Africa/Global: From Climate Denial to Deceit and Delay
November 23, 2021 (2021-11-23)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Asad Rehman of War on Want spoke to the presidency of COP26 with words that
resonated far from Glasgow: “The rich have refused to do their fair share,
more empty words on climate finance. You have turned your backs on the poorest
who face a crisis of Covid, economic and climate apartheid because of the
actions of the richest. It is immoral for the rich to talk about the future of
their children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are
dying now.” Less than 2 minutes.
And the speech to the assembly by Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate was less than 4 minutes long but both eloquent and direct. Watch here!
Asad Rehman and Vanessa Nakate may have been among the most eloquent. But
even most of the governments represented and almost all the journalists
covering the conference were well aware that the only minimally reassuring
positive results from COP26 was the decision to meet again next year and that
the governments did not actually abandon the aspiration to limit global
warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade.
This AfricaFocus contains (1) the best overview article on COP26 I have read,
(2) a short section on “Featured Books for Holiday Reading This Year,” (3) the
best overview article on COP26 I have found, (4) a summary roundup of analyses
of COP26 organized by topic, and links to a Google spreadsheet containing more
than 50 articles, organized by date and by the same topics as the summary, and (5) two articles from a series in Foreign Policy in Focus by Donna Katzin and myself.
AfricaFocus Bulletin is an affiliate of the non-profit Bookshop.org. You can access the AfricaFocus Bookshop either through the AfricaFocus Portal or directly on Bookshop.org.
Purchases made through these provide 10% of the list price to AfricaFocus,
Income in addition to the costs of Bookshop.org go to independent bookstores
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Featured Books for Your Holiday Reading This Year
Science Fiction & Much More
Especially for all my readers who know the editors of this new book, Prexy
Nesbitt and Zeb Larson, but also for anyone interested in the 20th century
history of Black America and particularly the Great Migration from the south,
this memoir by Prexy's uncle George is a must-read!
Full-disclosure: I am prejudiced in favor. But even so, I think it is no
exaggeration to say that this is a great complement to Warmth of Other Suns by
It's 1986, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence
officer with the FBI. She's brilliant, but she's also a young black woman
working in an old boys' club. So when she's given the opportunity to join a
secret task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary president of Burkina Faso, she says yes, even though she secretly admires the work
Sankara is doing for his country. Inspired by true events and informed by
solid research, this novel knits together a gripping spy thriller, a
heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance.
The Ministry for the Future is a masterpiece of the imagination, using
fictional eyewitness accounts to tell the story of how climate change will
affect us all. Its setting is not a desolate, postapocalyptic world, but a
future that is almost upon us.
The New Yorker says the author is not only "one of the greatest science fiction writers [but also] "one of the most importannt political writers in America today." In my opinion the best written, most well informed and thoughtful books on how to save the planet.
Two major gains took place at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow, Scotland, which concluded on 13 November: the first was that there would be another COP in 2022 in Egypt, and the second was that the world leaders expressed their aspiration to keep global temperature below 1.5°C alive. These were, however, the only gains made at the end of COP26 to address the pressing issue of climate change.
After more than two weeks of intense discussions – and many evenings of corporate-funded cocktail parties – the most powerful countries in the world left the convention centre pleased not to have altered the status quo.
The focus of the discussions and negotiations by world leaders during COP26 seemed to be on the change of a word in the Glasgow Climate Pact, the final document that will be adopted by nearly 200 nations. Initially, the countries had begun to agree to the “phase-out” of coal; the final version of the document, however, merely said that the countries would “phase down” coal. During the last hours of the COP26 summit on 13 November, Swiss Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga took the microphone and expressed her “profound disappointment” with the change. “The language we had agreed on coal and fossil fuel subsidies has been further watered down as a result of an untransparent process,” she said.
