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Judging the outcomes of COP27 against key demands

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Picture: Xinhua/Zhang Jingpin – Is COP27 going to deliver real money for just transition, loss and damage, adaptation and mitigation, asks the writer.

By Bobby Peek

The United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the People (aka COP) is abuzz with the words of just transition. Just transition became sexy at COP21 when these words were included in the text for the first time.

Environmental justice voices, including workers and communities living on the fence-lines of toxic fossil fuel industries, and community activists, have called for a just transition since the later part of the 1900s. For us the mention in Paris was not new, it was not sexy – it was what we as affected peoples and activists knew was the only hope for our future in a world devastated by climate change.

It is not only about transition to renewable energy but also about cleaning up the mess which the corporate fossil fuel industry, together with its politically connected elite, has presented to us as our present and future.

When just transition was included in the Paris text, corporates saw dollar signs. The transition meant that fossil fuel giants could get their hands on money to get them to continue their profiteering from the very damage they caused. Ask Sasol, the apartheid state created oil company which profiteers from a high global crude oil price and from polluting people’s lungs and their environments. Sasol is seeking to be part of the financial package within the new Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) model, for which South Africa is a guinea pig. This is a listed company with a market capitalisation of close to $11 billion, but which is the world’s largest single source of greenhouse gases, emitting continually from their operations in South Africa.

Sasol seeks to be a beneficiary of the funding under the JETP Investment Plan, through the green hydrogen investments groundWork has always been sceptical about climate finance. And just before the COP27 in Egypt we reflected on past commitments. We believe there is a deep-rooted problem in these, and the problem is dishonesty. Mendacious is a grand adjective for habitual liars and lying statements. But the world of climate finance goes much further. Mendacity is coded into its foundation.

The “polluter pays” principle stands behind climate finance: The rich countries of the North did the polluting, not to mention the plundering, but poor countries in the South bear the worst of the damage. So, the rich owe a climate debt to the poor. And this is where the mendacity begins. The rich want to be seen as generous donors, not as recalcitrant debtors.

In 2009 at COP 15 in Copenhagen, the then US foreign secretary, Hillary Clinton, announced with great fanfare that they would mobilise $100 billion a year, by 2020. The figure compared with the $7 trillion already made available to save the Wall Street banks from the consequences of their own actions. It compared with $600bn that the US then spent on its military. And it compared with estimates that the real need for climate finance was in the order of $1 trillion a year.

Is COP27 going to deliver real money for just transition, loss and damage, adaptation and mitigation? “No!” is the emphatic response. Loads of deals will be signed and promises made, but for people living on the wastelands of the fossil fuel industry, the poverty visited upon them by that industry will continue. There will be no real money for just transition, but rather money to be made by big business and corporates as they deliver the just transition. And the North’s climate debt will never be paid.

A local, colourful, political party in South Africa, the Economic Freedom Fighters, built their foray into politics by demanding that South Africa’s ex-president “pay back the money” he was accused of misappropriating. Maybe this should be the demand at COP 27. The South demands: pay back the money. And this time not to the political elites but to the just transition processes that will secure the lives of millions in a climate chaos world. That money must be put to use for the following strategies, as called for by the Life After Coal campaign in South Africa.

Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle is a joint campaign by Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, groundWork , the Centre for Environmental Rights, and communities in coal-affected areas. We call for a just transition from coal and other fossil fuels, to a society based on clean, just and renewable energy, and social justice. We demand:

1. A new, sustainable energy system to replace the current system which is based on dirty fossil fuels and which serves the elite, only;

2. The end of financing for coal and other fossil fuel investments, including gas;

3. The rehabilitation of land and water ruined by coal mining and burning;

4. Concerted efforts to prepare for and deal with the impacts of climate change;

5. A new health system that works for the health of all;

6. Transport and communication systems that are inclusive and enable all to take part in public debates and decision making;

7. Food sovereignty and food security for all;

8. Local service delivery, and an undertaking to use open democracy and self-provision to achieve it;

9. A new economic system in which economic decision-making starts by asking what the needs of people are, and how to fulfil them, rather than an economy that serves profit;

10. A society rooted in gender justice;

11. Special attention to youth and their future; and

12. Open democracy as the basis for decision-making.

We will judge the outcomes of the financial (and other) plans that emerge from COP27 against these demands. However, I fear a mirage in the distance of the desert of Sharm El-Sheikh.

Bobby Peek is director of groundWork, South Africa