Following a trilateral agreement between Mexico, Canada and the US signed at COP26, the countries are launching an initiative that aims to support the clean energy transition for remote indigenous communities. The countries are collaborating with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).
It is the first time that the North American countries have joined forces to help isolated indigenous communities to transition toward renewable energy. "Remote and Indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted by energy challenges," said CEC Executive Director, Richard A. Morgan. “The CEC's North American initiative will help to lay the foundation for a global effort to support communities transition to renewable energy and provide benefits such as improving local air and water quality, enhancing energy security and providing new sources of revenue and economic opportunity,” he added. The commission was created in 1994 by Canada, Mexico and the US through an environmental agreement parallel to NAFTA.
The CEC will kickstart the initiative via a regional case study of best practices in the energy transition coming from North America. The countries are supporting the research with US$401,575, reported the CEC. The commission will mainly focus on creating the necessary knowledge to develop adequate decentralized renewable energy solutions that could benefit such remote communities.
Challenges to Energy Transition
Indigenous communities are often found far removed from Mexico’s national grid. To produce power, they frequently rely on mini-grids fueled by diesel. This has proven to be both expensive and polluting, while other more sustainable options are difficult to access.
The lack of access indigenous communities have to energy has caused friction between them and large utility-scale energy projects. Mexican government officials have used controversies between private renewable energy developers and indigenous communities as arguments to say the 2014 Energy Reform was a failure, but the attitudes indigenous representatives have toward these projects are not as clear-cut. Several renewable energy developers do claim to have excellent community relationships built on mutual respect and sharing of benefits. What is more, public utility CFE has faced criticism from environmental and indigenous activists, too.
“The reform affected us and allowed companies to come in,” Aurelio Mugarte, a Maya indigenous man told IPS News. “The government sought to favor the company. If renewable energy is going to destroy nature, I do not see the benefit,” he said about the 2014 Energy Reform. But communities have said that state-run companies PEMEX and CFE can be equally insensitive to their demands. The issues are much the same: energy is generated and transmitted elsewhere, leaving the community with the environmental costs of an energy project and none of the benefits. “We do not think the changes benefit us, because the energy is not for us,” said Mugarte about the government’s efforts to put the public sector in charge of the energy industry.