The international climate talks in Egypt – the 27th Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP27 – have become a dystopian nightmare: oil companies, dictators and green launderers have captured the process more efficiently than ever.
But there is hope: alliances are forming – between civil society, scientists and workers – that aim to break the deadly grip of fossil fuel companies on climate policy.
This year’s UN climate summit, which ends November 17 at the luxury resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, is the first one which oil and gas companies were invited to participate in the official program of events. Rachel Rose Jackson of Corporate Responsibility commented that “COP27 looks like a fossil fuel industry trade show”.
At least 636 fossil fuel lobbyists were there, 25 percent more than at last year’s talks in Glasgow. Lobbyists outnumbered the combined delegations of the 10 countries most affected by climate change, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Mozambique, to research by Corporate Europe Observatory, Corporate Accountability and Global Witness.
The world’s largest oil producers strutted around. Saudi Arabia organized a an event promote the “circular carbon economy”, in which carbon capture, hydrogen and other fossil fuel-based technologies are falsely promoted as “clean”.
Wealth and power were on display. Coca Cola, the first plastic polluter, sponsored the talks. Delegates arrived by private jets: thirty-six come in Sharm el-Sheikh at the start of the summit, and another 64 flew to Cairo. The Egyptian authorities ignored the international community country to free dissident Alaa Abd El-Fattah – who is serving a five-year prison sentence for a social media post – and other political prisoners.
At the heart of the fossil fuel industry’s public relations offensive is the new gas rush, sparked by Russia’s war on Ukraine and the decision limit Europe’s gas supply. For the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, an alliance of 17 major gas producers including Egypt, COP27 was “a great opportunity to advocate for gas in the energy transition.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, plans to build 26 new liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals have been announced in Europe; the EU has signed a OK with Egypt and Israel to support gas extraction in the eastern Mediterranean; and European politicians have sought gas project deals with African nations.
Once a gas project is decided, it can take up to 10 years before production starts. Europe’s supply shortfall this year and next will therefore be completed, if at all, by existing producers such as Qatar, the United States and Australia, not by new projects. The danger is that over the next decade, these projects will move the world even further away from the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5°C) above pre-industrial levels.
The International Energy Agency said that in order to achieve the “net zero” objectives, there can be no new deposits of gas or oil, and that the demand for gas must be reduced; UN Secretary General AntwhereNio Guterres said in June that investing in the production of oil or gas was “delusional”.
Although natural gas produces only about half the carbon emissions per unit of energy that coal produces, climate science says it needs to be phased out. In addition, methane (i.e. gas) leaks have been recognized as an important climate factor threatens: The greenhouse effect of methane, over a period of 20 years, is 86 times more powerful than that of carbon dioxide. And yet, in May, the European Commission classified natural gas as a “sustainable” energy source under its investment taxonomy rules, and in September the UK government Free new licenses for oil and gas fields in the North Sea. It is these governments of rich countries and greenwashers who, together with the oil companies, turned COP27 into a climate catastrophe.
In Sharm el-Sheikh, African governments touted gas projects on the continent as a means of economic development – but they ‘won’t bring anything to African communities’ warned Don’t Gas Africa, an alliance of civil society groups that advocates large-scale renewable energy as opposed to export-driven fossil fuel production.
Nigerian climate justice activist Nnimmo Bassey, coordinator of Oilwatch International, denounced the pro-gas position of African governments as an “ecocide and intergenerational crime” that “perpetuates colonialism and ecological irresponsibility”.
Government inaction and civil society response
The public relations circus over fossil fuels in Sharm el-Sheikh has obscured the dire crisis at the heart of the talks: that the door is closing on the possibility of keeping global warming to 1.5°C, as shown Climate Action Tracker researchers in an authoritative report. report on climate inaction.
Current policies of nations will produce global warming of between 2.2°C and 3.4°C by the end of the century, according to the report. Commitments made at Glasgow talks last year to toughen Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) have been broken; coal exit commitments have been broken; and the rich countries have again broken their promises to finance the energy transition in the countries of the South.
In Sharm el-Sheikh, talks on implementing already inadequate decisions moved at a snail’s pace. Delegates from outside the wealthy world fumed over slow progress Losses and damages, the principle that rich countries should pay for the billions of dollars in damage already caused by climate change – for example, by the floods in Pakistan this summer. Activists urged a one-off tax on fossil fuel companies for this purpose.
The brazen grandstanding of fossil fuel companies and the acquiescence of governments have tested the faith of campaign groups, climate scientists and others in the prospect of top-down solutions to the climate crisis.
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg stayed away from Sharm el-Sheikh, describing negotiations as “an opportunity for leaders and those in power to gain attention, using many different types of greenwashing”. Rather than the progressive steps of the COP, a “system-wide transformation” is needed, she said at a book launch in London, infuriating the right commentators and techno-utopians.
But Thunberg thought deeply felt anger among campaign groups, including those who for years have placed hope in the COP process. More than 450 organizations supported a call for a UN accountability framework to “end corporate capture”; exclude “big polluters” from climate negotiations; requiring delegates to publicly disclose their interests; prohibit partnership or sponsorship of talks by polluters; and easing restrictions on civil society access.
As climate talks have swung towards greenwashing, protests and direct action against government failures are gaining momentum after being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Pascoe Sabido, researcher at the Corporate Europe Observatory, said:
There’s a movement in the streets [about climate change], but this did not translate into political power. The problem is the power of governments and their alliance with fossil fuel companies. Until we sever that relationship, there will be no transition away from fossil fuels.
outside the talks
So are the climate talks part of the problem or part of the solution? It’s not just activists who are asking. The authors of the latest United Nations Environment Program report “Emissions Variance Report” described their findings as “a testament to inadequate action in the face of the global climate crisis and a call for the rapid transformation of societies”.
There has been “very little progress” since the Glasgow talks in 2021, and current government policies are on track to cause a temperature rise of 2.8C by 2100, the report says . “Multiple major transformations must be initiated in this decade, simultaneously on all [fossil fuel-based technological] systems”.
More than thirty years of history count. Ahead of the talks in Egypt, climate scientists shared on social media a Trends in atmospheric CO2 vs. global temperature change, 1958-2020, with climate conference dates indicated. #climateINACTIONstripes Graphic: @MuellerTadzio / @wiebkemarie / @MariusHasenheit / @sustentioEU #ClimateCrisis #climateaction #ClimateActionNow pic.twitter.com/rbV6xckLBY
showing the ever-increasing carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, from around 360 parts per million (ppm) when the Rio climate treaty was signed in 1992, to 420 ppm today. The inexorable increase in the use of fossil fuels is the main cause.
Trends in atmospheric CO2 vs. global temperature change, 1958-2020, with climate conference dates indicated. #climateINACTIONstripes Graphic: @MuellerTadzio / @wiebkemarie / @MariusHasenheit / @sustentioEU #ClimateCrisis #climateaction #ClimateActionNow pic.twitter.com/rbV6xckLBY— Tamara Bozovic @[email protected] (@tamara_bozovic) March 27, 2022
The alliance of the world’s most powerful states, which negotiated the climate agreements, is not only unwilling, but also unable to do what is necessary. To avoid dangerous global warming, systems must change – not just technological systems, but also economic and social systems. And the function of these governments is to defend and manage these systems, not to transform them. Society as a whole will have to deal with climate change, in defiance of these governments.
. Greenwashing from governments from oil companies transformed COP27 disaster climate