To no one’s surprise, the COP27 conference has left the world much in the same place that COP26 did the year before, and COP25 before it, and so on. This November, world leaders convened in Egypt to discuss and debate what an international response to climate action could look like (or so they would like you to believe).
Some new measures were begrudgingly adopted, others swiftly shot down, and ultimately many attendees left exhausted and unenthused. For every step forward, there was a step back, as was summed up by chief Mexican climate negotiator Camila Zepeda, who said with quiet resignation, “you take a win when you can.” And it is precisely because of this chronic dysfunction that working-class people can see this conference for the shameless act of political theater that it really is. Conferences like COP27 exist to preserve the capitalist system at all costs, to convince average citizens of something they already know is untrue: that our future is in capable hands.
The “loss and damage” fund
Certain measures adopted this year have been lauded by pro-capitalist media outlets as historic achievements, which in some sense is true. The main “historic” moment was that there has been a first-of-its-kind discussion of the necessity for wealthier nations to contribute aid for poorer nations in building their defenses against the effects of climate change. On its face, this would seem like a major victory for those in the climate movement who have long been insisting that our current laissez-faire free-for-all approach disproportionately hurts underdeveloped nations. However, this apparent victory comes with a staggering amount of fine print.
For one, this measure that was adopted does not actually fund any particular projects for poorer nations, it really only acknowledges the necessity of such a fund. Furthermore, the money for this fund would not actually be paid for by wealthier nations themselves (read: the nations responsible for the overwhelming share of global emissions) but would come from the very global financial institutions that have artificially maintained the underdevelopment of the Third World in the first place. And finally, it is important to make clear what such a fund is not. It is not a fund for reparations to repay for historic climate injustice, and it is not a fund dedicated to eradicating the emissions that are causing climate change, only for damage control as crises intensify.
In fact, the U.S. made it quite clear that this fund is not the same as reparations, which would potentially open the U.S. and others up to international criminal liability, and that this distinction was a main reason they agreed to it in the first place.
U.S. hypocrisy on China
The U.S. delegation, headed by John Kerry, met with Xie Zhenhua and China’s climate officials to discuss the possibility of cooperation on fighting climate change – a discussion that was tabled earlier in the year when Nancy Pelosi inflamed tensions by visiting Taiwan. Little was revealed about the details of their brief talk, but Kerry was quick to use this conference as an opportunity to hypocritically heap undue blame onto China, implying that it is them who are refusing to follow the lead of the West and pull their weight in keeping warming at or below the 1.5°C threshold agreed upon at Paris 2015. This ignores both that the main reason China’s emissions are higher is that Western nations have offshored huge amounts of their production to China, and that China has been behind some of the most genuinely bold emissions mitigation projects in the world, such as the building of vast commuter rail networks across continental Asia, reforestation projects, and others that were highlighted in their recent 20th Party Congress. Meanwhile, the U.S. remains responsible for more than double the energy consumption per person as compared to China.
A perfect symbol of COP27’s total non-commitment to actually fighting climate change was caught by observers before the conference even began, when it was announced that Coca-Cola was sponsoring the event. Just days before this, the Coca-Cola corporation had been named by the 2022 Break Free From Plastic audit as the single worst plastic polluter on the planet for the fifth year in a row. This act of greenwashing is so naked that it really needs no additional analysis, but as poet and songwriter Gil Scott-Heron put it a half-century ago, “the revolution will not go better with Coke.”
Reject “green” capitalism, build workers’ internationalism
It is long past time for working people of the world to declare outright that those in power – the capitalist class – are fundamentally unfit for the task of averting climate catastrophe. These conferences like COP27 are nothing more than a pageant of controlled opposition, a sophisticated act of class warfare to create the illusion that humanity’s biggest problems will be solved by the good-hearted decisions of capitalist think-tanks and NGOs – no, they will not, and cannot.
For the health and survival of all oppressed peoples of the world, there is no alternative but for the masses to strike at the imperialist system itself, and for the workers of all nations to take their future into their own hands.
Charlie Berg is a member of the Climate Justice Committee MN