Participatory Environmental Monitoring as a transparency and trust-building tool to navigate socio-environmental mining conflicts in Latin America

Participatory Environmental Monitoring as a transparency and trust-building tool to navigate socio-environmental mining conflicts in Latin America

By Javier Munoz Blanco and Sarah Daitch

Photo Credit  Josu Ansoleaga / UNDP Panama

Panama City, 19 October 2018 – For many developing countries, mineral extraction continues to be an important economic driver with the potential to improve human development outcomes, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). When managed appropriately, mining can create jobs, foster innovation, and bring investment and infrastructure at a game-changing scale over the long term. Yet, if managed poorly, mining can also lead to environmental degradation, displaced populations, and increased inequality. Furthermore, reported socio-environmental conflicts in mining regions have been on the rise in the last 10 years, particularly in Latin America. These conflicts negatively affect communities near or downstream from mining operations, as well as private sector and governments. For the private sector, conflict results in economic losses. In addition, governments are hindered from taking full advantage of the social and economic development benefits that mining can bring to a region and a country.

In many parts of Latin America, communities are working towards finding solutions to these issues by carrying out participatory environmental monitoring initiatives, which are community-based collaborative processes for collecting and analysing data, and communicating the results, to identify and solve problems in mining-affected areas. Moreover, participatory environmental monitoring initiatives provide spaces that foster community dialogue, engagement, trust-building, and transparency.

With that in mind, UNDP, in collaboration with the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI), conducted a regional study on Participatory Environmental Monitoring Committees (PEMCs), including cases from Argentina, Bolivia, Panama, and Peru. Preliminary findings from the regional study highlight the institutional, financial, and legal barriers for establishing PEMCs; the technical and organisational complexities of conducting environmental monitoring; and the multiple purposes of PEMCs beyond environmental monitoring; among others.

To validate and deepen the preliminary findings from the regional study, UNDP organised from 3-5 October 2018, in Panama City, the Regional Workshop on Participatory Environmental Governance for Sustainable Natural Resources Management in the Latin American and Caribbean Region, with a focus on PEMCs. This workshop served as a space for exchanging experiences from the PEMC cases included in the regional study, and to distil good practices and identify challenges and common gaps among them.

Key topics discussed during the workshop included issues related to the importance of formalisation and autonomy of PEMCs, funding challenges, as well as technical capacity restrictions and the importance of having spaces for dialogue and exchanges of PEMC best practices at the community, national, and international level. During the workshop sessions, over 40 participants, including PEMC representatives from the case study countries and NGO technical experts, collaboratively developed ideas for improving PEMCs functioning and set the foundations for a professional support network. The planning of the workshop sessions benefited from the technical expertise from partner organisations such as CIRDI, Grupo de Diálogo Latinoamericano (GDL), and the University of British Columbia.

 Photo Credit: Josu Ansoleaga / UNDP Panama

The delivery of this regional PEMC study and workshop has been undertaken as a component of a multi-year global programme on Environmental Governance for Sustainable Natural Resource Management. This programme is jointly implemented by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and UNDP, and funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) from 2015-2019. It is expected that the outcomes of the regional study and workshop will inform future programming for UNDP on extractives.

The objective of the UNDP-SEPA programme is to help target country governments to strengthen the environmental, gender, Human Rights and rule of law dimensions of public administration in large-scale mining sectors to advance development outcomes from mining, in line with the SDGs. The programme aims to support governments engaged in the extractive sector to build a stronger Human Rights approach and to integrate rule of law principles. In particular, it aims to help governments put into practice the principles of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, working to deliver on the promise of Human Rights and sustainable development.