Authors: Pablo Bertinat, Jorge Chemes, Lyda Fernanda Forero
Editor: Beatriz Martinez
Design: Evan Clayburg
Photo Credits: Pablo Bertinat and Lyda Fernanda Forero
English translation from original Spanish version by Analía Penchaszadeh
Transnational Institute and Taller Ecologista (with the support of Fundación Boell Cono Sur)
Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank the following for their comments
and contributions – María Selva, Paula Gioia, Natalia Carrau, Cecilia Olivet, Tica Moreno, Daniel Chavez y Diego Azzi.
The contents of this report may be cited or reproduced for non-commercial purposes provided that the source is mentioned in full. We would be grateful to receive a copy of or a link to the text in which this report is cited or used.
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La Vía Campesina (28 May 2018). ‘Para La Vía Campesina la Agroecología es un enfoque tecnológico subordinado a objetivos políticos profundos’, La Via Campesina. Available at https://viacampesina.org/es/para-la-via-campesina-la-agroecologia-es-un-enfoque-tecnologico-subordinado-a-objetivos-politicos-profundos/ (Retrieved on 29 January 2021.) (Spanish only.)
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Here, decentralisation relates to distributed generation. Decentralisation involves proposing and implementing public policies regarding local and regional (renewable) energy production, promoting projects that bring generation closer to consumers as well as local socio-productive, socio-economic, and socio-technical initiatives. These types of projects can foster higher social participation and energy democratisation.
Democratisation seeks to create spaces for active citizen participation in energy-related decision-making. It aims to balance the power relationships in the energy sector, to ensure free and unbiased access to information, and to be counter-hegemonic in the face of large transnational energy companies.
The energy sector in Latin America is highly concentrated in the hands of a few, who control the capital with a logic of monopoly, whether they are private or State companies. Here, we discuss the need to implement public policies that do not concentrate power in the same actors who strictly seek profits and geopolitical positioning. The dynamics of decentralisation, democratisation, and de-commodification are key elements in the de-concentration of energy.
Understanding that energy enables the satisfaction of basic needs and offers a higher quality of life, we must see energy as a right and not as a commodity. There are other ways of relating to energy, and energy democratisation is one tool that can contribute to this process.
De-fossilisation refers to the imperative need to reduce fossil fuel consumption in the energy matrix. This entails replacing fossil fuels while at the same time changing the logic of production and consumption. As is regularly stated here, de-fossilisation must take place within the context of a peoples’ energy transition.
Although each country’s regulation includes a technical definition of this concept, distributed generation refers to mechanisms for generating energy in small and medium plants. These can be managed and implemented in homes, small and medium enterprises, or public buildings. Medium plants can generate enough energy to cover the needs of companies or municipalities, and can include energy co-operatives. One of the features of distributed generation is that it brings energy generation closer to the centers of consumption.
An energy matrix – or the energy balance of a country, a region, or the world – is a way of organising information related to energy. This is usually presented as a table or a flow chart that shows the amounts of the different primary and secondary energy sources, the types of transformation, and the sectors that consume the energy.
An energy balance enables us to assess the sector and, taking the country’s economic situation into account, to quantify the potential for exporting energy and the degree of dependence. It also allows us to evaluate the environmental impacts of energy-related activities. For example, the energy balance shows the amount of oil that a region consumes, and which sectors are involved in this consumption.
There are various methodologies for calculating the energy balance; each country or region uses a specific method to develop its energy balance.
Published studies by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean include one of the first mentions. Generally, renewable energy is a feature of an energy source, while energy sustainability relates to the use of energy sources. Thus, labeling an energy source as renewable does not necessarily mean it is also sustainable. The authors’ perspective on this matter is based on conceptual and political constructions developed by environmental organisations and on the Latin American vision of political ecology, in dialogue with Eduardo Gudynas’ concept of strong and super-strong sustainability.
Non-renewable Energy Sources:
Non-renewable energy sources are consumed more quickly than they are produced naturally, so they will be depleted within a certain period of time. Uranium and fossil fuels are the most commonly used non-renewable energy sources.
Renewable Energy Sources:
An energy source is labelled renewable when it is obtained from natural sources that are virtually inexhaustible, because they are capable of regenerating themselves through natural means. Renewable energy sources include low-power hydroelectric, wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, wave, and residual biomass.
Unconventional Fossil Fuels
These are fossil fuels extracted using unconventional methods. They can be classified by their extraction method:
Mining: oil shales and oil sands.
Wells: tight gas, shale gas / shale oil, extra-heavy oils, and coal bed methane.
Other types of extraction: methane hydrates and marsh gas.
- At the January 2019 World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, BP’s CEO Bob Dudley said, ‘I think it’s time for us to tell our story a little bit differently, let people know we are engaged in this big energy transition and we have a big core business.’
- See Questions 6, 7, and 12.
