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Greenwashing in the Desert: How COP-27 is More About Empty Words Than Real Action.


Last month, the UN's climate watchdog released a report saying there is a 96% probability we'll pass the critical 1.5-degree global warming threshold in the coming decades. But looking at all the glad-handing and pale, male, stale panels in Sharm El-Sheikh this week, you'd be forgiven for thinking we're in the clear. That's because this year's UN climate conference, COP-27, has become just more greenwashing and empty platitudes.


I’ve spent two decades in the business of saving our Earth. After leaving my role at the United Nations, I traveled the world studying the impacts of sustainability first-hand in factories, on fields, and at Fortune 500s.


Things looked very different when I worked with the COP Secretariat in 2008. Of course, these conferences have evolved since then. We've had important meetings in Paris, Copenhagen, and Glasgow. However, what I'm seeing coming out of Egypt this year is especially concerning.


Firstly, the foxes seem to be guarding the henhouse. While UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made an impassioned speech demanding a crackdown on greenwashed net-zero commitments, what about all the greenwashing happening at COP itself? Coca-Cola, one of the world's biggest plastics polluters, is a key sponsor of the conference. If the Climate Action Tracker notes there are precisely zero countries on track to meet their Paris climate targets, why are so many setting up national pavilions to host lavish events? My personal favorite is Australia, who with zero sense of irony or optics has partnered with the Carbon Market Institute to run panels.


Secondly, this isn't the Grammy's. The whole COP experience has turned into a circus. The conference I worked at in Istanbul was full of people who could get the job done: subject-matter experts, civil society, and a few political delegates. This past week, my LinkedIn feed has been bombarded with everyone from CEOs to investors to unknowns flying to the desert to discuss saving the planet. They're taking red-carpet photos for clout and hosting panel after panel. But is any of this going to translate into the critical action we need to be seeing?


Lastly, there is a huge lack of diversity. Looking at the official class photo, there’s something curiously missing. Amongst the forty or so delegates pictured, there are only three women. Even worse is the lack of representation from younger generations who will be left to deal with this mess long after everyone else is gone.


As COP-27 comes to a close this week, we can expect delegates to work late into the night wordsmithing a resolution aimed at positive impact. Yet, there are already murmurings of certain governments wanting to scrap the 1.5-degree target. This would delegitimatize any outcomes and place humanity on a very precarious path. Ultimately, what one has to ask is whether the COP format is still fit for purpose. Or does its continued existence risk poisoning the well for climate action?

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