Sommaruga is correct. The process has been “untransparent”. Only a handful of world leaders – from the most powerful countries – had the opportunity to put pen to paper on this pact; the majority of world leaders only saw a draft of the Glasgow Climate Pact and were then provided the final document. Civil society associations were barely allowed to enter the hall, let alone to have the opportunity to sit with the pact and give their input on it. As President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen put it bluntly, “never before has a responsibility so great been in the hands of so few”. Why this “responsibility” was, however, entrusted to the “hands of so few” goes unremarked in her speech.
Words and meanings
During the COP26, thousands of documents appeared on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website, which included reports, statements and proposals relating to COP26. It would take an army of lawyers to scour through the text of these documents and make sense of them. Most of them are submissions made by a range of governments, corporations and corporate-funded platforms as well as civil society organisations.
It was clear from the first day of COP26 that the focus of achieving “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050 was going to be on coal and not on all fossil fuels. Right through the negotiations, this was the fault line, with the Western countries – which are largely non-coal reliant – putting the emphasis on coal – which is used mainly in the Global South, with India and China in the lead. To make the COP26 about coal allowed fossil fuel use in general (including oil and natural gas) to receive a breather. While pressure mounted to cut subsidies for fossil fuels, the Global North was able to gather consensus that only “inefficient” subsidies would be cut with no timetable provided for these cuts. Sommaruga, who spoke so forcefully against the phrase “phase down” when it came to coal, said nothing regarding the allowance for “efficient” subsidies to underwrite fossil fuel use. It is far easier to blame India and China for their reliance on coal than to agree to phase down all fossil fuels.
On 15 November, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that China “attaches high importance to energy transition”. But he specified that there are some issues that need to be looked at before that. First, no energy transition can take place without awareness that “not everyone has access to electricity and energy supply is not adequate”. Cutting coal tomorrow will condemn billions of people to a life without electricity (about 1 billion people still have no electricity connection, with most of them living in the Global South). Second, Zhao said, “We encourage developed countries to take the lead in stopping using coal while providing ample funding, technological and capacity-building support for developing countries’ energy transition.” The developed countries had agreed to fund the Green Climate Fund to the tune of $100 billion per year by 2020, but the actual amounts disbursed have been far smaller. No agreement on finance was reached at the COP26. “We need concrete actions,” said Zhao, “more than slogans.”
Glasgow’s COP26 was filled with corporate executives. They swarmed the hotels and the restaurants, holding private meetings with government leaders and with Prince Charles. The International Chamber of Commerce told governments to “wake up”, while the United States Business Roundtable said that “the private sector cannot shoulder the burden alone”. The implication here is that the corporations are on the right side of the climate discussion, while the governments are being hesitant. But this is partly the work of the spin doctors. Most corporations that have made “net zero” pledges have done so in a non-binding way and without a timetable. At the conclusion of the conference, it seemed that neither the powerful governments nor their corporations were willing to tie their hands to a real agreement to mitigate the climate crisis.
Just a few blocks down from the grand halls of the official summit, people’s movements, Indigenous organisations, trade unions, youth groups, migrant groups, environmental organisations and many more met as part of the People’s Summit for Climate Justice from 7 to 10 November. Their message was simple: corporations and their pliant governments would not do the job, so people need to find a way to set the agenda “for system change”. The more than 200 events organised as part of the People’s Summit addressed a range of topics, from the role of militarism in emissions to building a global Green New Deal, and even holding a People’s Tribunal to put the ineffective UNFCCC on trial.
Emotions at the People’s Summit oscillated from excitement over being together in the streets after nearly two years of confinement owing to Covid-19, to dread at the imminent disappearance of the low-lying island states. Participants from Tuvalu and Barbados talked about the impact of the inaction by the Global North as they see their islands disappear, their homes flood and their present vanish. “Why are you asking us to compromise on our lives?” asked Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a climate activist from the Philippines and spokesperson for Fridays for Future.
The People’s Tribunal called for the disbanding of the UNFCCC and its reconstitution from the ground up as a Climate Forum that does not allow the polluters to make the decisions. This newly constituted Climate Forum would demand meaningful financing for a green transition as well as an end to the plunder of natural resources and to wars of aggression.
