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Greenwashing reaches new heights at COP28 UN Climate Conference

Photo: Protestors at this year’s COP28 UN Climate Conference. Credit: Flickr/Mídia NINJA

Tina Landis is the author of the book Climate Solutions Beyond Capitalism.     

The COP28 UN Climate Conference that closed this week once again failed to make any meaningful commitments to stemming the climate crisis and instead seemed to be in complete denial of the urgent crisis that humanity faces. The conference took place in the petrostate of the United Arab Emirates, and was led by oil executive Sultan al-Jaber, who was appointed president of COP28 despite overwhelming opposition. On top of this blatant conflict of interest, over 2,500 fossil fuel lobbyists were also in attendance, bringing the greenwashing that always occurs at these events to new heights. 

We are all witnessing the unraveling of our global climate with more extreme and unpredictable weather increasing each year. 2023 is on track to be the hottest year on record with the warmest eight years all occurring since 2015. You would expect this increasing urgency that is threatening life on this planet to be reflected within the international bodies that are tasked with addressing the climate crisis. But instead, we see a mad scramble from the very industries that are most responsible for the problem — backed by Western capitalist interests — attempting to maintain the status quo to ensure continued profits rolling in.

How can we take these climate conferences seriously when these same interests are allowed to not only attend, but control the outcome?

U.S. imperialism is the biggest obstacle to preventing climate disaster

The COP28 negotiations ended with the adoption of language to “transition away” from fossil fuels, rather than “phasing out” fossil fuels, which was the stronger language that 130 countries called for. The goal of accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies includes nuclear, which has the third highest life cycle emissions of any energy source, and carbon capture and storage, which has yet to be proven safe or effective in reducing carbon emissions, and is really just a cover for continued fossil fuel production with some minor tweaking of emissions controls. 

There was also language to “phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,” which was also included in the COP27 agreement, yet $7 trillion annually still gets handed over to oil, gas and coal sectors globally. 

The loss and damage fund agreed upon at past COPs, which wealthy nations agreed to start contributing $100 billion to annually starting in 2020, has yet to see more than a trickle of funding and no plan on who pays how much. The fund is an attempt to balance wealthy countries’ overwhelming responsibility for climate change with developing nations’ burden of increasing climate disasters and a much lower contribution to the problem. 

While the fund attempts to address the historic contribution of emissions stemming from the Western imperialist countries, it fails to make an honest assessment of the role of imperialism in holding back the world from overcoming climate change today, The UN conferences never talk about the immense carbon emissions from the U.S. military industrial complex, which are still exempt from UN emissions reporting, despite the fact the U.S. military is the largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels on the planet. And to truly achieve the rapid emission reductions in an equitable and just manner globally will take international cooperation on an unprecedented scale, free of domination and divisiveness by a few wealthy countries that prefer the status quo. 

The role of Western imperialism in blocking the path to an ecologically sustainable world is the biggest barrier to the change that’s needed for our survival. Imperialism impacts developing nations’ ability to transition off fossil fuels and protect ecosystems like forests, wetlands, oceans and river systems. Imperialism keeps developing countries deeply indebted, which forces them to sell off their resources for transnational corporations to plunder. It blocks the sharing of technologies through sanctions and trade deals that benefit Western capitalist interests. And the U.S. and its imperialist partners literally bomb, invade, occupy, destroy, undermine and economically blockade any country that attempts to take a path independent of Western domination and exploitation. 

Socialism is the only way forward

How can we have any honest negotiations on climate change with imperialists in the room? What is needed is internationalism — which can only truly occur under socialism — where all countries work together and share resources and technologies to overcome the global crisis, and collectively provide real assistance and aid to countries most impacted by climate disasters with no strings attached. 

We cannot let the ineffectiveness of the UN climate summits demoralize and deactivate us. So many communities around the globe are already implementing real solutions in their local areas, from renewable energy-powered microgrids, to using organic, regenerative methods to grow food, to ecological restoration of the land and oceans and so much more that contributes to healing the planet. The large-scale advances that China is making toward sustainability — like their eco-cities and sponge cities — shows how socialism has the capacity to solve the crisis through centralization of resources and a planned economy. The multipolar world emerging beyond the grip of Western imperialism also shows a path toward cooperation and shared development. But the domination of Western imperialism is holding humanity back from truly evolving and transforming how we live on this planet and relate to the natural world.

Capitalism requires ever-expanding markets and endless exploitation of our labor and the earth. It cannot be anything else. And it must be overthrown and replaced with socialism for humanity to move forward. 

Imagine a future where the $1 trillion of the U.S. budget that goes to the military every year and the millions of workers that contribute to the war machine could be utilized to build a sustainable world — contributing to life instead of destruction and domination. Under socialism, communities would have the resources and power to implement climate solutions and contribute to the global effort.

Building social movements, particularly here in the heart of the empire, that connect all our struggles — poverty, homelessness, racism, police brutality, poor working conditions, lack of affordable healthcare and education, and the climate crisis — is the solution. We have seen a huge leap forward in consciousness over the last few months with a whole new layer of society seeing through the lies of the imperialists as they continue to enact genocide against the Palestinian people. That same awakening will inevitably happen for millions more as the capitalist system continues to show that it is incapable and unwilling to implement the solutions that are needed for a livable future. 

Humanity has the tools and the understanding to make the transformations that are needed to solve the climate crisis and all the other crises we face. Only the capitalist system and the handful of the super-rich that control that system stand in our way. 

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