The 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Dubai, UAE is taking place against the background of a world on the edge of irreversible planetary catastrophe. Millions of poor people who have done the least damage to the environment and climate contend with worsening weather extremes and slow-onset disasters: super typhoons, droughts, rising sea levels, and floods. The climate crisis threatens their human rights, right to sustainable development, and their very existence. Their condition is worsened by the overlapping economic, social, and political crises that only reinforce long-standing inequalities, poverty, and marginalisation.

Yet world leaders’ ambitions remain grossly inadequate. Several climate talks have passed and  governments have done very little to equitably phase-out fossil fuels and hold the big polluters accountable. Last year’s annual climate summit ended with generic provisions on the need to boost ‘low-emission energy’ but left a gaping hole for the continued use of oil and gas. Meanwhile, multilateral development banks continue to pump funds towards natural gas, rebranding it as a ‘transitional’ energy source.

Rather than work towards cutting greenhouse gas emissions, climate talks are hounded by the deceptive rhetoric of offsetting emissions through techno-fixes, market-based, and nature-based ‘solutions’. Anchored on continuous exploitation and pollution, these will inexorably lead to further resource depletion, ecological breakdown, social inequality, and crises. More importantly, they seek to lull people into complacency while the root causes of the problem remain untouched.

While global North countries are projecting a gradual transition from fossil fuel dependence, this only means shifting their profit motive away from discredited dirty energy to ‘green’ energy. The same countries in the global North that amassed wealth from the burning of fossil fuels look to their neocolonies in the global South to extract and profit from critical minerals needed for renewable infrastructure. This drives massive land grabbing, displacing Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and forest dwellers in the process. 

Rather than serve the purpose of system change, the “transition” agenda is being hijacked by corporations and Northern elites to continue with the same energy-intensive production and consumption patterns and political, economic, and social structures that generate inequality. Instead of leading to equitable access to energy and democratic control over energy sources and systems, the transition risks perpetuating the same property relations that enable corporations and elites to concentrate wealth and resources in their hands.

Exacerbating the imbalance, Northern governments consistently fall short of contributing their fair share of finance, evading responsibility for their climate debt whenever possible. Even the minimum $100 billion annual climate finance goal since 2009 has yet to be fulfilled. Northern governments also remain unwilling to commit to higher finance targets, expressing preference for leveraging private finance as for-profit loans through multilateral development banks—another manoeuvre to turn the obligatory relationship around and bury already vulnerable countries deeper in debt.

The global North’s ceaseless pollution and deliberate abandonment of international commitments are leading to more loss of life, livelihood, culture, territory, and resources from intensifying tropical cyclones, floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, and sea level rise, among others. The United States and its allies derailed the negotiations of the Transitional Committee tasked to come up with recommendations for the operationalisation of a Loss and Damage Fund (LDF). The exclusion of principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities (CBDR-RC) and the appointment of the World Bank as interim host of the LDF are mere tactics to, yet again, skirt historical obligations.

The doors still swing wide open for corporations and big polluters to hijack negotiations and dictate terms that align with their economic and political interests. Meanwhile, civil society and frontline communities contend with tight restrictions on their participation and violations of their rights, such as the right to access information, and to organise and mobilise. Moreover, they face worsening incidence of harassment, imprisonment, and even death at the hands of state forces and big foreign corporations that seek to colonise their lands, rivers, mountains, forests, and other natural resources.

Finally, we cannot ignore that the COP28 is happening amid the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Israel. Since October 7, nearly 1.5 million people have been displaced across the Gaza Strip. More than fourteen thousand Palestinians, half of whom were children, have been killed by the indiscriminate bombing of civilian neighbourhoods, hospitals, schools, mosques, churches, and refugee camps. 

The disregard of international laws and greenwashing of international crimes, along with the unjust multilateral governance system dominated by powerful governments and corporations, and the climate apartheid—where the occupied are dispossessed of their resources while bearing a disproportionate impact from the ecological damage caused by the occupiers—reveal that the occupation of Palestine and the climate crisis are driven by neocolonialism. As movements fighting for radical change, we are determined to bring to COP28 the demands of the Palestinians and make explicit the connection between our struggle for climate justice and justice for Palestine.

There is only one solution: people power. Addressing the climate and social crises entails bringing power back to the most harmed peoples, those in the global South. Sustained mobilisation of peoples across wide sectors is key to not only achieving just outcomes in the climate negotiation process but, more fundamentally, to establishing a society based not on the pursuit of profit but on the wellbeing of the people and planet. 

To this end, IBON International joins civil society and climate justice movements in challenging world leaders to heed the demands of the peoples. We remain vigilant over the agenda to be negotiated at COP28 and will reject any attempts by corporations to reinforce their power over the climate agenda. If COP28 is the “Action COP” that it claims to be, it must lead to the attainment of these long-standing demands:

  • Developed countries must recognise and honour their greater historical responsibility in the climate crisis. Such recognition should translate to more ambitious action to phase out fossil fuels and increase nationally determined contributions and global targets to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with science, principles of equity, and CBDR-RC.
  • We reject false climate ‘solutions’ such as carbon offsets, geo-engineering, carbon capture, and nature-based solutions that only provide a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry. We oppose mechanisms that trade in carbon credits obtained from dubious projects that violate the rights of communities, especially women and Indigenous Peoples.
  • We call for a people-led energy transition where the people are allowed to exercise democratic control over the overhauling of existing energy systems based on their contexts, priorities, and development needs. This means moving away from the corporate-driven and colonial framework of development that is based on unchecked economic growth and technological hyperfixation. Further, democratising energy systems will give countries and communities more leverage to rationally manage energy production and distribution, giving thorough consideration to the use and allocation of resources and overall environmental impact, with a view to ensuring long-term economic sustainability.
  • We demand that developed countries pay for their climate debt to developing countries by providing new, adequate, predictable, and additional finance for climate adaptation, mitigation, and reparations for climate-induced losses and damages. Likewise, funding mechanisms and facilities must channel finance in the form of grants as compensatory funding, not as loans or for-profit investments that drive developing countries further into vulnerability. Thus, we reject the possibility of placing the World Bank as host of the LDF because of its legacy of maintaining cycles of dependency and debt in the global South, not to mention its track record of funding dirty energy projects.
  • We urge the institutionalisation of measures that will limit corporations’ access to and influence on climate policymaking and governance. We reiterate the need to redefine decision-making processes to ensure that the voices of local communities, including Indigenous Peoples, farmers, urban poor, fisherfolk, rural women, children, and other marginalised groups in society, are not only heard but are central to shaping climate policies.
  • World leaders must support grassroots communities worldwide as they unite and mobilise to enhance their resilience, curb emissions, and promote equitable and democratic access to productive resources and the care of the commons. People-powered climate actions such as collective land cultivation and use, agro-ecological farming, and community-led relief and rehabilitation drives are being organised across the global South. These alternative practices prove the vitality of collective action from the ground in the struggle for climate justice.

We will not rest until these demands are met. Inside and outside of these negotiation spaces, we will continue to mobilise in bigger numbers to fight for a just and sustainable future for all. ###

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