Countries that have been on the receiving end of climate change have to carefully examine the narratives driving the conversations and negotiations at the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is important because for years the debates have regressed from demanding real actions to defending lifestyles and dominant geopolitical power positions. Although the COP is presented as a democratic space it has always been clear that it is actually a space for imperial and indeed colonial domination.
Calling COP27 that will be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, an African COP is simply a tale that has a tail aimed at presenting the false notion that this is an opportunity to solve the ravages of climate change on the continent and other vulnerable nations and territories. That this will not be so should be clear. This will be the fifth COP to be held on the African continent — it has been held once in Kenya, twice in Morocco and once in South Africa. Indeed, around the time it was held in Durban, South Africa, storms battered the region leaving stark warnings and tales of woes. Since then cyclones on the South Eastern seaboard of the continent have inched up the latitudes and snuffed the lives out of thousands of Africans. Locust invasions of virtually biblical proportions have stripped dreams of robust harvests and left desolate, hungry populations in the east and horn of Africa.
Yet, none of the COPs have shifted grounds to take real climate actions, especially recognizing the fact that the now chic notions of carbon capture or even carbon removal must be approached from the sensible understanding that continual extraction and burning of fossil fuels are counterproductive and injurious to the planet, the people and other beings.
Rather than taking the glaring global heating pathways as real threats to life, and leaving fossil fuels in the ground, the world is locking itself on the path of voluntary emissions reductions and weakly whispering a commitment to “phase down” the continued use of coal. Whatever that means.
How can Sharm El Sheikh (SES) be an African COP when Africans ravaged by floods, droughts, receding coastlines and forests are unaware that political leaders and technocrats are toying with their fate under the shadows of the pyramids. How can this be an African COP if the victims of climate change are not at the negotiation tables, and are debarred from defending their life-giving forests and ocean and have no access to the tourist haven where decision makers will be ensconced for two weeks in November 2022 to perpetuate the rituals of carbon trading and hoist distant flags pointing at when their grandchildren will attain net zero carbon emissions.
The COP has transformed itself into a platform for avoidance of actions and the appropriation of ideas and ideals of indigenous peoples of the world who have been fighting for the respect of the rights of Mother Earth with a clear understanding that to do otherwise spells doom for humans and other species on this Blue Planet. This is why at the COP there will be cheeky proclamations of nature based solutions that do nothing but market the gifts of Nature.
Corporate profit interests, political and military dominance have perpetuated the myths that the climate debacle can be solved with mathematical formulae while certain lifestyles and investments are secured by destructive activities including irresponsible extraction, consumption and wars.
The coming COP will probably throw down some corn and coins in the guise of climate finance and the payment for loss and damage caused by ongoing climate inaction and false solutions, but will studiously avoid historical harms that have virtually exhausted the carbon budget. Even the net zero and other colourations of carbon offsetting will be couched in languages that permit Europe to throttle Africa with pipelines of discontent as the continent is forced to meet the fossil fuels shortages arising from the Russian war on Ukraine. While the industrialized nations test their bloody war machinery in Ukraine, the fangs of the fossil fuel companies are being sunk into the necks of Okavango in Namibia and Botswana; Saloum Delta of Sénégal and the Virunga forests of Democratic Republic of Congo. Rather than halting the predatory moves in these World Heritage sites, new pipelines of discontent are being planned to suck gas from the Niger Delta for delivery to Europe through Morocco and Algeria. Others are planned to convey heavy crude from the Lake Albert region of Uganda to an export terminal at Tanzania. While it is yet inconceivable for rich nations to take climate action, multinational forces are set in battle array to defend the gas pipelines and other investments in the killing fields of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique.
COP27 could have been an African COP if African leaders and others from vulnerable, exploited and exposed regions were not marching into traps that dangle shinny mirrors that present polluting activities as development and hold up ruinous tipping points as desirable destinations. It could have been an African COP if our leaders were going there to demand Climate Justice and insist on the payment of a climate debt for historical and current harms. The value of this debt can be approximated to about 2 trillion dollars that the industrialized nations spend on warfare and armament annually. Clearly, the problem has never been one of a shortage of cash.
It could be an African COP if the marketization of Nature, including through diverse forms of carbon trading are denounced and rejected. It could be an African COP if the gathering agrees that investment should be in agroecology with support for the majority of farmers, rather than industrial, colonial or plantation agriculture that depends on fossil fuels, promotes risky technologies and continues to devastate the environment, displace communities and feed climate change.
It could be an African COP if binding emissions cuts return to the negotiations and polluting nations agree to do their fair share on the basis of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) rather than the so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that so far have not dented more than 2 gigatonnes of the 27 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent needed to keep temperature increase to not more than 1.5℃ above preindustrial levels as per the Paris Agreement of 2015.
It would be an African COP if the Paris Agreement is overturned and a new upper temperature target of well below 1.5℃ is set with a clear understanding that 1.5℃ global average means 2.2℃ for Africa and that such a temperature scenario will utterly cook the continent.
NB: Nnimmo Bassey, an author and Environmental Justice and Food Sovereignty Activist, is the Director of the Ecological think-tank Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and a member of the steering committee of Oilwatch International. He was chair of Friends of the Earth International (2008-2012) and executive director of Nigeria’s Environmental Rights Action (1993-2013).