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COP 27 – A Western sham for autocratic allies

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Earlier today, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe left to attend the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27), where he will meet with his Egyptian counterpart, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, alongside a coterie of world leaders. The two rulers are eager to start the convention, viewing the arrangement as a means of distracting from their dire human rights record. Eager to be seen as acting on climate change, Western leaders are bankrolling ‘eco-friendly’ projects run by abusive militaries and are greenwashing autocratic regimes.

The conference takes place amidst growing scepticism over the international communities’ commitment to keeping global warming below 1.5°C, as set in the 2015 Paris Climate Summit, COP21. Disbelief was furthered by the conference’s open embrace of oil and gas giants such as ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco. Coca-Cola, the world’s largest plastic polluter, is even sponsoring the conference despite a chorus of criticism from environmental activists. COP 27 is a parody of environmental activism. It enables the global elite to applaud themselves for empty rhetoric without bringing about transformative change.

With both Egypt and Sri Lanka, this charade has a sinister element bolstering the rule of their abusive militaries. Writing in the New Statesman, Ruth Michaelson highlights the example of the Benban solar park located in the desert north of Aswan, on the Nile in southern Egypt. The project is the fourth largest of its kind in the world and has received at least $2.2bn by a consortium that includes the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the UN Green Climate Fund and BII.

Whilst the ostensible aim of this project is to generate over a third of Egypt’s energy by 2035, a key member of the board overseeing its development is the Egyptian military.

“We all know that no project the size of Benban can exist without their involvement. There is no transparency, so how much money it makes or where the energy goes is unknown” a human rights advocate tells Michaelson.

He further notes that “Egypt’s military is not required to open its books, even when its many lucrative contracts involve state funds”. These development projects have done little to alleviate the dire poverty in Egypt which has seen a third of Egyptians living below the poverty line, and Human Rights Watch has documented how state authorities are preventing activists from investigating these government projects. The Egyptian are poor are only further immiserated as the international community bankrolls these projects whilst implementing an IMF-led programme of austerity.

In Sri Lanka, a similar pattern unfolds; military officers implicated in egregious war crimes stage photo ops planting trees. Earlier this year, the Sri Lankan army established a “Green Agriculture Steering Committee” which aimed to cultivate over 1,500 acres of land to increase food production. The military’s expanding role in agriculture remains unchallenged despite its dire implications.

Across the Tamil North-East, Sri Lanka’s military has engaged in a relentless campaign of deforestation and land grabs which have impoverished the native Tamil population. A report by the Jaffna-based Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research shows that local businesses are unable to compete with the military, which “obstructs free trade by selling its products at below-market rates, stifling livelihood opportunities for an already impoverished population.” Villagers are barred from accessing fields that they had once used to sustain their livelihoods.

Against this backdrop, the security forces of both countries act to silence decent. Egyptian activist Sanaa Seif, sister of the jailed British-Egyptian pro-democracy campaigner Alaa Abd el-Fattah, perhaps put it best as she asked what would be to approach to the lucrative financial deals western governments and companies will strike with autocratic regimes like Egypt and Sri Lanka.

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