- According to La Vía Campesina, “agroecology is a technological approach subordinate to deep political objectives and, therefore, the practice of agroecology needs to be: collective, organic to the movement, supportive, and adjusted to material and political conditions.” [own translation] https://viacampesina.org/es/para-la-via-campesina-la-agroecologia-es-un-enfoque-tecnologico-subordinado-a-objetivos-politicos-profundos/
- See: The Global Land Grab: A Primer. https://www.tni.org/es/publicacion/el-acaparamiento-global-de-tierras?content_language=en
- Thomas – along with colleagues in ‘De las tecnologías apropiadas a las tecnologías sociales’ (2009) and in other papers – gives an account of how artefacts that ‘work’ in the laboratory or in other geographies or socio-cultural realities, do not give the same results when transferred to new spaces.
- La Vía Campesina, in ‘Soberanía Alimentaria: Un futuro sin hambre’ (Vía Campesina, 1996).
- Based on the Unsatisfied Basic Needs method and the contributions of Amartya Sen.
- Proposed by García Ochoa based on some aspects of this conceptualization.
- Contribution of energy services to the Millennium Development Goals and to poverty alleviation, ECLAC-UNDP-Club de Madrid, Santiago, October 2009.
- Boaventura de Sousa Santos further develops this idea: ‘law has both a regulatory or even repressive potential, and an emancipatory potential, the latter being much greater than the model of normal change has ever postulated; the way law’s potential, whether towards regulation or emancipation, has nothing to do with the autonomy or self-reflexiveness of the law, but rather with the political mobilization of competing social forces.’ (De Sousa Santos, 2009)
- Karl Polanyi explains this market-driven process as a ‘great transformation’, which occurs when the capitalist mode of production becomes the dominant mode of production, causing the shift from a society with a market to a market society. That is, that the workforce, land, and money, converted into merchandise, were integrated into the market mechanism and thus subordinated the substance of society to its laws. (Aguirrezábal y Arelovich, 2011).
- For example, if EROI is 10:1, this means that I invest or spend one unit of energy and I obtain 10 units in return.
- This is relevant because there are many debates about what should be considered as energy consumed or invested. There have been many warnings that EORI calculations are generally over-estimated (in other words, that they give higher values than is actually the case).
- See Question 20.
- See Question 20.
- Original table using the World Bank’s database, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.USE.ELEC.KH.PC
- https://landartgenerator.org/infographics.html. This shows the necessary surface of photovoltaic panels to supply the world’s energy consumption in different years.
- Relevant information can be found in ‘Metal Stocks in Society, Scientific Synthesis’ (UNEP, 2010) or in ‘Critical Materials for the Transition to a 100% Sustainable Energy Future’ (WWF, 2014).
Honty (2014) presents a clear systematization of the best available information about many of these materials, including, for example, the so-called rare earths – dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium, which are critical in the short term, as well as others in an almost critical situation.
- In addition to the auctions, progress has been made in the implementation of net balance mechanisms in, for example, Brazil, Argentina and Costa Rica.
- The authors of this study believe that “inclusion” should be used instead of “acceptance”.
- The publication ‘Building the European Energy Transition from a Decentralized and Participatory Perspective’ (Siegner, 2014) describes several experiences of implementation.
- A technological instrument is understood as a public policy, a promotion program, or a community organization. It does not refer to strictly material devices (photovoltaic panel, windmill, etc.).
- As discussed by Kishimoto and Petitjean (2017) in their publication ‘Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation.’ Transnational Institute (TNI): https://www.tni.org/en/publication/reclaiming-public-services
- ‘Looking at the totality of decisions on the merits (i.e. where a tribunal determined whether the challenged measure breached any of the IIA’s substantive obligations), about 60 per cent were decided in favour of the investor and the remainder in favour of the State.’ (United Nations. UNCTAD, 2019).
- See more information here: (Eberhardt & Olivet, Profiting from injustice: How law firms, arbitrators and financiers are fuelling an investment arbitration boom, 2012).
- This represents three claims against Russia, known as the Yukos case.
- European Commission internal report of a 29 April 2014 meeting with Chevron. Obtained through a request for documents under the EU access to information regulation. https://www.asktheeu.org/en/request/1643/response/8101/attach/4/Documents%2038%2045.zip?cookie_passthrough=1
- https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/investment-dispute-settlement/cases/547/lone-pine-v-canada and https://waronwant.org/sites/default/files/ISDS-file-Lone-Pine.pdf https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/topics-domaines/disp-diff/lone.aspx?lang=eng
- We agree with the constructive criticisms of these movements made by researcher Roberto Bermejo in his study ‘Ciudades poscarbono y transición energética’ (2013).
- (3er Conferencia Regional de Energía, Ambiente y Trabajo, 2018) http://www.csa-csi.org/NormalMultiItem.asp?pageid=12399
- In 2015, there were 330,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector, twice as many as in 2004. It is noteworthy that in the following years, Germany saw a decrease in jobs in renewables due to the decline in manufacturing of photovoltaic panels, which, at this time, is monopolized by China (Agora Energiewende, 2017).
- ‘Estudio sobre el empleo asociado al impulso de las energías renovables en España 2010’ (ISTAS, 2010).
- Antonio García Olivares (2016)
- In the words of Eric Holt-Giménez (2007).