Asad Rehman of War on Wantspoke to the presidency of COP26 with words that resonated far from Glasgow: “The rich have refused to do their fair share, more empty words on climate finance. You have turned your backs on the poorest who face a crisis of Covid, economic and climate apartheid because of the actions of the richest. It is immoral for the rich to talk about the future of their children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying now.”
Beyond pledges and promises to specific plans with benchmarks and accountability
A brief summary
The current status is well illustrated by today's news. According to the Washington Post,
“President Biden, speaking at a global climate summit three weeks ago, called the planet’s warming a “threat to human existence as we know it,” urging the world’s nations to slash the use of fossil fuels and adding, “Action and solidarity, that’s what’s required.”
But facing soaring energy prices at home, Biden is now pushing to crank up the supply of affordable gas and oil for Americans. He plans a release from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve that he has coordinated with China and other major energy consuming nations. He is also pushing the Federal Trade Commission to examine whether gas companies are charging too much and is leading a global effort to press oil-producing countries to ramp up production.
Those moves — along with a government auction last Wednesday of oil drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico — are prompting warnings from environmental advocates that Biden’s push to lower energy prices is undercutting his lofty goals on climate, which he sees as a centerpiece of his legacy.”
There are many forms of deceit on the current reality, the goals, and the data used to make plans and measure progress on curbing global warming. These include the following:
The goal of net zero is not clearly defined and easy to manipulate. Working with “offsets” to emissions is like working on a balance sheet financial ledger, and, as in finance, there are many ways to come out with a specific balance using accounting tricks. For one example, see this article on major airlines and deforestation offsets.
Progress reports may be faked or absent.
Plans and pledges may be built on false data about the status quo, and reports inaccurate by design or by sloppy research.
Companies often to not count their full supply chain of inputs and sales in emissions reports.
“Canadian tar sands producers have committed to achieve net zero emissions in their operations by 2050 to “help Canada meet its climate goal” while continuing to extract and produce oil for the next 30 years.
Five major oil companies, Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy, Imperial, MEG Energy and Suncor Energy, which extract some of the world’s most carbon-intensive oil, announced they had formed the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero alliance on Wednesday.”
As noted in the article on President Biden above, the rising prices for traditional fossil-fuels, ironically in part driven precisely by successes in limiting investment and production in fossil fuels, raises immediate political pressure for increased production to lower prices. Vested interests and institutional inertia then exploit this to lobby against fossil fuels, while stalling on the new measures needed to rapidly advance renewable energy.
Thus the contradiction of politicians around the world in finding excuses for delays while also proclaiming their commitment to ever-changing targets for doing more “later.” The problem seems to be that later never seems to come. There is always an excuse for putting off action.
“In early October, President Joe Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V) reached a deal to expand a tax subsidy for fossil fuel companies and heavy-emitting industries that invest in carbon capture technology in the Build Back Better bill. Weeks later, Biden announced his compromise framework for the legislation, which omitted the Democrats signature climate policy: The Clean Electricity Performance Program, which would provide subsidies to utility companies for switching to renewable energy sources and penalties for those that did not.
This compromise, which will subsidize the fossil fuel companies that are heating up the planet to invest in expensive and speculative carbon capture technology, seems to have come from Senator Manchin.
. . .
In September, as Congress was hammering out the details of the infrastructure package, Biden quietly nominated Brad Crabtree, a coal ally and longtime carbon capture advocate to serve as the Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. . . . Crabtree has served as an advisor to the National Coal Council since 2014 and is the Vice President for Fossil Energy at the Great Plains Institute, an opaque pro-fossil fuel group that has been lobbying in DC for funding for carbon capture technology. “
There are many different aspects of equity involved in action to curb global warning. These include, at least, the following:
Unequal distribution of transition costs by geography and all the other intersectional divisions among people
The climate debt, discussed under the rubric “Loss & damage”
Inequity of taxation for resources to pay for the necessary investment, both within countries and globally given the rapid growth in illicit financial flows and other forms of tax invasion and tax avoidance.
