Emerging Challenges in the Global Energy Transition: A View from the Frontlines
Energy Justice: US and International Perspectives (Raya Salter, Carmen G. Gonzalez, and Elizabeth Ann Kronk Warner eds.) (2018)
20 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2019 Last revised: 1 Aug 2019
Date Written: 2018
Although the commitments made by corporations in the Global North to invest in clean technology in the Global South appear promising, private capital’s move toward the center of the climate change stage all but guarantees that neoliberal economic development approaches, which favor large-scale development to benefit private interests, will overshadow energy democracy. Thus, the same methodologies and instruments that wrought economic havoc on the Global South in the name of development, but have proven so profitable for private entities, will now be deployed to foster the global transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. This could mean that some of the earth’s most vulnerable inhabitants—indigenous people—will be doubly impacted by the global energy transition. First, they will bear the disproportionate impacts of the harms of climate change since, as legal scholars have noted, indigenous peoples are uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to their close and interdependent ties to the land. Second, given that communities and indigenous peoples hold the majority of world’s land under customary land tenure systems, they will be asked to bear the burden of saving the world by providing land for renewable energy development, while receiving very few of the economic benefits of such renewable energy development.
This Chapter argues that effective incorporation of principles of energy democracy consistent with international principles concerning the rights of indigenous peoples could help to ease this twin burden on the world’s indigenous peoples while also facilitating a just global energy transition. Mexico provides an apt example of the foregoing climate-development dialectic, and the country’s energy transition is often held out as an exemplar of the renewable energy transition in the Global South. The recent challenges the country has faced within its transition also illustrate the challenges faced by corporations when engaging in fast-paced renewable energy development in a country that is still home to millions of indigenous peoples. Countries around the Global South, such as Brazil, are closely watching Mexico’s market-driven reform effort to determine whether Mexico’s approach to its renewable energy transition can be replicated.
This Chapter provides a window into emerging challenges within Mexico’s energy transition, and explores how these challenges might be addressed incorporating the substantive and procedural aspects of energy democracy. The Chapter proceeds in five parts. Part I describes the legal reforms leading to Mexico’s transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. Part II turns to the state of Oaxaca, a region that served as the focal point for much of the country’s renewable energy development until the 2013 energy reform, to illustrate many of the contentious development dynamics that can emerge in connection with fast-paced clean energy development in indigenous territory. Part III focuses on Yucatan state. Part III describes the ways in which Yucatan state, which is also home to a sizable indigenous population, has been positioned as another focal point for extensive renewable energy development pursuant to the energy reform, and how the country might be poised to repeat many of the mistakes made in Oaxaca. Part IV outlines the key tensions and development challenges that have emerged since Mexico’s energy reform began, and Part V concludes with early reflections on Mexico’s energy reform, noting the potential for the country to overcome some of the emerging challenges by using an energy democracy framework.
Keywords: clean technology, indigenous peoples, Global South, energy
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