“Capitalism is an extractivist model therefore we speak about an extractive economy.”
Activist from Portugal in the Campaign against Fracking
The Assembly on Extractives was organised in the People’s Autonomous Space in Marrakech (15th November 2016). The Assembly brought together 350 activists from movements coming from all over the world engaged in campaigns and struggles against extractives. The People’s Dialogue and the Coordinating Climate Committee of Morocco were the main organisers of the assembly.
For the People’s Dialogue, organising the Assembly on Extractives at COP22 was to put the spotlight on the role of extractivism not only to speak about the campaigns and resistances to extractivism was not simply exposing the nature of extractivism, but rather to begin to think about the dominant model of development that is entirely based on extractives.
In her opening address the chairperson of the Assembly stated, “For society to deal with the current climate crisis, one has to start from the analysis that extractivism is the basis of exploitation, extractivism is not only fossil fuels that is been extractive from the bowels of the earth, it is also extracting of marine resources and agro-industry, exploiting ‘Mother Earth”.
The Assembly started with speakers from Canada, South Africa, Niger, Portugal, Algeria, Palestine, Zimbabwe and Brazil who shared their resistance and struggles against extractivism.
The first speaker of the session focused on the struggles of indigenous people in Canada. He made the point that Canada is a rich country based on extractives- the chopping of trees, over harvesting of fish, fur from animals etc this was historical method in which the economy was developed. He went on to say that in the current period, in the territory of Canada the economy is still based on extractives. Canada continues on its early years of the exploitation nature and today it is gas.
The struggle is against the exploitation of tar sands – the tar sands are located where most of indigenous people live. Oil extraction is done through land grab of indigenous people. The oil is transferred through pipe -lines that also run through these lands. In Quebec they have constructed a pipeline that transverse hundreds of kilometers of land and waterways. The construction of the pipelines has stimulated resistance and the building of movements who are fighting against the pipelines, even municipalities joined the resistance.
The resistance to the construction of the pipeline and the struggles against extractives has stimulated a new political moment, it has re-ignited new alliances between old and new forces- indigenous people, local communities students, youth, and workers and also the unions. For the ecological movement in Canada, bringing all the forces together has been a powerful expression of the demand for climate justice.
The second case was Portugal; this is a country that has never had oil or gas. But recently there have been concessions for off shore drilling. The speaker explained how 16 mayors had rejected the drilling and had even gone to court to stop the drilling. Despite the fact that drilling and the search for gas has been confronted with a great deal of resistance, even occupations.
He went on to say that “Communities are angry about the drilling in the ocean, the environmental impact is massive. There are huge oil spills – polluting the waters. It also created protests because much of the drilling was kept a secret.”
He drew the parallel with Canada, where the situation had opened a new moment of mobilisations in Portugal because it was drawing many new layers into public resistance. For him it was ironic, because no one speaks about climate change – but people see the ecological damage and this is what moves them. The resistance and protests have challenged the companies and the MNCs who have not even done environmental impact evaluations! Government continues to steam ahead and is even making proposals for new energy model.
It was really unfortunate that the resistance and the massive public mobilisations, companies in Portugal want to continue drilling in 2017.
The activist from Niger described the country’s proximity to the Sahara that is also a former French colony. As part of his presentation, he spoke about how Niger produces 80% of its electricity from Uranium that is used to electrify France. Despite this, Niger has remained one of the poorest countries in world. Much of exploitation of uranium in the Sahara is without any concessions, without checks and balances. The French company Agva has exploited uranium for 56 years which is transformed in Niger. Uranium is also used in nuclear plants. Third highest deposit of uranium is found in Niger.
It is clear that the resource is exploited and sent to France, Niger is not allowed to sell its own uranium. The extraction only really benefits France.
The area is polluted and very radioactive. Many of the workers initially worked without any protected clothes. The underground water and river waters are polluted and destroys the fish.
Niger’s case is a clear case of how Colonial patterns of extractivism continues to benefit the North at the expense of the poor.
The third presentation was from South Africa, a fisherman from Coastal Links representing fishers. He made the point that it was the question of extractivism is usually only seem as mining and the extractivism of fish and marine resources are not seen as extractives.
Fishing, like with other resources, is about concessions granted to MNCs and other institutions such as the World Bank that push for these concessions. It is necessary to see that MNCs have the backing of our governments who are very complicit in the extractive economy.
He made the point that we are dealing with a model/ system of extreme capitalism. We have start challenging the system. In South Africa we see how limited democracy is. The laws are there to protect the system of profit making.
The South African made the point, “We have to build models that protect nature, we have to reject and fight the model of extractivism. Look at who is sponsoring COP22 in the Blue Zone, we should not allow the polluters to pay!"
We have an abundance of resources in Africa yet we remain so poor and underdeveloped
Others who shared experiences were from Algeria and Palestine. Here the speakers spoke to the challenges of resistance given the very repressive nature of the governments. In both Algeria and Palestine, though very different. To mobilise and organise politically one had to deal with repressive regimes.
In Palestine the focus was on how water was extracted and stolen, “water is life and is a concern for everyone however in Palestine under occupation it is made stark of exploitation.” Palestine has to buy water from Israel at a very high price. So the Palestinians ask when can they extract water for their use from the Jordaan River. Palestinian water is stolen. The daily water use of Palestinians is much below the WHO guidelines.
The Zimbabwean case study focused on Marange where diamonds were discovered. The Zimbabwe government continues to use colonial laws to govern mining operations. In Zimbabwe this old colonial legislation supersedes all other laws. So mining drives the economy. The speaker spoke of Marange and the discovery of diamonds which created lawlessness and plunder. It laid the basis for the army to come in and take over the diamonds mines.
In 2009, 4000 families were displaced to make way for the expansion of the diamond mines. Already 2000 were pushed off the land and relocated. Many companies, especially the Chinese companies are active in Marange. Today the saga of Marange continues as government has halted mining. 25 000 people are still waiting there fate.
The last speaker was from Brazil. He started his contribution about the fact Morocco is one of biggest producers of phosphates – here is a company, MNC that is Moroccan and also operates in Brazil.
In his analysis extractives and capitalism do not simply stem from the MNCs of the North but also from the South. Mining is not only about extracting minerals it is interrelated with how the control of the financial markets, infra-structure development and extractivism. He stressed that it was necessary to understand the current crisis as a multi-dimensional crisis which extends to the political crisis including a crisis of the left.
When we see the COP22 negotiations we have to ask about the role of the MNCs and this indicates the weakness of a real fight-back. Government come to the COP negotitions with MNCs.
In his final comments he said, “ the crisis is the fact that as the left we have not resolve the relationship to nature, to the women’s question, race etc. The moment calls for a moment of rethinking and beginning to think about a community of life and the rights of nature. Even the spirituality has been captured by religion. So it is urgent that emerge from this “dark period” with movements that can bring hope and build new utopias and transitions. This is the task.”
Lastly the demand for climate justice is key for Africans because water ways – in Africa 60% of rural areas depend on underground water. Mining pollutes much of the water. This is a one that we have to address. Then there is the drilling deep down- we are not only having land grabs there is also water grabbing.
The Assembly ended by affirming the idea that society needed a just transition, a transition that goes beyond a technical transition but a democratic transition that includes another society. This requires a paradigm shift!