Good for planet and people? Renewable energy firms urged to clean up act on human rights

Workers walk at a solar power station in Tongchuan, Shaanxi province, China December 11, 2019. Picture taken December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Muyu Xu

BARCELONA, – Companies that produce clean energy are crucial for curbing climate change – but they’re not always the “good guys”, according to a report that tracks their human rights record for the first time.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) says 16 of the world’s largest publicly-traded wind and solar producers are not doing enough to protect their workers and the local communities affected by their operations.

Here are the key takeaways:

What’s the bigger picture?

A push to use less fossil fuel and curb climate change has seen nearly $2.7 trillion invested in renewables – mainly in solar and wind power – in the past decade, and the sector employed 11 million people in 2018.

Many of the companies are seen as saviours when it comes to tackling global warming – but the same can’t be said of how they treat human rights, according to Phil Bloomer, BHRRC executive director

That is a particular concern for indigenous people whose land has in some cases been used for clean energy projects without their agreement or fair compensation.

Which companies have been assessed and what are the key results?

Spanish energy corporations Iberdrola and Acciona, followed by Denmark’s Orsted and Italy’s Enel, had the best human rights record overall, with French and German firms dominating the middle tier – but no company scores above 53% on the benchmark.

The worst performers are Chinese and North American companies, as well investors Brookfield and BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, which own many renewable projects.

Companies, on average, scored better on indicators covering the basic human rights responsibilities, including having policies and grievance mechanisms in place, similar to other high-risk industries like apparel, agricultural products and tech manufacturing.

But they scored zero across the board when it came to commitments such as respecting local land rights and relocating or compensating communities affected by renewables projects.

The companies scored well in some areas, including anti-corruption due diligence and health and safety disclosures.

So big renewable energy firms are doing the right thing for the planet but the wrong thing for people?

The centre has tracked allegations of abuse against renewables companies over the past decade, and says complaints increased 10 times between 2010 and 2018.

Since 2010, the centre has identified 197 allegations of human rights abuses related to renewable energy projects, and asked 127 companies to respond to those allegations.

They include: killings, threats, and intimidation; land grabs; dangerous working conditions and poverty wages; and harm to indigenous peoples’ lives and livelihoods.

Allegations have been made in every region and across the wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and hydropower sectors, with the highest number in Latin America.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200701164637-rk6o4/

During pandemic, Nairobi nuns expand their reach

Sister Grace Njau, a member of the Missionary Sisters of Precious Blood, is being helped with food and hygienic items during a June 12, 2020, collection for poor and needy families in Nairobi, Kenya. (CNS/Francis Njuguna)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Normally, the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood feed about 200 children in Nairobi’s informal settlements of Kawangware and Riruta.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, the sisters are expanding their reach.

“We are using the telephone contacts of the children to reach these poor and needy families,” Precious Blood Sister Grace Njau told Catholic News Service during a mid-June distribution.

The sisters set up distribution tents outside Amani Rehabilitation Center/Primary School, where the children normally go for breakfast and lunch.

When a name was called out, a parent or guardian would step forward to collect the packaged assorted items, gathered from donors. About 14 families received food that day.

Esther Njeri, a single mother, told CNS upon receiving her share: “I am happy with our sisters … through our children, they have fed the entire family. May the good Lord bless where this has come from.”

Hassan Kariuki Warui, a Muslim and teacher at the school, told CNS the system was designed so “that every ‘grain of wheat’ goes to the intended poor and needy family.”

Kenya’s bishops anticipated that the food needs would be great with the lockdown. In late May, they predicted the pandemic would hit the nation’s most vulnerable people the hardest, including the 2.5 million people living in informal settlements.

They asked for donations of money, food and nonfood items “to support and save the lives of the affected population. In-kind donations (dry food and nonfood items) can be channeled through our parishes, diocesan and national offices and other church institutions,” the bishops said.

By June 29, Kenya had reported more than 6,000 cases of COVID-19, but fewer than 150 deaths.