Inequity in control and access to minerals needed for renewable energy and working conditions there, particularly batteries. See, for example the recent NYT deeply researched investigation of cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Pooven Moodley, executive director of Natural Justice, an indigenous and environmental rights group based in Cape Town: “The year 2050 is a long time in the future, and when you take into account what the indigenous communities are saying about the four-year gap that we have to transform the way we live on this planet, plus what the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC] is saying about the 10-year window, all we’re doing is postponing the urgent shifts that need to happen now.”
Holding countries, corporations, and other jurisdictions accountable
There is no shortcut to accountability. But there are a number of steps that can make a difference, including measurement with multiple ways to confirm its accuracy.
Measure progress towards real zero GHG emissions
Measure progress towards maximum use of renewable energy & transition
Measure levels of inequality at many levels
Ways to confirm measurements
Require but don't trust self-reporting
Measurement by satellite
Eyes on the ground (including inspections, whistleblowers, and activist monitoring)
Implementation and enforcement
Pass new laws to require climate-friendly policies and reporting practices
Build effective institutions for enforcement of the laws
On September 9, Harvard University President Larry Bacow heralded the university’s commitment to shift its $41.9 billion endowment — the largest in the world — to “a portfolio of investments that support the transition to the green economy.” Two weeks later, September 23, Boston University announced a similar commitment.
The rhetorical battle over turning away from investments in companies contributing to climate change, it seems, has been won.
These moves came after more than a decade of broad-based campaigns against fossil-fuel investments, which at Harvard included petitions, protests, a legal complaint to the Massachusetts Attorney General, and storming the field during a Harvard-Yale football game.
And yet, as activists learned in the decades-long campaigns to disinvest from apartheid in South Africa, the implementation of commitments was often limited by fine-print qualifications or loopholes. Despite legitimate celebration of new momentum, many questions remained unanswered, as detailed in an analysis in Harvard Magazine.
The real test of success must be to what extent resources are actually removed from fossil-fuel production and reinvested in renewable energy.
On that front, Big Oil — like the planet — is beginning to feel the heat.
On one day in May, for example, climate campaigners won major victories at Exxon/Mobil’s and Chevron’s shareholder meetings, shortly after a Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its 2019 carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030. Increasingly, investors themselves are recognizing the market risks involved in fossil fuel production. Some companies themselves are beginning to diversify their portfolios into renewable energy.
Yet, as of 2020, only seven energy sector companies had pledged to achieve net-zero emission targets. And despite the fact that renewable energy is cheaper, the fossil-fuel industry is still receiving a massive $6 trillion dollars in government subsidies, according to the IMF.
As the COP26 climate summit prepares to open in Glasgow on October 31, to evaluate progress toward the goals of achieving net-zero GHG emissions and limiting the rise in our atmosphere’s temperature to 1.5oC above preindustrial levels by 2050, the odds of success are still small. In August, the UN issued its latest UN Climate Change Report, which the UN Secretary General called a “code red for humanity.”
Yet cumulative pressures can reach a turning point, producing a cascade of effects. Many of us who utilized shareholder activism as part of broader campaigns decades ago recall the days when a 3 percent vote, permitting shareholders to resubmit their resolutions the following year, seemed an insurmountable hurdle. And the oil lobby appeared unshakable.
In New York City, during the anti-apartheid movement, activists led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and American Committee on Africa (ACOA) challenged Shell, Chevron, and Mobil Oil for supplying oil to apartheid South Africa — “fueling apartheid.”
Together we galvanized support for the international boycott of Shell Oil and launched the ImMOBILize Apartheid Coalition to press the companies to stop supplying oil to South Africa until apartheid was no more. We supported anti-apartheid shareholder resolutions, along with frequent demonstrations outside Mobil’s 42nd Street Manhattan headquarters and at Mobil-sponsored events, until the company withdrew its $400 million in assets from South Africa.
