COP27 is a cop out

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks as he addresses a forest and climate leaders’ event during the Cop27 summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Global fossil fuel CO2 emissions are still on the rise as as more fossil fuel delegates than ever before take up space at COP27.

The conference has been largely inaccessible to African climate activists 

This year’s UN COP27 summit in Egypt takes place 27 years after the first UN conference began. Net-zeros, 1.5C by 2050, this year the 30X30 commitment was announced. Sometimes it seems as if these targets are nothing but gimmicky marketing fads plucked from thin air when action is seldom seen. 

What does the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto and the Montreal Protocol mean if global leaders aren’t willing to de-fossilise the economy at the speed in which scientists have desperately urged. With more than 600 delegates at the talks linked to the fossil fuel industry, their agenda will certainly take up space in a conference that many grassroots activists weren't allowed to attend. 

Watching male leader after male leader take the stage for the opening of COP27 with well-rehearsed speeches and grave warnings about the limit time in which we must turn things around falls flat on my ears. The prime minister of the UK, Rishi Sunak, was forced by public opinion to simply attend the conference after initially saying he wouldn't.

Damage  

In his speech, which he kicked off by hailing the British monarchy, he spoke about Pakistan being submerged by water by almost a third since recent floods swept the nation. He then went on to speak about the economy being the system that will get them out of the crisis. He failed to acknowledge that this is the system that has put countries such as Pakistan at such risk of extreme climate events in the first place.

The UK has said it would forgive some debt payments from countries hit by climate disasters. The fact that rich, polluting nations are taking responsibly for loss and damage is certainly a step forward, and one that has long been blocked in fear of the sheer amount of sums needed to reprimand levels of harm. Exactly how much and who pays for climate change has long been a debated, and complex question on the road towards climate justice.

The Big 5 

‘The Big 5 oil companies’ - Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and TotalEnergies - who have reported over $170 billion in profit in 2022 alone, are collectively responsible for 11.38% of global historic CO2 emissions, or 11.19% of historic CO2e emissions – a recent report by Global Justice Now has found. The Big 5 should be responsible for $32.5-$64.9 billion a year of loss and damage payments to the global south by 2030, and $1.7-$3.1 trillion in total between 2020 and 2050, the report concluded. 

Mia Mottley, the Barbados prime minister, put across proposals to reform the international financial system to better serve crisis-affected countries boldly. She hinted that her agenda may be backed by the G7. Yet when the president of the World Bank was confronted by a journalist for ‘refusing to answer critical questions’ about the World Bank needing reform – he refused to comment.

The conference has been largely inaccessible to African climate activists 

Voices 

The speeches of the COP27 have been lived streamed across the world. But the ‘crunch down’ negations will happen behind closed doors. Activists have been left out, voices have been silenced. The event has shone a light on Egypt’s terrible human rights record – which has limited freedom of speech and permitted demonstrations to take place only under strict guidelines.

“No state can claim to be a credible player in addressing the climate crisis whilst continuing to tighten its chokehold on civil society," wrote Agnès Callamard, Secretary General, Amnesty International.

"The Egyptian authorities have committed a litany of crimes under international law, including torture, unlawful killings and enforced disappearances. Nearly all independent and critical voices have been silenced in the country.”

It was reported that attendees visiting the conference were unable to visit the Human Right Watch website and around 200 other sites during the climate talks.

And whilst the conference is taking place in Africa it has been largely inaccessible to African climate activists. Some of the very communities who will be affected by the decisions made in the conference, won’t have their voices heard.  

Irreplaceable 

And whilst climate reparations are an important part of climate justice – how much do they really mean unless we immediately curb our reliance on fossil fuels?

Yes – humanitarian aid is necessary and urgent, but money won’t bring back lives lost, homes destroyed, livelihoods wrecked. It won't bring back culture or heritage.

Money won’t bring back our native habitats – such as the 10,000 acres of a 55-million-year Amazon rainforest being lost every day.

Report after report from the UK has stressed that a global failure to cut carbon emissions sees no credible pathway to 1.5C.

Even with current pledges for action by 2030 in place, we could witness a 2.5C of heating around the world. No investment in new oil, gas or coal projects is compatible with reaching net zero by 2050 - as the International Energy Agency has warned. 

Shutting out the voices of those experiencing the crisis first hand, whilst allowing fossil fuel delegates to take up space and push their deadly agenda is yet more time wasted. 

And yet fossil fuel extraction is only increasing, as a recent report has confirmed. Spending valuable time arguing about the amount of money going to money at poor countries without tackling the root causes of the climate crisis - our global addiction to fossil fuels - is a special kind of madness. 

This Author 

Yasmin Dahnoun is assistant editor at The Ecologist.

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