SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — Bold proposals to confront climate change were floated—and ignored or rejected. The often bogus “net zero” claims by companies and countries were called out. And the fate of an activist on a water and hunger strike continued to get attention, though the Egyptian government showed no signs of backing down.
These were some of the top storylines Tuesday at the U.N. climate summit being held in the Red Sea city of Sharm el-Sheikh. Known as COP27, the gathering of world leaders comes at a time of contrasts, competing needs and competition for attention.
Extreme weather events, exacerbated by climate change, are becoming more frequent and destructive. At the same time, the war in Ukraine has upended the green energy policies of many countries. And add to it all competing news events, such as the Midterm elections in the United States. All of these realities were palpable in the arguments leaders made.
TREATY ABOUT FOSSIL FUELS
While the science of climate change is well established, and leaders have been debating how to confront it for decades—this is the 27th summit, after all—greenhouse gas emissions continue to go up. At the same time, many people, from climate scientists to the secretary general of the United Nations, have repeatedly said that the world must not undertake new projects to produce fossil fuels. Instead, the world must move toward cleaner forms of energy, such as wind, solar and nuclear, on a bigger scale.
Against that backdrop, Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano had a proposal: a non-proliferation treaty to stop future production of fossil fuels.
“We all know that the leading cause of climate crisis is fossil fuels,” said Natano, adding: “It’s getting too hot and there is very (little) time to slow and reverse the increasing temperature.”
Nations like Tuvalu, a Pacific island nation impacted by climate change, has moral authority at climate talks. But the prospects of getting such a proposal to gain traction are slim. Indeed, the idea didn’t get much engagement.
CARBON PROFITS TAX
A bold proposal that did garner vigorous interaction centered around the idea of taxing global corporations that are making big profits amid rising energy prices since Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year.
“Profligate producers of fossil fuels have benefited from extortionate profits at the expense of human civilization,” said Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda.
Browne then cited a bit of “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare to underscore his frustration with a lack of action by developed nations that are most responsible for the emissions that warm the planet.
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death,” Browne said.
Other leaders made clear they were not interested in talking taxes.
“I think this is not the place now to develop tax rules, but rather to jointly develop measures to protect against the consequences of climate change,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters.
GREENWASHING CALLED OUT
Companies and local governments have made bold promises to slash emissions and get to “net zero” by a certain date.
There are potential problems with those claims, however, starting with the reality that zeroing out emissions doesn’t necessarily mean that polluting by a certain company goes down. After all, a company can pollute and then buy carbon credits to offset and get their net emissions to zero.
That dynamic was one of many reasons that a UN group on Tuesday released a report with recommendations so that net zero promises don’t end up “undermined by false claims, ambiguity and greenwash.”
Among several recommendations: businesses can’t claim to be net zero if they continue to invest or build new fossil fuel supplies, are responsible for deforestation or other environmentally destructive projects or buy cheap carbon offset credits.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who never minces words, certainly didn’t when talking about the need for reform.
“Using bogus ‘net zero’ pledges to cover up massive fossil fuel expansion is reprehensible. It is rank deception,” said Guterres. “This toxic cover-up could push our world over the climate cliff. The sham must end.”
The sister of imprisoned pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah on Tuesday warned journalists that she feared the Egyptian government would force-feed her brother to avoid the embarrassment of him dying while the spotlight was on the country.
Abdel-Fattah, jailed much of the last decade, added a water strike to his ongoing hunger strike to coincide with the beginning of the summit.
“Force feeding is torture. Nothing should happen against his will as long as he’s able to say to say so,” sister Sanaa Seif told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the conference.
Seif, who has been imprisoned in Egypt for her activism in the past as well and now lives in Britain, came to Sharm el-Sheikh to raise her brother’s case, speaking to international media and other activists. Amnesty International warned that he could die within days if not freed.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have raised the activist’s case in their talks with the Egyptian leader, their offices said.
Still, the government doesn’t appear ready to budge.
Speaking to the U.S. news channel CNBC on Monday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry said Abdel-Fattah would be provided “the health care that is available to all inmates.” He said that the hunger and water strike was “a matter of a personal choice” and suggested it might not be real.
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