“We hope we shall go back to our system of feeding these families via their children in our rehab center and primary school when the current coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown finally come to an end,” Njau said as she helped coordinate the distribution.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/coronavirus/during-pandemic-nairobi-nuns-expand-their-reach

Families sleep in water lines as drought grips Zimbabwe’s Bulawayo

More than 200 residents wait in line for a water delivery truck in the Pumula South area of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, May 22, 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Lungelo Ndhlovu

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, – Twice a week, Nothi Mlalazi joins a long line with dozens of other people – some of whom have slept there overnight – and stands for hours waiting for water in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city.

As the parched southern African country endures its worst drought in years – a problem scientists link to climate change – ongoing water shortages in Bulawayo have left residents in some suburbs without running water for more than three months.

The tankers that the city council sends to deliver water every few days are often the residents’ only hope for clean water.

Many will spend the night at the delivery point to make sure they can fill their buckets before the tankers – or bowsers – run dry.

“Receiving water from bowsers is a huge challenge for many residents. We spend most of our time in long, winding queues, impatiently waiting to fill up our containers,” said Mlalazi, 45, who lives in the poor, crowded suburb of Pumula South.

“You will find (people) as early as 1 a.m. already there,” she added, as she stood in line with two of her daughters, who watched to make sure nobody stole their water buckets.

LOW RESERVES

After several years of drought and patchy rains, reservoir levels have fallen dangerously low, pushing the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) to limit water supplies in an attempt to conserve the resource until the rainy season starts in October.

Last month, city authorities began shutting off piped water six days a week, reporting that the three dams acting as the city’s primary water sources were at less than 30% of capacity.

The city had already decommissioned three other dams due to the water dropping below pumping levels.

Some residents have resorted to drawing the water they need for washing from unprotected sources such as ponds and leaking water pipes, or tapping into sewage gutters for water to flush their toilets, said Pumula South resident Charles Siziba.

Siziba said the situation is made even more dire by the coronavirus pandemic, as the lack of running water increases the risk that people will catch the illness and infect others.

It is almost impossible to practice the regular handwashing that health experts say is one of the best weapons against the virus, he noted.

“And there is also no social distancing to speak of, because when the bowser comes through, residents push and shove in the water queue to fill up their buckets,” Siziba said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200617011613-mlzha/

Catholic schools step in to feed children over summer break

Manchester United and England soccer player Marcus Rashford. Credit: Jose Breton – Pics Action/Shutterstock.

CNA Staff, – England soccer star Marcus Rashford won praise when he persuaded the government Tuesday to extend a free school meal voucher scheme to cover the summer break. 

The Manchester United forward’s campaign will allow parents to claim vouchers for around 1.3 million children in England during the six-week holiday.

While Catholic charities welcomed the breakthrough, they said that the new measure alone would not be enough to ensure that children have enough to eat when schools close next month. 

Anna Gavurin, coordinator of the Caritas Food Collective at Caritas Westminster, said in a statement June 16: “In the last few weeks we have seen many schools setting up their own food banks and food parcel delivery schemes to support families who are struggling.” 

“Even with free school meal vouchers available, schools are seeing a level of need so great that they have been forced to provide direct food relief themselves.”

The Caritas Food Collective seeks to tackle food poverty across the Diocese of Westminster, which covers all of London north of the River Thames. It has been working closely during the coronavirus pandemic with St. Bernadette’s Primary School in Kenton, Harrow, a suburban area of Greater London. 

Headteacher David O’Farrell told CNA that the organization was helping him to provide food vouchers for hard-to-reach families who don’t qualify for free school vouchers.  

“Marcus Rashford was right: we can’t stop doing that in the summer holidays because that’s the worst time to turn off that tap. But the problem is that it doesn’t reach everybody because not everyone’s on the free school meals register,” he said June 16, the day of the government U-turn.

He explained that in order to qualify for free school meals families needed to meet certain conditions.  

“One of them is that you forgo your Working Tax Credit,” he said. “My parents here are predominantly in low-paid jobs, such as cleaners, pizza places, chicken shops, betting shops, these types of things.”

“If they were to accept the free school meals offer, they would lose a huge amount of working credit. So people don’t take it.”

Around five years ago, O’Farrell decided to set up a food bank at the school, which has a significant number of Romanian, Polish and Sri Lankan students, and is located in one of the poorest wards in Harrow. 

With the help of a school governor who worked in the food industry, he converted a shed into a storage room for dry foods such as pasta and rice, as well as soup. When the governor left, the local parish, All Saints, Kenton, stepped in to help. 

