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Uruguay: digging up the dirt on 'clean' development mechanism

Although there were a number of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects operating in Uruguay by the end of 2008, there was little information available, and no public debate. The CDM project portfolio for Uruguay includes 33 activities, but Friends of the Earth Uruguay/REDES found that most people knew nothing at all about the CDM or its projects, in Uruguay or elsewhere.

fray-bentos-factory-uruguayHowever, the climate justice movement, including Friends of the Earth, believes it is essential that the consequences of CDM projects are fully understood by the public. The CDM is one of a number of extremely damaging ‘false solutions’ to climate change. Projects intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries are used to generate carbon credits, which can be bought by rich industrialized countries hoping to avoid making difficult and costly emissions reductions at home. Furthermore, it has been shown that CDM funds are often used to subsidize industrial projects that would have taken place anyway. In addition, some CDM projects, including in Uruguay, are extremely detrimental to local communities and the environment. In short, projects funded by the CDM can be anything but ‘clean’.


what happened

Friends of the Earth Uruguay/REDES set out to close Uruguay’s information gap, by studying and reporting on the activities of three CDM projects in Uruguay. The project also aimed to prompt a more profound national debate on climate change, and encourage the establishment of a network of Uruguayan social movements and organizations campaigning for climate justice.


Friends of the Earth Uruguay was the first organization in Uruguay to monitor and disseminate information about national CDM projects. The three projects analyzed were:


  • Partial substitution of fossil fuels with biomass in cement manufacture, by Cementos Artigas; 
  • Cogeneration and fuel change in the tannery operated by the Zenda-Branáa company; and 
  • the Fray Bentos Biomass Power Generation Project, by Botnia. 


Friends of the Earth Uruguay published detailed information about the CDM, the Uruguayan process for approving and monitoring CDM projects, and an in-depth analysis of Botnia’s Fray Bentos CDM project, in a report entitled ‘The Clean Development Mechanism in Uruguay: business for whom?’ This report considers the operation of transnational companies in Uruguay and elsewhere, the environmental and social impacts of their projects, and who stands to benefit or suffer because of them. 


The report focuses on Finnish forestry and pulp company Botnia (known as Forestal Oriental in Uruguay) because the company’s activities have had particularly negative impacts in Uruguay. Friends of the Earth Uruguay visited a project in the Soriano department, for example, where small producers were clearly suffering from water shortages caused by afforestation in the area: the plantations are using up large quantities of the available water, as well as degrading the soils. Transnational corporations like Botnia are moving in and taking over the land, planting vast tree monocultures. As a result fewer and fewer people are remaining in rural areas, and schools are beginning to close because of lack of students. Small farmers are being forced to migrate to city slums. 


Training sessions and exchanges on climate change and food sovereignty were also held in several regions of the country, together with the network of rural women’s groups (Red de Grupos de Mujeres Rurales de Uruguay), Via Campesina’s Uruguayan member. Outreach work enabled Friends of the Earth Uruguay to inform the Uruguayan population about these CDM projects; and communities also learned more about the ways in which climate change and associated false solutions impact on their everyday lives. 


In addition to the publication, Radio Mundo Real produced three radio reports, each focusing on one of the projects, which can be found here:



This project, combined with the efforts of other Uruguayan environmental organizations, has also resulted in media coverage of Uruguay’s CDM projects for the first time.


what was learned

This was another example of how Friends of the Earth’s international campaigns can link up with local communities in a mutually reinforcing way. It also helped to strengthen and deepen Friends of the Earth Uruguay’s expertise on this issue, and the group plans to continue its activities within Friends of the Earth International’s climate finance framework.


what next

This report was the first stage in a campaign that will be extended and deepened in 2010. It will complement and contribute to the development of proposals that suggest alternatives to the CDM and other false solutions, which will be based on the principles of climate justice, and food and energy sovereignty. 



with thanks to our funders: the swedish society for nature conservation and the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)

Photo courtesy of Gonzak

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