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Carbon Colonialism, COP28 and the Climate Crisis

ColumnDecember 07, 2023
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By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

Dubai, UAE – More than 100,000 people have descended on the United Nations climate summit here in Dubai, making it the largest ever. The goal of COP28, the 28th annual “Conference of Parties” to the climate negotiations, is to halt catastrophic climate change. As the impacts of the climate emergency become increasingly frequent and destructive, from droughts, hurricanes and typhoons, wildfires, melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels and more, problems with the UN’s climate negotiation process itself become magnified; oil and gas producing nations and corporations that profit from fossil fuels dominate, delaying meaningful progress.

Exhibit One: COP28 is being hosted by the United Arab Emirates, the seventh largest oil producing nation on the planet, and the COP Presidency is currently held by Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the CEO of the UAE’s state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

The decision to have the head of an oil company running the climate change negotiations has been called Orwellian. This week, The Guardian reported on comments Al Jaber made on November 21st during a live, online event hosted by Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and the former UN Special Envoy on Climate Change.

Robinson asked Al Jaber if he would call not for a “phase down” of fossil fuels, but for a complete “phase out,” which science says is needed to limit the global temperature rise over pre-industrial levels to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Al Jaber testily replied,

“There is no science out there or no scenario out there that says that the phaseout of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5…Show me a roadmap for a phaseout of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socioeconomic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves.”

The Guardian story came on the heels of another from the Centre for Climate Reporting based on leaked documents containing background briefs on officials from several countries coming to COP28, to help the UAE secure oil and gas deals from them.

Fueling criticisms of COP28, The Kick Big Polluters Out coalition of environmental groups released an analysis revealing that close to 2,500 fossil fuel lobbyists have flooded COP28, outnumbering all but two national delegations.

“You wouldn’t invite arms dealers to a peace conference,” said David Tong of Oil Change International. Pacific Climate Warrior Drue Slatter of Fiji added, “It’s because they’re scared. There’s more of them [lobbyists] here because they know that the age of fossil fuels is coming to an end.”

While lobbyists enjoy virtually unlimited access to COP28, climate activists say they are having a more difficult time getting credentialed than in previous years. Add to that the United Arab Emirates authoritarian, strictly enforced ban on protests and the UN climate summit looks more like what climate scientist Kevin Anderson wrote on social media, “a Cabal of Oil Producers not a climate COP.”

Beyond the expansive, air-conditioned summit venue, the planet continues to heat. The European Union said Wednesday that this year will be the warmest ever recorded. A scientific study on ecological tipping points from a team of 200 researchers warned, “Without urgent action to halt the climate and ecological crisis, societies will be overwhelmed as the natural world comes apart.”

One “urgent action” being debated at COP28 is developing so-called “carbon markets.” A consortium of organizations released a report, “The Africa Carbon Markets Initiative: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” detailing extensive problems with these markets, which involve buying and selling carbon credits. When a government protects a tract of forest, for example, it obtains credits which it can then sell. The buyer can then pollute elsewhere, offsetting the pollution with those credits.

“Carbon credits are just permits to pollute,” said Mohamed Adow, director of the climate think tank Power Shift Africa, on the Democracy Now! news hour.

Among the nations buying up those African land rights for carbon credits is the COP28 host, the United Arab Emirates. To date, a private firm called Blue Carbon, owned by Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai’s ruling royal family, has acquired land rights to 10% of Liberia, 8% of Tanzania, 10% of Zambia and 20% of Zimbabwe, plus “millions of hectares” in Kenya. While these deals might protect undeveloped land, it could also force indigenous people off their land or lose their rights to use it.

“Sixty years ago, African countries attained their independence. We were able to kick colonizers out of our land. What they’re doing now is basically introducing this new form of colonialism,” Mohamed Adow said.

Carbon colonialism only ensures worsening climate disasters. The science and climate activists around the world agree: what’s needed is a fast, full, fair, and funded phase out of all fossil fuels.

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