There is a way out of the climate crisis – but it is not through COP

The world’s top climate summit is a hoax, and it can’t help us.

Climate activists protest against fossil fuels at Dubai's Expo City during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28
Climate activists protest against fossil fuels at Dubai's Expo City during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 12, 2023. [Thomas Mukoya/Reuters]

There have been a total of 28 United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) on the climate crisis to date, but only the last one, convened earlier this month in the United Arab Emirates, has ever mentioned ending fossil fuels in its final agreement.

COP28 secured a commitment from nations to “transition away” from fossil fuels, however, it offered little more than its predecessors in the way of real solutions to the climate crisis. Delegates did not agree to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions enough (43 percent by 2030) to meet the targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement, and wealthy nations did not make any meaningful contributions to the Loss and Damage Fund established by COP27 to provide financial assistance to nations most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change.

Germany, for example, has agreed to contribute a mere $100m to the fund – the same amount it spent building just 430 meters of the A100 highway in Berlin. This sum is, of course, nowhere near enough to meet the needs created due to climate change across the world. To put things in perspective, the 2022 flood disaster in Pakistan, which killed 1,739 people and displaced two million others, is believed to have cost the country $30-40bn.

Meanwhile, fossil fuel producers, who have been making record profits as a result of the war in Ukraine, are planning to expand their production with no consideration for the destruction and suffering caused by the climate crisis. Thousands of fossil fuel lobbyists attended the latest COP and tried to disguise their assault on our common future as sensible progress. Moreover, leaked documents revealed that COP28 president and UAE national oil company boss Sultan al-Jaber has planned to boost fossil fuel business in meetings at the climate summit.

Instead of putting social justice at the core of the negotiations, fossil fuel producers are pushing false solutions. Across Europe, companies are promoting carbon capture and storage (CCS) – capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) at emission sources, transporting and then storing or burying it in a suitable deep, underground location – as a way to continue consuming fossil fuels while addressing the climate crisis. However, CCS technologies are inefficient and costly, and there is little indication that they could be scaled up soon enough to make a difference. As such, they currently serve no purpose other than prolonging the burning of fossil fuels with all its destructive consequences, from gas leakages and oil spillages to collapsing mines.

False solutions like CCS make it possible for those in positions of power to close their eyes a little bit longer, to further delay change that is long overdue, and keep on destroying the planet. And in the process, they prevent real solutions from receiving public attention and funding.

CCS expansion can be found in the programme of the German Green Party; fossil fuel companies, such as the German corporation Wintershall, are pushing for it, and it was even mentioned in the final text of the COP28. Why? Well, to keep capitalism running, fossil fuels burning, and European GDP growing – at the cost of lives and livelihoods elsewhere.

Another corporate delay tactic is promoting even more markets for carbon offsets, nowadays called “nature-based solutions”. Carbon offset certificates do not even reduce emissions in 80 to 90 percent of the cases. Despite this, nations like Australia and the United Kingdom are already extending their carbon markets to nature, while the European Commission is planning for biodiversity credits and water pollution trading.

COP is a hoax and has become more and more corrupted over the years. The reality is – and everyone knows it – the only way forward is an end to fossil fuels, an end to corporate capture of politics and a far-reaching conversion of industry away from any fossil fuels. Some countries are already taking this path and creating alternatives by promoting the campaign for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. Twelve nations, more than 2,000 organisations and more than 600,000 people have endorsed this campaign. Those 12 nations are some of the ones most affected by climate breakdown.

In Europe, this treaty would mean no more investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure, a quicker end to the outdated technology of combustion engine cars, and the use of natural instead of industrially produced fertilisers for a change towards ecological agriculture. It is up to organisations and people from the global north to raise and create pressure on the streets to make our governments join.

The European Union, while clearly not interested in sharing its wealth, is nevertheless in an economic position to walk ahead much faster than the UN agreements. The EU at least implemented the Green Deal, one of the most progressive policy packages in the world – though it falsely aims to grow the economy by a green transition instead of moving towards sustainability. But lately, policy is turning from bad to worse. In the last few months, conservatives and the extreme right in Europe partnered to destroy some of the most important laws of the Green Deal: the nature restoration law and the sustainable use directive for reducing pesticide use. If this alliance is strengthened or gains a majority after the next parliamentary election in June, there is little hope for the EU institutions to keep moving towards an end to fossil fuels. As a candidate for the next EU parliament, such a far-right and conservative alliance is what worries me most. A lot will depend on people understanding the importance of EU decisions and turning out to vote.

What we know is that in the end, change does not come from the COP or the EU Commission. Change comes from below. In Europe, it comes from places like GKN at Campi Bisenzio in Italy, where workers are pushing for an ecological conversion of their abandoned automotive factory. It comes from trade unionists and climate activists in Germany, who have teamed up to support bus drivers in their struggle for better working conditions and more public transport investments. It comes from common resistance struggles of farmers and activists for fair communal use of water, like in France. From local resistance against LNG imports or fracking as in Rügen or Piombino.

We need to join forces against corporate takeover and the rise of the far-right. We have to build new collaborations for a fast-moving, bottom-up, people-oriented ecological transition. As Europeans, we have to abstain from false solutions offered at COP and join the lead of the Global South to end fossil fuels.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.