New Mitigation Markets and Green Abstractivisms

From the Series: Negotiating the Crisis: Critical Perspectives on Climate Governance

Photo by Robert vanWaarden.

Mineral and energy resource exploitation allows many countries of the global periphery to present themselves as sinks or suppliers of quantifiable and tradable mitigation. The Chilean government is studying ways of exporting and negotiating its renewable potential within the framework of the implementation of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement recently activated at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26). This essay examines how the government positions itself within the "green" virtual offer of mitigations, without consideration of the extractive logics that underlie clean energy and technologies.

Chile's Energy Minister rushes to arrive a few minutes early to a round table at COP26. He knows that Bill Gates, who has been a great promoter of initiatives linked to clean fuels such as green hydrogen (that produced entirely from renewable energies) is waiting there. After the meeting, the minister boasted in his personal tweet of having talked about the importance of green hydrogen and highlighted Chile's progress in this area. In parallel to the COP, Chile's former president, Sebastián Piñera, presented before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and main businessmen of the country a project to export between 200,000 and 600,000 megawatts of energy through an underwater cable to Asian countries. Along with reiterating Chile's “gigantic potential for clean renewable solar energy generation,” he points out that this would help these highly coal-dependent countries to accelerate their carbon neutrality goal, avoiding 4.5 percent of total world emissions.

In order to prepare the dialogues within the framework of COP26, the Ministry of Energy commissioned the Ministry of Science to draft a report on the “Chilean Renewable Energy Export Potential” that could be linked to the accounting of the Paris Agreement both emissions reduction efforts for Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and the transfer of emission reduction certificates under Article 6. This article—recently regulated at COP26—will enable the long-delayed system of transfer markets for reductions under the Paris Agreement to be put in place. Countries for which it is very difficult or costly to reduce their emissions may purchase emission certificates from other countries and public or private institutions will be able to invest in emission reduction projects in developing countries where costs are usually lower by generating tradable credits. The report confirmed the country's potential in these matters and export options such as renewable electricity using electrical transmission grids; hydrogen and derivatives through pipelines or maritime transport, among others. Only “experts” participated in its elaboration, without including actors and points of view of the communities in resistance or already affected by projects of the energy sector in terms such as loss of sovereignty over the environment in which they live, water grabbing, infrastructure installation, urban transformation, road collapse and air pollution, among others.

Behind these actions lies a common idea. To take advantage of the framework of the energy transition to validate the extension of activities of exploitation/extraction of energy and minerals required for it at low cost and its availability for global green markets (The National Green Hydrogen Strategy of 2020 seeks that by 2030 Chilean green hydrogen will be the cheapest in the world). Potential socio-environmental impacts that this may generate in the territories and local communities—although partly referred to in the report commissioned by the government—were not mentioned by the authorities in their presentations to the COP or APEC. This same omission is observed in various instruments signed during 2021 by the Ministry of Energy to promote and facilitate the export of green hydrogen with authorities from Germany, Korea, France, Holland, United Kingdom, Singapore, and the Port of Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Zeebrugge, among others.

In doing so, they seem to forget that, according to the Chilean Institute of Human Rights, 38 percent of the country’s environmental conflicts are related to the energy sector, which is the most conflictive sector. Of these, 40 percent occur in Indigenous territories and 11 percent affect the most vulnerable socioeconomic stratum. The expansion of renewable energies in Chile has not promoted local development in the territory where the generation projects are located, nor the effective participation of communities in decision-making. Moreover, these practices entail a significant disruption of traditional ways of life and forms of local political leadership. Apparently, for the Chilean government, all of them are considered externalities and necessary sacrifices to the success of its socio-technological project, which it is willing to assume.

Various strategies that both the government and international organizations have wanted to promote in relation to renewable energies and green hydrogen in Chile, aim at the specialization of certain areas of the country for their low-cost production and export. These characteristic features of extractivism are combined with the new carbon market mechanisms based on reducing the transfer of emissions, giving rise to more sophisticated forms of abstractivism where green normative narratives and imaginaries simplify the meaning of the landscape as areas rich in resources, abstracting or omitting the historical context of socio-economic, environmental and epistemological inequalities in which the projects that generate these reductions are developed (Mason 2016; Voskoboynik and Andreucci 2021). The shortcomings of these practices have already become apparent with respect to the Kyoto Protocol’s mechanisms focused on compensation, which have often been detrimental to local and Indigenous communities.

Exposing the risks of this new green abstractivism does not imply contravening the need to move towards societies and technologies that generate fewer harmful emissions for the planet, leaving behind the pernicious patterns of production and consumption that have caused the current climate crisis. On the contrary, its exposure should be an entry point to reflect on sociotechnical transformations as an inherently political process that can drive these changes, but which also entails the risk of reproducing and reinforcing existing socio-cultural and power relations in areas such as energy. What we must certainly avoid is that the advance of technologies associated with the global transition project implies the accentuation of existing ones and the generation of new extractivist practices of dispossession that involve the intrinsic contradiction of sacrificing the sustainability of peripheral ecosystems and vulnerable local communities in the name of global sustainability, but focused on the benefit of large economies. The turn that the new green hydrogen “business” is taking and projects such as Antípodas, point in this direction. In the Chilean case at least, the ongoing process towards a new constitution and the recent election of Gabriel Boric as president offer hope for a change in the course of the country. However, the real results of this new scenario are still very uncertain.


Mason, Arthur, ed. 2016. “Arctic Abstractive Industry.” Hot Spots series, Fieldsights, July 29.

Voskoboynik, Daniel Macmillen, and Diego Andreucci. 2021. “Greening Extractivism: Environmental Discourses and Resource Governance in the ‘Lithium Triangle.’” Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, April.