In the anti-apartheid movement, one of the major turning points occurred in 1985, when Chase Manhattan, one of South Africa’s major creditor banks, refused to roll over its maturing loans to South Africa — threatening an international “run on the banks” that South Africa could not afford and sought to head off by declaring a moratorium on debt repayments. The Chase Manhattan moment exponentially increased economic pressures on business and government and intensified corporate campaigns and sanctions that hastened the country’s first national democratic elections nine years later.
In 1994, many of South Africa’s supporters turned from disinvesting from apartheid to reinvesting in the new democracy through organizations like Shared Interest, which for 27 years has guaranteed South and Southern African bank loans to businesses, farms, and housing builders in low-income Black communities, benefiting 2.3 million people.
The environmental movement draws strength and urgency from the undeniable consequences already being felt not only in the most vulnerable countries but also in rich countries — depicted daily in the world’s media through uncontrollable wildfires and refugees from hurricanes, cyclones, floods, and drought. Spiraling racism and a virus that knows no borders compound damage and reinforce the need to take action.
But the positive vision of a fossil-fuel-free world can and should be sold not only to activists already receptive to a Green New Deal. It also makes sense in terms of hard-headed business logic, which can be understood by corporate leaders who are willing to think long-term rather than only of immediate profits.
As the Carbon Tracker initiative recently pointed out, the narrative of necessary pain to avert climate disaster has been made totally obsolete by the rapidly declining costs of renewable energy. Countries and companies alike must recognize the change for their own advantage, or be left behind by technological innovation.
Coordinated international campaigning of all kinds is essential to accelerate the pace. But the convergence of moral urgency and technological potential provides an opportunity that we must not fail to leverage by exerting unrelenting pressure on those in places of power to match words with action.
Historical turning points are most often visible only in hindsight rather than in the moment.
This can be one of them.
Indigenous Movements are Key to the The Fight Against Fossil Fuels
The Biden administration and other governments may make climate pledges. But often it’s indigenous-led movements who will see that they’re kept.
Oil is now flowing through the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. The 1,097-mile-long pipeline, owned by the Canadian company Enbridge, includes 337 miles in northern Minnesota. It has faced strong resistance for years from indigenous people and other environmental activists known as “water protectors.”
“In one narrative, the Canadian corporation won. Columbus conquered anew, proof that might and money remain the rulers.
Then, there’s another. That’s the Ballad of the Water Protectors — a movement born in the battles in northern Minnesota and North Dakota, a movement that will grow and transform the economy of the future . . .
The Canadian oil industry estimated that a lack of pipeline capacity reduced the industry’s income by tens of billions of dollars before the pandemic started… Uncertainty about Line 3 caused by Indigenous people and water protectors encouraged massive divestment from the tar sands by non-Canadian investors.”
It seems likely that President Biden will arrive in Glasgow with a briefcase full of promises but few credible actions. Legislative action depends on collaboration from holdout Democratic members of Congress, like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who are in thrall to the fossil fuel industry.
One factor affecting that outcome that is most often underestimated is direct action led by indigenous people, such as the resistance to Line 3 in Minnesota.
As Winona LaDuke noted, activists succeeded in delaying the Line 3 pipeline by four years. In August this year the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International released a report on Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon, with detailed calculations estimating that victories against these projects in the U.S. and Canada represent the carbon equivalent of 12 percent of annual U.S. and Canadian pollution, or 779 million metric tons of CO2.
Official commitments by governments adopted in Glasgow are clearly also important, if and when they are implemented. So are campaigns of all kinds to influence the companies themselves to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy. So is the mobilization of youth around the world who are increasingly conscious of the imminent threats to their own survival.
But the decisive factor may well be direct action by indigenous peoples and others most directly threatened, both in their material impact as well as their catalytic effect on wider activist movements.
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