A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Greenwashing and the Climate Wall

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 5 November) – On the sixth day of the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) being held right now in Glasgow, Scotland, UK – attended by 120 world leaders and 25,000 participants from 200 countries – not much has so far been attained vis-à-vis its goals. Seven days more to go before it will end on November 12.

COP26 primarily aims at nudging the world to as low as possible within the 1.5C  target band,  established under the Paris agreement which is considered the safest climate landing zone that humanity might still reach. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a slip of even half a degree would dial the risks up substantially resulting in roughly “420 million more people would be frequently exposed to extreme heat-waves and  heat-related deaths would rise twice as fast if temperatures reach 2C rather than 1.5C.”

However, world leaders have to face the fact that in order to meet this ambitious climate goal, there is need for a major change in the production and consumption of coal, oil and gas. Scientists claim that 89% of coal, 58% of oil and 50% of gas reserves must stay in the ground. But do world leaders have the political will to make this happen, considering how complicit they are – along with the bank conglomerates – vis-à-vis the interests of corporate firms engaged in the production and marketing of coal, oil and gas?

So far at COP26, reports indicate that 20 governments promised to stop financing oil, coal and gas projects beyond their borders, and several countries pledged to phase out coal power.  For the phase-out of coal, 23 countries committed to stopping new coal power schemes and phasing out existing plants. Two of them are the top users of coal including Indonesia and Poland. But the top three coal power-generating countries (China, India and the USA) refused to sign this agreement to phase out coal.

Herein lies the global politics behind the issue of greenhouse emissions caused by continuing use of fossil fuel dominated by the worst polluters which have contributed most to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that has caused climate change. Despite the fact that they, too, have seen the disastrous impact of climate change – as experienced in the upsurge of forest fires, hurricanes, floods, landslides, etc. – they refuse to deal with this urgent issue to help stem impact on the whole planet and the entire humanity.

Environmental advocates have pinpointed the blame not just at world leaders for they are in fact beholden to the corporate interests that collectively constitute not even 1% of total world population whose lifestyle costs could equal the GNP of a number of poor countries. And yet the irony is that there is a growing number of corporations whose propaganda – both in mass and social media – show that they, too, are very interested in contributing to restoring ecological balance by promoting ecology-friendly products and shifting to renewable energy. Activists have termed this as “greenwashing,” which is the corporate world’s attempt to project an image of being concerned about climate change, but in fact continue to use, explore, produce and market  fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, there is an issue not yet so known by citizens of the world except those exposed to the documentations and reports beginning to appear in social media. This has to do with the fact that “world’s biggest emitters of green house gases are spending, on average, 2.3 times as much on arming their borders as they are on climate finance. This figure is as high as 15 times as much for the worst offenders.” (Todd Miller, Nick Buxton and Mark Akkerman in The Guardian, October 25, 2021). More information can be reached through this link (https://www.tni.org/en/publication/global-climate-wall ). If you want to watch a video on this issue, this is the link (https://fb.watch/8SCwlOM7Ed/).

In the past few years, even before the pandemic, global news referred to waves of peoples from Africa, the Caribbean and the Middle East who explored various ways to migrate to West European and North American countries (also Australia and New Zealand) in the hope of escaping poverty and oppression in their home countries. Despite the pandemic, this surge of would-be migrants walked, rode rickety boats and even swam to reach the shores of these developed countries. Thousands of them end up in refugee camps as most countries refuse to extend hospitality to them. Or are forced to return to their home countries.

This phenomenon has caused fear and anxiety for citizens of the rich countries and their government leaders have been pressured to close their borders. Ex-President Trump even pushed for the building of a wall between the US and Mexico. But this is no longer a policy only by the US government; today, the world’s wealthiest countries (among them US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Australia, Japan)  have decided in militarizing their borders in their approach to global climate action.  And again, these are the countries that are the world’s worst polluters most responsible for the climate crisis. But despite this, they are spending more on arming their borders to keep the migrants out rather than helping these countries to tackle the crisis right at home especially in terms of alleviating poverty, providing livelihoods and respecting their rights.

From data collected by environmental activists, seven countries that are responsible for 48% of the greenhouse gas emissions have spent at least twice as much on border and immigration enforcement, a total of more than US$33.1 billion between 2013 and 2018. Compare this to only US$33.1 billion spent to deal with climate change.

The rich countries have promised to collectively set up a fund of US$100b to provide the promised climate finance aimed at helping countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. But this promised remains unfulfilled, although at COP26 there is a strong push to have this again be approved. But these countries are pressured to come up with a militarized response to migration that can cost billions of dollars in terms of protecting their borders as well as setting up surveillance infrastructure.

Given the wide usage of the internet, the world has actually watched in real time the increasingly dangerous and deadly consequences of the climate – induced migration. The scenes of migrants/refugees seeking to transfer to places they believe would shield them away from the impact of social and ecological problems at home are heartbreaking. However, those who have the means to respond in generosity and kindness turn their backs on the downtrodden as they build walls to keep them out.

Meanwhile, a People’s Climate Summit is soon to be convened also in Glasgow, bringing together those representing movements across the world aiming for system change. The 150 sessions of this Summit will start on November 7 and end on the 10th. Civil society organizations – especially those engaged in ecological advocacy and action – could register to join these sessions. Register with this link COP26COALITION.ORG/PS.

If the official COP26 cannot tackle the issue of The Climate Wall, for sure at the People’s Summit, the issue might be raised and action hopefully will be taken at the ground level across the globe.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books and is a recipient of various awards.]