Five things social workers should know about COP27

The 27th “Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” just wrapped up a week of meetings in Cairo, Egypt. Most mainstream media coverage has directed attention to the “historic” decision of the COP to establish a “loss and damage” fund to help nations of the global South – those least responsible for pumping warming gas into the atmosphere – deal with the ravages of a crisis caused by the global North. This nod to justice – pressed hard by suffering countries and indigenous peoples – is all well and good, as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go very far in face of a grossly irrational failure to get to the root of a planetary catastrophe unfolding at frightening speed.

Here are five things we social workers should realize about COP 27:

  1. The conference did absolutely nothing to slow, let alone stop, the burning of carbon fuels, and therefore the continued (in fact, increasing) release of greenhouse gases into the rapidly warming atmosphere. There was barely tinkering around the edges of this essential challenge, in the form of a call to reduce reliance on coal power plants, and to eliminate “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies. (Apparently, “efficient” subsidies deserve a pass.) For all practical purposes, the much-vaunted goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degree Celsius, considered by climate scientists to be pivotal to avoid passing irreversible “tipping points,” was abandoned – a monumental failure that amounts to a virtual death sentence for the biosphere.
  2. Invited for the first time to be on the official conference program, an army of over 600 fossil fuel corporate lobbyists literally swarmed the COP, outnumbering the delegations of the ten countries already most dramatically affected by climate change, prompting one public interest critic to quip that “COP27 looks like a fossil fuel industry trade show.” The result of the fossil fuel industrial assault: grotesque “greenwashing” of corporate activity and inexcusable evasion of corporate accountability for what amounts to societal disruption, economic havoc, and social murder on an unfathomable scale.
  3. The global North nations sheltering the fossil fuel behemoths – most notably the United States, cheered on by other major oil producing nations – acted primarily to obstruct meaningful progress and to veto what they considered objectionable (read “responsibility-related”) language in official documents coming out of the COP. Political leaders of these nations are themselves “captured” by the immensely powerful trans-national fossil fuel energy corporations, in league with warmongers worldwide; they in turn capture, contain, and restructure the COP itself to their own purposes. Sad to say, but the hegemonic “exceptional” leader-of-the-free-world U.S. – presently orchestrating much behind-the-scenes action of the Russia-Ukraine war – behaved in an exceptionally bad manner.
  4. In lieu of substantive action, COP attendees were treated to a public relations barrage of largely unproven technological pseudo-solutions and outright scams, such as Saudi Arabia’s promotion of the “circular carbon economy,” according to which carbon capture, hydrogen, and various fossil-fuel based technologies are touted as “clean” and the way forward to a fully green energy production system. The embrace of such techno-futurist salvation fantasies borders on magical thinking. It should perhaps be no surprise that a major sponsor of the COP talks was Coca-Cola, the greatest plastic polluter on the planet (plastic production is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions) and the purveyor of popular consumer products irrationally associated with “the good life.”
  5. Denunciations of the entire COP process by genuine climate and environmental justice advocates are starting to pour out in the aftermath of COP27. Most noteworthy so far is a call by famed author/activist Naomi Klein to boycott COP28, scheduled for next year in the United Arab Emirates – ironically, one of the world’s largest oil producers. COP27 produced a “weak climate agreement that protects polluters,” said Klein, and there’s no reason to expect that next year’s meeting would do any better. Instead, she argues, “Civil society should announce a boycott and instead hold a true people’s summit. One gathering per continent to limit flying. Links to the official summit by video…. [W]hy should civil society expend the carbon, money, and time to join them just to declare it a failure all over again? Let’s try something new.”

Indeed, let’s.

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