Latin American leaders used the United Nations climate conference (COP27) in Egypt to highlight the global capitalist system as the cause of the climate crisis and demand that rich countries take meaningful action. They join the voices from the global South — who bear the brunt of climate impacts while having contributed the least — in calling for an end to fossil fuels.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro criticised the capitalist “solutions” to the climate crisis and reiterated that only large-scale mobilisations will force the required transition away from fossil fuels, in his impassioned speech at COP27 on November 7.
“Political leaders have failed to stop the cause of the climate crisis,” Petro said, “because the solution to the climate crisis entails stopping the consumption of oil and coal, and that implies a deep transformation of the economy and a devaluation of powerful interests in that economy”.
Petro proposed a 10-point plan to tackle the climate crisis, including phasing out fossil fuels, ramping up climate financing and peace negotiations.
“The market is not the main mechanism to overcome the climate crisis,” he said. “The market and the accumulation of capital produced it, and they will never be its cure.”
Many climate activists denounced the presence of fossil fuel companies at COP27. Nigerian environmentalist and author Nnimmo Bassey told a November 12 demonstration within the COP27 site at Sharm El Shaikh: “We are not here to entertain the polluters. We want the polluters kicked out of the COP.”
The world’s 20 largest fossil fuel companies — many of which claim to support the Paris Agreement and efforts to limit global warming — are planning to invest US$932 billion on developing new oil and gas fields over the next nine years.
Climate conferences provide an opportunity for big polluters to greenwash their activities and put forward their “market-based solutions” to the climate crisis. More than 600 oil and gas lobbyists were registered to attend COP27 — hundreds more than Indigenous and African delegations.
“It is the mobilisation of humanity that will correct the path, not the agreement of technocrats influenced by the interests of coal and oil companies,” Petro said. “The solution is a world without oil and coal.”
Petro previously pledged to phase out Colombia’s oil and gas production, including a moratorium on new licences for hydrocarbon exploration. His government announced legislation last month to significantly raise taxes on oil and gas companies and provide $200 million every year to protect the Amazon Rainforest.
Petro denounced the agreements made between the institutions of global capital that constrain climate action and subjugate poor countries to trading laws established to benefit transnational corporations.
“The founding treaties of the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund go against the solution for the climate crisis,” Petro said. “As long as we maintain the current World Trade Organization treaty, we will not move forward.”
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro echoed Petro, calling for “concrete, urgent and immediate actions” to tackle the climate crisis. He highlighted the unequal contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions between the world’s richest and poorest.
“Without a doubt, human civilisation is responsible for the serious consequences that the planet is experiencing today,” he said. “However, this statement is incomplete and would be hypocritical if it is not detailed that this civilisation is profoundly unequal.
“It is made up of countries that have been indiscriminately exploiting the planet’s natural resources for two centuries, while others barely have enough to feed themselves and persist under a pre-industrial mode of production.”
Rich countries have cumulatively contributed the most to global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The United States alone is responsible for 20% of CO2 emissions since 1850, according to analysis by Carbon Brief. The next highest historical emitters are China (11%) and Russia (7%).
Just five companies — Chevron, Shell, BP, TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil — are responsible for about 11% of historic global CO2 emissions, which is more than 28 times the collective emissions of the world’s poorest countries.
The world’s wealthiest countries (G20) are currently responsible for about 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The world’s richest people are responsible for the bulk of emissions. The poorest 50% contribute just 12% to global emissions, while the richest 1% make up nearly 20% of emissions.
Billionaires, although a relatively tiny fraction of the world’s population, contribute hugely to emissions through their lifestyles — private jets, yachts, helicopters, mansions — and investments in polluting industries.
An Oxfam report found that the carbon footprints of the world’s wealthiest 125 billionaires are, on average, more than a million times more than those of the bottom 90% of people.
“The abysmal inequality between the countries of the so-called first world and the rest has increased and deepened in recent decades at the same pace as environmental destruction,” Maduro said. “There is a connection between the environmental crisis and global poverty.
“The indiscriminate exploitation of renewable and non-renewable resources, in addition to producing environmental misery, is responsible for social misery on a planetary scale, since it exacerbates it.”
Maduro drew parallels between the current environmental imbalances and the inequality and injustice created by capitalism.
“A system that normalises exploitation among human beings has no ethical conditions to respect other forms of existence," he said. "Capitalism sees resources where other cultures see life and the sacred. It therefore feels entitled to possess and destroy everything in its path.”
In their speeches, Maduro and Petro advocated for the protection of the Amazon Rainforest from deforestation, mining and pollution. Just hours after Maduro’s speech, they launched a call for a broad alliance to stop the destruction of the Amazon.
The participation of newly elected Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva in the alliance will be “absolutely strategic”, Petro said. Under far-right, climate change-denying former president Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Amazon rose rapidly — about 13% of the Amazon rainforest’s biomass has already been cleared.