- See Globiom and Transport and Environment. Globiom Report. Transport and Environment (2016)
- Satisfying the European Union’s goal of 5% biofuel use in 2020 using only soybean would entail cultivating more than 70 million hectares with this oilseed in Latin America (Urías Urías, Meza Ramos, & Mendoza Guerrero, 2014).
- Palm oil production is one of the main drivers of rainforest destruction and peatland drainage in Southeast Asia and, increasingly, in South America.
 CNPC: China National Petroleum Corporation, EIA: US Energy Information Administration, IEA: International Energy Agency, IEEJ: Institute of Energy Economics Japan, IHS: IHS Markit Rivalry, OPEC: Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Statoil, XOM: ExxonMobil
 Among other things, these instruments give large corporations the right to sue governments for measures that capital considers could limit profits or threaten private property, such as a moratorium on fossil fuel extraction or the decision to revert privatization of a service (See Question 15). TISA’s provision on technology neutrality would limit the ability of States to differentiate between high and low carbon energy sources (Transnational Institute, 2016).
Image 1: Action by indigenous peoples of the Americas against negotiations for carbon markets.
Image 2: Public transport stop advertisement on Renewable Energy as a Business: “100% renewable energy. Cheaper than tacos on Tuesdays”.
Image 3: Refineries in California, during a visit made as part of the 2018 Climate Justice Week of Action, organised by people’s movements in the United States with the participation of organisations and social movements from the Americas.
Image 1: Movimento dos Trabalhadores sem Terra (Landless Workers’ Movement) activist mobilising for climate justice.
Image 2: Indigenous and peasant organisations march together in defence of territories, peace and food sovereignty. Guardia Indígena and Guardia Campesina, Cauca, Colombia.
Image 3: Woman selling food in a street market, Yangon, Myanmar.
Image 4: “The Seed Map” by etc group and USC, showing impacts of climate change on food systems.
Image 1: Unhoused person sleeping in front of mural representing the strong presence of migrant communities in the United States. California.
Image 2: Activists in the Netherlands participating in an action protesting the killing of Honduras Environmental Human Rights Defender Berta Caceres.
Image 1: Banners representing the different movements engaged in collective mobilisations for climate justice: “It takes roots!”, Central Unitaria dos Trabalhadores Brasil (Brazilian Central Workers’ Union), World March of Women, Movimento de Afectadas por Barragens (Movement of People Affected by Dams), Movimento dos Trabalhadores sem Terra (Landless Workers’ Movement), and Friends of the Earth.
Image 2: Latina immigrant speaks at a mobilisation for climate justice.
Images 1 & 2: Territories affected by dams. Alto Maipo, Chile.
Image 1: Espeletia or frailejón plants in the Sumapaz Páramo in Colombia. Páramos (also known as “Andean moorlands” or “Alpine tundras”) are high mountain ecosystems with high biodiversity and water sources.
Image 2: Coal mine in La Guajira, Colombia
Image 1: Refineries in California, visit during the 2018 Climate Justice Week of Action, organised by popular movements in the United States with the participation of organisations and social movements from the Americas.
Image 2: Territories affected by mining, Alto Maipo, Chile.
Image 1: Mobilisation of peasant organisations during COP21, Paris 2015.
Image 1: Flags and seeds at the Continental Assembly of Latin American peasant organisations. CLOC-Via Campesina. Colombia, 2018.Flags and seeds at the Continental Assembly of Latin American peasant organisations. CLOC-Via Campesina. Colombia, 2018.
Image 1: Street Art: Indigenous and peasant women working the land.
Image 2: Dam on the Fucha River. Environmental reserve. Bogotá, Colombia.
Image 3: Leader of the Artisanal Fisherwomen’s and Fishermen’s Movement of Brazil.
Image 1: Roundtable discussion with Latin American trade union, social and political leaders.
Image 2: Trade unions join the mobilisation of the People’s Summit, Santiago de Chile. 2019
Image 1: Debate with representatives of the European Commission, governments and civil society on the Energy Charter Treaty and its impacts on the energy transition.
Image 2: Mobilisation against Free Trade Agreements, considered a “Trojan Horse” for democracy.
Image 3: Mobilisation in rejection of the Free Trade and Investment Protection Treaties.
Image 1: People’s Assembly with representation of organisations and social movements from the Americas and the world in the Climate Action Zone, an alternative space during COP 21 in Paris, 2015.
Image 2: Local and sustainable transport: use of bicycles. Action during COP 21, Paris, 2015.
Image 1: Trade union debate with organisations and social movements of the Americas.
Image 1: Palm plantations, one of the sources of agrofuels.
Image 2: Electric panels on a viaduct in Belem do Pará, Brazil.
Image 1: People’s Summit for Climate Justice. Chile, 2019.
Image 2: Feminist representation at COP25, Katowice, Poland, 2018.
Image 1: Major financial and energy institutions have headquarters in Washington DC.
Image 2: Entry controled by military to a private coal mine in La guajira, Colombia
Image 1: Activity of the Continental Day for Democracy and against Neoliberalism. Peoples Summit, Chile 2019.
Image 2: Farmers offer their açaí crops.