But at every stage, O’Farrell said, some needy families felt unable to access the food because of “this huge issue of embarrassment.” He believed that the problem could be solved if schools gave parents vouchers they could redeem at local supermarkets. 

The Caritas Food Collective asked him to put his idea down in writing.
 
“I wrote it and I didn’t think I was going to hear [any more] about it,” he said. “Then all of a sudden we had lockdown and they wrote to me saying that they had put the plan into place. We were eligible for £500 worth of vouchers, which we’ve used. And we’re now on our second lot of £500.” 

“I reckon we’re supporting about 25 families at the moment. Every day now we have two or three families coming to use our food bank.”

He described the plight of one family which was made homeless recently when the landlord increased their rent. They were rehoused in a neighboring borough. O’Farrell sent the mother vouchers and invited her to visit the school food bank. When she collected the food, she broke down in tears.

“It was just the first act of kindness she had received,” he said. “She was so relieved because she was at the end of her tether. That was in week two or three of lockdown.”

Asked what motivated him to find new ways to help families, O’Farrell said: “Christian values are very important to me and very important to the way we run the school. It’s also my upbringing as well. I had to stand in the free school meals line with a different colored ticket to everyone else.

“But looking at these poor children, they are worse off. It’s our duty as Catholics, as Christians, to do something about it.”

O’Farrell underlined his gratitude to Caritas Westminster for its emergency food voucher scheme.

He said: “They’ve been brilliant. There’s an email here from Anna [Gavurin] saying that on Friday we’re getting a Hasbro toy delivery, because she’s got a link with them. So some of our children will be going home with brand new toys on Friday, which is lovely.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/catholic-schools-step-in-to-feed-children-over-summer-break-48402

Cash payments to cut poverty in Indonesian villages help forests too

Sumbanese villagers work on a field seeding peanuts in Hamba Praing village, Kanatang district, East Sumba Regency, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, February 23, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

KUALA LUMPUR, – A social protection scheme to help poor Indonesians living in rural areas by giving them cash also reduced deforestation by 30%, researchers said on Friday, fuelling hope that efforts to tackle poverty and protect forests can work in tandem.

The study analysed Indonesia’s national anti-poverty programme – which transfers money to poor households that follow health and education guidelines – looking at about 7,500 forest villages that received money from 2008 to 2012.

“No matter which way we looked at it, the anti-poverty programme on average leads to reduction in deforestation in the villages receiving it,” said study co-author Paul Ferraro, a professor of human behaviour and public policy at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Over the last two decades, Indonesia managed to cut its poverty rate by more than half to just under 10% of its 260 million population in 2019, according to the World Bank.

The Southeast Asian nation, which is home to the world’s third-largest tropical forests, is also the top global producer of palm oil – which generates millions of jobs but is blamed by environmentalists for forest loss and fires.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous nation, was named as one of the top three countries for rainforest loss in 2019, according to data published this month by Global Forest Watch, a monitoring service that uses satellites.

The new study on Indonesia, published in the journal Science Advances, looked at data on tree-cover loss for villages near forests, before and after the welfare programme began.

Cash-based schemes to tackle poverty are becoming increasingly popular in developing countries, with 16 tropical nations having adopted such methods, Ferraro noted.

The Indonesian programme – still being phased in across the archipelago – makes “modest” quarterly cash payments equating to about 15-20% of recipients’ household consumption, he said.

The 266,533 households analysed for the study were located in the 15 provinces that make up half of Indonesia’s forest cover and account for about 80% of its deforestation.

Researchers found that farmers in these villages typically cleared forest to plant more crops if they expected low yields, due to delays in the monsoon season or prolonged drought.

But when given cash payments, they switched to buying from markets rather than clearing forest, or were able to take out loans using the government handout as a guarantee, said Ferraro.

Before scaling up such cash schemes worldwide, Ferraro urged more research on their environmental benefits.

A separate study in Mexico, using different methods, found a small rise in deforestation as locals may have used the cash to keep more cattle, clearing forest for grazing, he noted.

“We’re not going to solve the rainforest problems with a conditional cash transfer programme,” he said.

“(But) it provides space for these two groups – the anti-poverty and pro-environment groups – to be more collaborative.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20200612171610-gro26/