The road to COP28 is already off to a rough start.
The appointment of Sultan al-Jaber as COP28 President-designate received heavy criticism and backlash. While currently the climate envoy of host country United Arab Emirates, he is also the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, one of the world’s biggest oil companies.
This presents an evident conflict of interest, with the burning of coal, oil, and gas being the primary cause of the climate crisis. Yet it also points to an even deeper issue: that of fossil fuel interests having a more prominent voice in recent climate negotiations.
Last year’s summit in Egypt saw a 25% increase in representation from oil and gas corporations, which further adds to the emerging trend of inclusivity issues in recent COPs. Their influence at the negotiating table led to the conference completely failing to enhance commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
With a known oil advocate now at the helm of the Dubai climate talks, expect the fossil fuel industry to be even more emboldened in their lobbying against genuine solutions that our world actually needs. Part of this is spreading misinformation, if not outright denial of the nature and severity of the climate crisis.
With the reality of the climate crisis no longer to be convincingly denied due to scientific consensus, fossil fuel interests have now shifted to delaying or blocking meaningful climate action. A recent study shows that these groups chose to spread anti-climate messaging on social media based on common narratives.
One of these narratives is that fossil fuels are still necessary for long-term human development. This is complemented by a new trend known as ‘wokewashing’, featuring claims that climate actions would actually worsen environmental destruction and social injustices. They frequently cite how green technologies have far more negative impacts, using electric vehicles (EVs) as an example.
It is true that minerals are needed for powering EVs and other green technologies, which brings up concerns about the environmental and social impacts of mining. However, it has already been proven by scientists that these adverse effects do not outweigh the benefits of EVs, especially when compared to technologies based on traditional fuels.
Anti-climate attacks have also criticized the establishment of a loss and damage finance mechanism at COP27 as being an “unfair transfer of wealth to the developing world”. Such posts used arguments like costs of living in developed nations as a basis, which gained some traction within nations such as the United States and Australia.
Yet these variations of the ‘wokewashing’ narrative conveniently leaves out the undisputed fact that the burning of fossil fuels is by far the largest reason for the climate crisis and its devastating impacts. It is blatantly insensitive and unjust to developing countries like the Philippines, whose millions of residents are among the most vulnerable to said impacts caused by these carbon majors.
While climate denial still got significant social media engagements during COP27, branding climate actors as alarmists has become among the most popular of the anti-climate narratives. Some of these social media posts claimed that protesters and activists are elitist and delusional. Others delved into outrageous comments and conspiracy theories that are eerily similar to the ones that spread around to downplay the severity, if not invalidate the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet we all know how devastating the pandemic has been on our economies and societies, years after its onset. The impacts of COVID-19 on every aspect of our life and our world are as real as that of the climate crisis.
Road to Dubai
Steps have begun to be taken within UN processes to address misinformation. At COP27, an expert group report presented recommendations to address greenwashing, specifically the net-zero pledges made by corporations. It criticized these commitments as weak and deceiving, stating that entities that are still investing in fossil fuel expansion and other environmentally-harmful activities, and selectively promoting their green practices while hiding pollutive ones cannot be truly net-zero.
Among their key recommendations is ensuring that the commitments of these corporations are aligned with the pathways of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, as assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Such pledges must be accompanied by detailed and concrete transition plans away from pollutive energy sources and into renewable energies, reinforced by accountability and transparency mechanisms.
Climate advocates also need to enhance their monitoring of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter that have been hotbeds of misinformation in recent years. Activities may range from calling on leaders and managers of these platforms to remove accounts and pages that spread false news to engaging in online educational and awareness-raising campaigns to counter anti-climate communications.
Throughout the months leading to and during COP28, advocacy groups and individuals must also maximize all available spaces and platforms for meaningful engagements with policymakers across all levels of governance. They must be prepared to challenge any claims to be made by fossil fuel lobbyists, to ensure that adequate and appropriate policies and solutions related to mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and other key workstreams will be enacted and implemented.
For so long, fossil fuel giants and their allies have been allowed to manipulate the truth at the expense of the well-being of billions worldwide. This time, we have a chance to change the script and push forward global actions to the level needed to address the climate crisis.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres once said that there must be “zero tolerance” for greenwashing. It is up to the COP28 Presidency to prove there will be no room for anything other than what is true and what is needed in the best interests of humankind at the forefront of global climate action.
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