Examining the obstacles to energy transition in Latin America | Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) Skip to content Skip to navigation
29 June 2022

The climate crisis and its impacts on human rights require the governments of Latin America to design and implement laws, public policies, and other measures aimed at protecting the lives and integrity of their people. In the region most threatened by global warming, they must do so through mitigation, adaptation and attention to the losses and damages already caused.

Given that the current energy system based on fossil fuels is the main cause of the climate crisis, as well as the inequalities that are closely linked to it, the framework for climate action in the Americas must be that of a just energy transition.

The energy transition is an opportunity for the continent to abandon old energy production models characterized by large social and environmental impacts, and to move towards environmentally and climatically sustainable methods, while respecting the human rights of the communities and sectors involved. 

Several countries in the region are failing to integrate this perspective. The case of Colombia exemplifies a risky trend for the region—the government is currently promoting a host of climate-aggravating projects, which deepen dependence on fossil fuels, as useful to the energy transition.

Such regressive measures include: the expansion of coalmines in operation or the opening of new mines under the argument that the export of the mineral will finance the transition; and the favoring of natural gas exploitation through tax benefits and the easing of environmental permitting processes, under the false premise that gas is a clean energy source.

Sounding the alarm

Given the worrying panorama in Colombia, AIDA will be drafting and distributing a series of Urgent Alerts that call attention to projects, public policies and regulations that hinder a just transition, and deepen dependence on fossil fuels.

They will be collective alerts, supported by other international organizations that, like AIDA, seek climate justice and work in defense of environmental and human rights. Each alert will be sent to the national authorities in charge of the measure in question.

Geared toward promoting reflections on how to advance in the just energy transition, each alert will include public policy and regulatory recommendations based on the State's international obligations and commitments on climate, environmental and human rights issues.

In each case, the message is clear—by continuing with the promotion, extraction and use of gas and coal, the Colombian State would be failing to comply with these obligations.

The first alert calls attention to the potential definitive diversion of the Bruno stream in the department of La Guajira to expand production at and revenue from El Cerrejón, the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America and one of the ten largest in the world.

The project not only implies an increase in greenhouse gas emissions—coal is responsible for 44 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions—but is also a threat to the rights to water, food security and health of the Wayuu indigenous communities that depend on the stream.

A regional scope

The measures adopted by the Colombian State may well reflect the situation in other countries of the region, or be replicated in them.

Several alerts will refer to the exploitation of hydrocarbons through fracking, a controversial technique advancing blindly in Colombia and other Latin American countries.

Another will warn of the use of hydrogen, promoted as a viable and clean energy alternative. In Colombia there is already a public policy route to advance with its implementation and two pilot projects underway.

Hydrogen production results from burning coal or gas at high temperatures. Recent studies warn that this requires capturing and storing carbon dioxide, so the alternative depends on being able to store carbon indefinitely and avoid leakage into the atmosphere.

In addition, hydrogen production is energy-intensive and involves the emission of gases during the heating and pressurization process, as well as the use of natural gas as fuel.

As a region, we cannot afford to delay the energy transition and the achievement of climate justice, both urgent and necessary goals, with options that will only tie us more and more to fossil fuels and to an energy system that only intensifies social inequalities and environmental degradation.  


About the Author

rpena's picture
Rosa Peña Lizarazo

Rosa Peña Lizarazo is Colombian and a senior attorney with AIDA's Human Rights and Environment Program, working from Bogotá. She is attorney from the Universidad del Rosario, Colombia whose bachelor's degree focused on Constitutional Law and Human Rights. Rosa holds a Master's Degree in Interdisciplinary Development Studies, with an emphasis on Territorial Development Management, from the Universidad de los Andes, in Colombia. She has also experience in community accompaniment and strategic litigation in cases of human rights violations derived from development policies and projects.

Latin America

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