Latest UN Climate Conference Repeats The Same Old Story

Jose Bravo with banner "End Fossil Fuels"

Last month, JTA executive director José Bravo traveled to Bonn, Germany to attend the 58th session of the Subsidiary Bodies (SB58), the annual conference where negotiators debate details of the work-in-progress treaties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  Every year, this “intersessional” conference aims to clarify contested passages in key proposals, so that they may be finalized at the Conference of the Parties (COP) later in the year.

All reports suggest that very little progress was made in Bonn, primarily due to obstruction from developed nations (read more thorough analyses here and here).  UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Current policies are taking the world to a 2.8C temperature rise by the end of the century.  That spells catastrophe.  Yet the collective response remains pitiful.”

The reason for this absence of ambition is obvious.  At last year’s COP27, JTA and our sister organizations in the It Takes Roots delegation saw with our own eyes the profound, near total corporate capture of the UNFCCC process.  COP27 looked more like an energy industry trade show than a serious international negotiation space.

While there is some progress in a new requirement for industry lobbyists to register their affiliations at future COPs, this came about after years of pressure from civil society, and it still falls short of the popular demand to “Kick Big Polluters Out.”  And while SB58 saw far fewer lobbyists than recent COPs, their agenda remained clearly dominant.  “We have seen at these SBs, continuous attempts from developed countries to renegotiate the existing binding climate regime,” said Ambassador Pedro Pedroso of Cuba at the closing plenary.

Most notably, the Loss and Damage Fund, which has been demanded for decades and was finally affirmed by a series of consensus decisions at COP27, is struggling to meet its mandate.  Earlier in June, Oxfam showed that wealthy countries allocated just $24.5 billion to international climate finance in 2020, despite pledging $100 billion a year. The NGO accused nations of over-stating commitments by slipping existing aid for non-climate projects into their calculations.

Unfortunately, this is not a surprise .  As long as UNFCCC negotiators protect business as usual, we will be unable to make the systemic changes necessary to combat the climate crisis.  Industry’s insistence on continuing record profits makes distractions like “net zero emissions” and pollution trading the most prominent mechanisms in the Paris Agreement–the dangerously flawed framework within which all current climate negotiations are being advanced.

When we heard talk of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) being used as a model for global just transition strategies, our alarm bells went off.  While the IRA is likely to lead to some positive changes, it also grants enormous amounts of funding to unproven carbon capture and storage (CCS), dirty hydrogen combustion, dangerous nuclear power and carbon-intensive bioenergy. These corporate techno-fixes are designed to keep polluting corporations alive for decades, and while there is little evidence these will actually reduce carbon emissions, they all pose significant toxic threats to environmental justice communities.

The consideration of these extractive industry scams indicates a catastrophic failure of imagination.  As Guterres stated, “The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions.  It is fossil fuels, period.  Countries must progressively phase them out and massively boost renewable investments.”  Instead, many oil-producing states are advocating for a “phase-down” of fossil fuels.  This detail is profoundly impactful, as a focus on experimenting with carbon removal technologies and profiteering from carbon markets, instead of leaving fossil fuels in the ground, will further enrich a handful of billionaires while bringing ever-more fires, floods, and chaos to the most vulnerable and least responsible communities.


JTA understands that this failure to tackle the root causes of the climate crisis is a direct result of who does and does not have a seat at the table.  So many creative and crucial ideas are not even acknowledged.   Frontline communities have the solutions!  So why are our voices shut out of these negotiations? 


As José stated while in Bonn, “A Just Transition must and does encompass an end to the use of fossil fuels in all of its forms. But a Just Transition also calls for impacted communities and workers to set the agenda and lead the process of how it should happen. Anything short of that is not a Just Transition.”

All progress toward a Just Transition must follow the Principles of Environmental Justice and the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing.  When we prioritize these principles, we clearly see that building grassroots power is essential, and that the self-determination of frontline workers and communities must lead the way. Adaptation strategies are sorely lacking at the international governance level, because such strategies must always be place-based, with local ecological knowledge and lived experience on the frontlines guiding us.

The Loss and Damage Fund is pivotal for financing Just Transition.  Support for climate mitigation and clean energy projects in environmental justice communities, especially in the global south, needs to be fully funded by corporations and governments that are most historically responsible for the crisis, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the only way out of this mess.  We believe that transforming how policies are imagined and decided is not only about justice but also about effectiveness (clearly, the billionaires will not be convinced to relinquish their power with arguments about “fairness”).  We need innovative paths forward, and therefore we need to center the leadership of frontline communities, who are most incentivized to push creative and game-changing solutions.

Environmental justice communities already know how to fix it; we already have the power and the wisdom to change our collective direction; we already have the vision for an effective just transition.  “Just Transition” necessitates leaving fossils and other minerals in the ground, where they serve important ecological functions.  Just Transition also requires that climate action and  investments prioritize methods that are labor intensive, not technology or capital intensive (ie, automation and AI); shared community benefits instead of individual and private profits; and democratic workplaces instead of corporate governance.  Just Transition also promotes Free Public Transit, Indigenous Food Sovereignty, Community Housing and Healthcare for All, and the cultivation of Localized Non-toxic and Zero Waste Economies.


We call on our comrades in the labor movement to take a stand against climate false solutions, against automation and AI-driven layoffs, and against the corporate co-optation of Just Transition language.  Unions must renew their historic position as social justice leaders, rather than collaborate with the neoliberal business agendas of the ruling class.  We call on everyone to contact their elected representatives and insist that US negotiators change their obstructionist tactics and cut loose their industry lobbyists.  All of us must raise our voices and make it known that seeking individual gain in a time of global crisis is unacceptable. 


The UNFCCC will be holding a special Climate Ambition Summit in New York City in September.  Please keep your eyes open for future JTA announcements and assessments of this important meeting.