Green-Energy Companies Have a Human-Rights Problem

Green-Energy Companies Have a Human-Rights Problem

SOURCE: Bloomberg News DATE: July 4, 2020 SNIP: Land seizures. Dangerous working conditions. Mistreatment of native populations. For decades, such practices were associated in the public mind with the oil and gas industries. That perception in turn undermined confidence in fossil fuels and, as climate change worsened, helped set the stage for a widespread boom in the renewable-energy business. Now that business is itself under scrutiny — and for some of the same practices. According to a new report, at least 197 allegations of human-rights abuses have been leveled against renewable-energy projects in recent years, including land-grabs, dangerous working conditions and even killings. Meanwhile, many of the world’s largest publicly held solar and wind companies are failing to meet widely accepted human-rights benchmarks. The report comes from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, a London-based group that promotes human rights in the corporate world and which has been scrutinizing the renewables business for several years. In 2019, the group documented 47 attacks, ranging from frivolous lawsuits to violence, on individuals who raised concerns about human-rights abuses in the industry. That ranked fourth, behind only mining (143 attacks), agribusiness (85) and waste disposal (51). That’s hardly the kind of company that most renewables executives want to keep, and the report offers some insight into what’s gone wrong. The group evaluated 16 of the world’s biggest public renewables companies against standards including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as well as against several criteria that the group developed specific to the green-energy industry. The results were not good. None of the companies had policies to “to respect...
US demand for clean energy destroying Canada’s environment, indigenous peoples say

US demand for clean energy destroying Canada’s environment, indigenous peoples say

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: June 22, 2020 SNIP: In a subarctic fjard estuary just a few miles from frozen tundra, Inuit hunter Karl Michelin says he owes his life to the thousands of barking ringed seals that congregate year-round in local waters. The seals’ jet-black, heavily fatted meat is a staple for Michelin, his wife, and their toddler. With food insecurity rampant among the region’s Inuit, neighbors are similarly dependent on seals and other wild-caught food. The town’s isolation makes regular employment opportunities scarce, and food prohibitively expensive to import. But Michelin says his ability to harvest seals is facing a threat from an unexpected quarter: America’s hunger for cheap and renewable electricity. Canada’s indigenous leaders say an unprecedented push for clean energy in the United States is inadvertently causing long-term environmental damage to the traditional hunting grounds on their public lands. Rigolet lies downstream of Muskrat Falls, a $12.7bn dam on the Churchill River, a key drainage point for Labrador’s biggest watershed. Nalcor, the state-owned company that completed Muskrat Falls last year, is already planning Gull Island, another Churchill dam that would produce three times as much electricity, mostly for export to the US. The Nunatsiavut government, which governs 2,700 Inuit in the area, says those dams will disrupt the hydrologic cycle underpinning the ecosystem, and increase exposure to a toxin associated with dam reservoirs. When land is flooded, naturally occurring mercury is unlocked from the soil and vegetation and released into the water column, where it is taken up by bacteria and transformed into methylmercury, a neurotoxin that makes its way up the food chain and bioaccumulates...
Indonesian miners eyeing EV nickel boom seek to dump waste into the sea

Indonesian miners eyeing EV nickel boom seek to dump waste into the sea

SOURCE: MongaBay DATE: May 18, 2020 SNIP: As Indonesia ramps up its mining sector to feed the world’s hunger for zero-emission vehicles, it is faced with a problem: what to do with all the waste. The country is the world’s biggest producer of nickel, one of the key elements in the rechargeable batteries that power electric vehicles and energy storage systems. Now, companies building the nation’s first factories to produce the elements that power electric vehicles are seeking permission to dump billions of tons of potentially toxic waste into the waters of the Coral Triangle, home to the highest diversity of corals and reef fishes anywhere on the planet. In January, two companies presented plans to use the method, known as deep-sea tailings disposal, or DSTD, to Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry for Maritime and Investment Affairs, according to presentation documents seen by Mongabay. Neither company appears to have received permission from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, which must approve the practice, though factories pitching to dump waste in the ocean are already under construction. Nickel mining, increasingly pushed to meet rising demand for batteries, has long been a core industry for Indonesia. Smelting for battery nickel produces large amounts of acidic waste full of heavy metals, and how to deal with the waste is one of the most important decisions in a smelting project. Companies often choose DSTD as a cost-efficient or safer option to manage tailings, the byproducts left over from extracting metals from ore. It’s an alternative to constructing a dam to store the tailings or spending money to treat the waste so it can be returned...
B.C. giving millions to transform rainforest into wood pellets for export, new report documents

B.C. giving millions to transform rainforest into wood pellets for export, new report documents

SOURCE: The Narwhal DATE: April 23, 2020 SNIP: “Energy really can grow on trees,” says the website of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada. The association touts wood pellets — manufactured from sawdust, slash piles and low-grade timber from forestry harvest sites — as a way to fight climate change by replacing coal as an energy source. “Think firewood,” the website explains to anyone curious about the elongated pellets that resemble pet rabbit food in texture and appearance. But a new investigation claims pellets made by B.C.’s two largest wood pellet companies originate from whole trees as well as sawmill residuals and finds that burning pellets releases more greenhouse gas emissions than coal, blaming faulty carbon accounting for the industry’s climate-friendly veneer. Some trees used for pellets, including mature Western red cedars, likely come from logging operations in the province’s rare inland temperate rainforest which provides critical habitat for endangered caribou and other at-risk species, according to the investigation by Stand.earth, released Thursday. B.C.’s wood pellet industry has grown dramatically over the past decade, fueled by tens of millions of dollars in subsidies from the provincial and federal governments and overseas demand. B.C. is Canada’s leading exporter of wood pellets. Last November, the B.C. government announced more than $27 million in grants “to help increase the use of wood fibre that would otherwise have been burned as slash.” Slash is a general word for waste wood generated at forestry operations. Two grants totalling more than $1.5 million went to Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. for operations near Burns Lake and Vernon, a company singled out in the Stand.earth investigation. Stand.earth...
2,000 renewable energy projects shown to have negative biodiversity impact

2,000 renewable energy projects shown to have negative biodiversity impact

SOURCE: Engineering & Technology DATE: March 26, 2020 SNIP: Researchers have claimed that more than 2,000 renewable energy facilities are built in areas of environmental significance and could be negatively impacting local biodiversity. The team from the University of Queensland in Australia have mapped the location of solar, wind and hydropower facilities in wilderness, protected areas and key biodiversity areas. Lead author José Rehbein said he was alarmed by the findings: “Aside from the more than 2,200 renewable energy facilities already operating inside important biodiversity areas, another 900 are currently being built. “Energy facilities and the infrastructure around them, such as roads and increased human activity, can be incredibly damaging to the natural environment. These developments are not compatible with biodiversity conservation efforts.” The majority of renewable energy facilities in western Europe and developed nations are located in biodiverse areas. Rehbein said there is still time for developers to reconsider facilities under construction in Asia and Africa. University of Amsterdam senior author Dr James Allan said effective conservation efforts and a rapid transition to renewable energy was essential to prevent species extinctions and avoid catastrophic climate...