative effects of the project – tend to be requested in cases where specialised authorities are involved in the consultation process and interact with members of local communities. In contrast to compensation requests, where communities ask for money or services to compensate them for potential impacts to their lives, we believe that requests for mitigation measures usually reflect broader knowledge and understanding by the public of the projects’ real impacts.

Effective consultation processes depend on the engagement of distinct sections of the public. Consultations should enable and promote interaction among local affected communities, academics, media, public authorities (particularly specialised agencies), project developers and consultants. This promotes the exchange of information in multiple directions. Local communities can of course learn from the so-called experts, but it is also often the case that academics, the media and public authorities come out of their encounter with local communities with a more refined understanding.

The equality gap should also be addressed. Bringing a variety of stakeholders together creates alliances between more influential people and those who are often marginalised from the debate. This doesn’t mean that consultation processes should ignore the specific needs of distinct groups or the limitations of certain actors for adequate participation, however. Rather they should address and try to counter imbalances in knowledge and ability. Very often these inequalities result in manipulation and exploitation. Robust and truly multi-stakeholder consultations can help avoid this by shining a light on such attempts within an institutionalised space of participation.

What we asked about CDM projects in Mexico

There were three main questions that Transparencia Mexicana asked in relation to CDM projects in the country:

  1. How is the consultation process conducted?
  2. How are the results of the consultation process presented in the project design documents?
  3. How does the consultation process influence the approval and accreditation of the projects?

Initial key findings

Project developers and consultants have full discretion over the design and undertaking of consultation with stakeholders: The most popular type of consultation is through public assembly (31 per cent), but there were also cases of projects conducting direct interviews (3 per cent), surveys (2 per cent) and calls for comments (3 per cent). The majority of the cases, however, opted for a combination of these methods (61 per cent).

Reporting of the results and characteristics of the consultation is generally very poor: Only 64 per cent of the projects state that an attendee list (or participants list in the case of calls for comments) has been produced. From this total only 45 per cent actually attach or reproduce the list in the project design document. Moreover, only 27 per cent register the existence of meeting minutes, only one case confirms the existence of signed minutes, and none actually attach or reproduce the minutes. Finally, only 50 per cent of the documents have a record of the questions and answers voiced during the hearings. Without transparent record keeping, consultations can be tarnished by accusations of exclusion, secrecy or selective memory.

Very few documents actually record requests from the public: Our findings indicate that only 10 per cent of compensation requests and 7.3 per cent of mitigation requests are formally noted. This may result from insufficient and/or inadequate channels to convey comments; a lack of clarity for the public that their participation comprises more than questioning and commenting and that they can present demands; or that stakeholders do not have sufficient information about the project to be aware of their potential consequences at that time.

Recommendations

The CDM’s consultation process is essential for its legitimacy. Our findings demonstrate that rules and guidance for this process need urgent reform. When designing these standards it will be important to take into consideration the various types of projects and the challenges and costs involved. In order to fulfill its purpose, the mechanism’s consultation process must become a space where various voices can convey their views, confident in the knowledge they will not only be heard, but also seriously considered.

Thorough reform of stakeholder consultation rules long overdue

Antonia Vorner, CDM Watch

Our partner CDM Watch is an independent watchdog to the CDM. Its international network connects NGOs and academics globally to share information and concerns about CDM projects and policies, and strengthen the voice of civil society in the CDM and broader carbon market developments.

CDM Watch Network Coordinator Antonia Vorner comments on Transparencia Mexicana’s findings.

The CDM provides no guidance on how stakeholder consultation should be carried out, nor how they should be audited. This means that CDM project developers have been able to carry out superficial and insufficient local stakeholder consultations. Projects often get registered despite the fact that people directly affected have not even been informed, which has resulted in considerable negative impacts on local populations. In the case of the Sasan coal power project in India in 2010, villagers were only informed about the project when they were told to move out of their homes.

There is broad consensus that a reform of stakeholder consultation in the CDM is long overdue. As a result of continued efforts by CDM Watch and our partners to address identified shortcomings in public participation requirements and practices, a concept note for improved local and global stakeholder consultation processes was presented at the last CDM Executive Board meeting in September 2012.

The options on the table include many of the recommendations put forward by the CDM Watch Network but it has not yet been decided what will actually be included in the draft guidelines to be developed. This conversation will continue at the CDM’s next board meeting, set to take place at this year’s UN climate conference in Doha. It will be vital for civil society to keep advocating for stronger rights for those people whose lives are directly affected by the CDM.

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