Beware of Climate Colonialism at COP27

Khady Camara, president of environmental activist group Vacances Verte, addresses the crowd at a march in Dakar, Senegal, on Oct. 29, 2022, ahead of the 27th annual U.N. climate conference (COP27) scheduled to take place in Egypt to demand world leaders increase their climate ambitions at the local level, and call on the National Designated Authority to better negotiate for the ecological interests of women in Africa and Senegal. (Guy Peterson / AFP via Getty Images)

As U.N. climate negotiators meet for their 27th annual conference in Egypt, sponsored by Coca-Cola, they are poised to continue leading the world down the path of false “solutions” that put the burden of climate change on marginalized communities in the countries of the global majority (the south). To have any hope of saving the planet, we must arm ourselves with the knowledge to recognize greenwashing, debunk false science and push for real climate solutions.

Fossil fuel emissions need to peak by 2025 to stay under 1.5°C of global warming, and to achieve this, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends a 43 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Based on the pledges and commitments made by countries, not only are we going to overshoot 1.5°C, but current emission pathways point to a rise of over 3°C within this century.

The remedial actions are obvious. We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take a rights-based, gender-responsive and non-market approach to climate change adaptation and mitigation. This approach should be rooted in a recognition of the traditional knowledge, wisdom and roles of Indigenous peoples and local communities.

We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take a rights-based, gender-responsive and non-market approach to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Current “solutions” peddled by our so-called political leaders and big business—such as carbon offsetting and burning of biomass for energy—do very little to reduce emissions. Instead, they rely on market-based mechanisms that turn carbon into another tradable commodity, shifting responsibility for implementation to poor communities in the south, while allowing developed nations to continue their emissions-fueled economies. This scenario, as we well know, is an existential threat to the future of life on our planet.

How did we get here? Corporations have captured global climate policy. Led by fossil fuel companies, big agribusiness, their financiers and the technology giants, they are using all their might to resist the systemic and structural changes needed to overcome the climate crisis. They are drowning out the voices of the south and shifting the burden of emissions reductions to vulnerable communities and their territories—the Indigenous homelands, forests, pastures, fertile farmlands and commons that are the lifelines of these communities.

Last year, with the world reeling under the COVID-19 pandemic, northern countries at COP26 not only thwarted calls for a dedicated facility to finance loss and damage caused by climate change—they outright rejected an immediate halt to fossil fuel production, including coal burning. On the other hand, the U.K. presidency, backed by the same fossil fuel companies and carbon cowboys, forced an agreement to operationalize an international carbon market and unleash false solutions that are not based on science, will not lead to emission reductions, and will further aggravate the climate crisis.

Why? Because the agreements reached in Glasgow on the market-based solutions under Articles 6.2 and 6.4 of the Paris Agreement do not provide real climate mitigation through international cooperation. Instead, they peddle a false solution pathway where the largest emitters can buy carbon credits delivered from the climate actions and resilience of vulnerable countries in the south to offset their continued emissions. In plain terms, northern countries will be able to compensate for their over-consumption and combustion-based economies through offsetting and paying for low-cost climate action in the south.

And it’s not a good deal for the south. Fossil fuels companies are grabbing millions of hectares of land in Africa, Asia and Latin America under the guise of reforestation or reducing deforestation. What they’re actually doing is investing in commercial monoculture tree plantations and other distorted REDD+ and forest carbon offset projects, fraudulently claiming rights to the carbon sequestered or “enhanced carbon sinks.”

Through this, they falsely claim to be well on their way to decarbonizing their operations and achieving “net zero” emissions—not real zero, which means zero emissions created or released. The scientific evidence shows that this is a false claim based on equating carbon from geological reservoirs with that of biological reservoirs, which are not permanent. CO2 removals can become reversals, going back into the atmosphere.

These false solutions are fast moving towards a narrative promoting climate colonialism whereby northern governments and corporations make pillage the intact ecosystems, homelands and territories of Indigenous people and forest communities. This has inevitably led to conflicts and will cause more, violating human rights, stoking violence against women and children, and turning natural resources into globally traded commodities. It reinforces all the dominant traits of colonialism, where social cohesion is destroyed, driving divisions between communities, races, colors and genders.

A climate COP has its own dynamics, where global political issues and corporate lobbying often cloud the negotiating table, and COP27 may not tread a much different path. But its corridors will reverberate with the demands of the climate justice movement. It is our role to ensure that the world is not deceived by the false solutions and empty promises trumpeted at these events. We need genuine action and real solutions.

We cannot underestimate the dangers of the official and corporate proposals and the importance of being informed. We must protect Mother Earth and achieve climate justice and equity by defending the rights of our communities, women, peasants and workers to choose and drive their own climate solutions for real zero.

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About , and

Souparna Lahiri is a climate campaigner with the Global Forest Coalition.
Maureen Santos is coordinator of the National Advisory Group of the Federation of Organizations for Social and Educational Assistance (FASE).
Kwami Kpondzo is coordinator of the Global Forest Coalition’s campaign on Extractive Industries, Tourism and Infrastructure.