Home|[in] focus|UN Climate Change COP 28 in UAE – More of the Same as Green Capitalism’s Contradictions Deepen
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by ashraf-patel

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Categories: [in] focus

by ashraf-patel

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The UN Climate Change COP 28 jamboree has commenced in the UAE. Over the decades UN Environment forums and summits – meant to be the ‘voice of humanity’ have been mainly determined by large corporations and powerful governments.

Instead of protecting and enhancing Earth as the source of well-being, the dominant forms of civilisation today are pursuing ‘economic development’ instead of ‘human development’ in the sense of achieving one’s full potential as a human being at the expense of the Earth. This means that our civilisation and techno economic models are not ecologically sustainable and hence unviable in the longer term.

Historic perspective of UN Sustainable Development and Climate Change

The U.N. has been discussing the environment as a global concern for over 50 years, with the first UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Stockholm in 1972,  followed by the Rio Summit in 1992,  and the Johannesburg Summit in 2002.  Several international treaties over that time have addressed specific environmental concerns, including binding agreements on protecting biodiversity and closing the ozone hole,  and the current global plastics treaty being negotiated in 2023.

The  UN Conference of the Parties (COP) 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit global warming is a direct and legally binding outcome of the long struggles that followed initial declarations. Subsequent COP Summits have since been focussing on the formal mechanisms of implementing these at local level in the form of nationally determined contributions (NDRs), and a range of programs and mechanisms, especially Green finance.

Deep seated contestations of narratives and reality diverge as the Global South and Africa in particular again face major obstacles in attaining both development and climate change risk reductions, and crucially the resources to support them.

The Big Issues and contradictions at the UN CoP 28

  1. UN COPs Loss and Damage funds – Promises and lies

Although Sub-Saharan Africa is responsible for less than 4 percent of global emissions, it is disproportionately affected by negative climate change impacts. Even worse the nature of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDRs) is reducing the notion of Common and Differentiated responsibility. The lack of any concrete commitments towards the Loss and Damage funds, which was the discussion at COP  27 is glaring, and so far, only the host government UAE has committed funds ($1.9 Billion), whereas the North has not yet committed.

So, for African countries, fighting climate effects is urgent- for both climate risk and the need for development reasons. Mainstream reporting on climate change also   ignores the UN Right to Development (RfD) 1986 agreement – where Article 1 and 2 explicitly reaffirms:

  1. “The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.
  2. The human right to development also implies the full realisation of the right of peoples to self-determination, which includes, subject to the relevant provisions of both International Covenants on Human Rights, the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.

Sadly, the lack of any meaningful commitment to the famed Loss and Damage funds is the scar of the UN COP 28. Instead, the narrative is now replaced by ‘Green finance and stocktaking’, led by large banks and financial corporations. This financial sector – profit driven discourse has rapidly penetrated the last two COP summits. South Africa is a good example of a ‘guinea pig’ nation that is being experimented upon with this new green financing. Incubated at the G7, South Africa’s $8.5 billion Green Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET IP) is essentially world bank style loans – payable with interest. This model denies South Africa its common and differentiated responsibility.

With South Africa’s national debt and interest payments at 28% of our national budget, the Just Energy Transition JET IP program is fast becoming an UNjust transition program, and if implemented, will further sink our nation into an intergenerational debt trap. Other African nations face the same dreadful ‘green debt trap.

The recent UN Plastics Treaty is also stalled even though the bulk of Plastics (Coca Cola bottles etc) and electronics consumed by the North – and in the South – mainly ends up in landfill dumps in the Global South, often employing child labour in the unhealthiest,  exploitative zones on the planet.

Double speak of G7 and EU

In the UK for instance, the Conservative Party has arguably turned its back on Green policy, made popular when the UK hosted COP 26 in Glasgow.  Its independent Climate Change Committee warned this could damage the UK’s ability to meet its legally binding target to reach net zero by 2050, which will overshadow the Prime Minister’s presence at COP28. Vowing to “max out” the North Sea, after the International Energy Agency warned that no new oil and gas exploration should take place if the world is to stay within the 1.5 degree Celsius limit, was a provocation to the UK’s former allies in the climate fight.  The US’s green Inflation Reduction Act, which is essentially a nationwide Industrial policy, is also rapidly expanding its production, energy and electricity.  The world’s leading energy corporations Exxon etc are located there.

Germany, the home of Green politics, reactivated some coal-fired power plants last year. The country’s economic ministry said several coal-fired units operated by energy companies RWE and LEAG at their Niederaußem, Neurath, and Jaenschwalde power plants will be temporarily reactivated until March of next year.  Government data showed about 1.9 GWh of electricity was generated from coal last winter and set to expand in 2023 -24.

So, a case of ‘Do as I Say- not as I Do” is the dominant energy narrative and realpolitik of the North. ‘So, what is to be Done?

Most countries by now agree that a pivot or transition away from fossil fuel production or consumption to renewables is inevitable, but a key issue African leaders are pushing is the continent’s right to a just transition. At the moment, more than 600 million Africans do not have electricity.  An energy rich continent amidst energy poverty.  While there is a ‘broad consensus’ on the need for a Green transition, key developmental dilemmas remain

The EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, which will see importers of goods taxed based on the amount of CO2 emitted during their production remains a contested mechanism in the global South and largely seen as a protectionist tool. On the other hand, “we are between a rock and a hard place”, The Africa Group lead Negotiator AGN Aggad said. “We are being sold this dream of renewables but we barely have any investments in it. Gas is the only option available to Africa.”

  1. a) Need for a clear Loss and Damage funds in the form of Development grants and climate change finance, including funding for adaptation and technical transfer; these need to adopt a non-profit model.
  2. b) the Right to Industrial Development as a way out of poverty, given that Africa is endowed with major minerals, metals and energy resources crucial for both the global green transition and a resource base to get Africa out of energy poverty.

 Food systems and agroecology

A new and welcoming agenda at COP 28 is the Food systems and sustainability, but it risks replicating the Big Agri model of the WTO. South Africa’s agriculture system is an example of big agriculture capital rooted in large scale monocropping, fertilizer and chemical usage, and concentrated supply chains with mega retailers. Ironically these are not translated into affordable food, with 20% of South Africans facing food insecurity.  Black farmers continue to be on the margins of the food system. A huge push for agroecology and local food systems is thus needed to stave off the negative effects of industrial agriculture.

Carbon Capture Technology

Most of Sub-Saharan Africa needs to embark on the path towards Industrialisation in line with the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063 strategy and numerous detailed reports by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).  Hence mining and energy resources for national development will continue, and the application of new Green technologies, as well as Carbon Capture and Storage technologies is the ‘big game changer at COP 28

By utilising its natural endowments (minerals and energy), Africa can invest and utilise core Carban Storage technologies, such as Clean Coal Tech for instance. This will have the double positive pathways of utilising its own energy resources for national development, and investing in new generation green technologies that will mitigate pollution. Adaptation funding can come from Multilateral Development Banks MDBs.

This would be a clear win-win as nations such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia have coal reserves for the next 100 years, and that cannot be ditched overnight.  Currently, the North and especially Europe are importing coal for their winters, thus undermining the very COP 28 push for ‘ending fossil fuel investments’.

Sadly the UN COP 28 is currently trapped in a deepening contradictory – hypocritical complex; and the consumer-capitalist hyper-fuel hub of Dubai (UAE) is a fitting host for such crass contradictions and gerrymandering, as the bottom billions in the Global South live a pitiful existence and languish in energy poverty.

 

 

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