The COP 27 climate summit has been dominated by “false solutions” that ignore the needs of underrepresented people and shun vital principles like energy sovereignty, gender justice, and land rights, according to a panel of community experts on the front lines of the climate crisis.
“Everybody inside those negotiation rooms is talking about solutions, but their solutions are not solutions for many of us,” said environmental scientist Hemantha Withanage, chair of Friends of the Earth International and the Centre for Environmental Justice-Sri Lanka. “Their solutions don’t solve the problems of local communities who are already suffering, who have already become climate refugees in their own countries, who are already facing a food crisis, energy crisis, and many other crises—they have lost their homes, they have lost their livelihoods.”
UN climate change negotiations can often be swayed by corporate influence, leading to outcomes that exploit people and natural resources, the panelists said. Meanwhile, front-line communities across the world facing the impacts of climate change head-on are left out discussions. They offered a set of nine “real solutions” to support communities, built on principles of equity, sovereignty, and empowerment of local and Indigenous communities.
Those solutions included transferring power away from transnational corporations. For instance, agroecology has the potential to shift power from dominant agribusinesses towards small farmers and growers. Indigenous advocate Celeste Smith, founder of Cultural Seeds Consulting, said food systems can be transformed by giving communities access to land and traditional knowledge.
But even when local communities take initiative to adapt, their solutions are not recognized, said Rizwana Hasan, CEO of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association. She discussed how groups in her country are using community-based solutions like rainwater harvesting systems and a distributed off-grid system to access energy at affordable prices.
“All these practices that we perceive as solutions are not given official recognition or legal recognition,” she said, making them vulnerable to being limited by the government.
To steer climate negotiations toward practical and workable solutions, front-line and underrepresented communities must have greater roles at international discussions, said Chima Williams, executive director at Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth Nigeria.
“I want us to be at the negotiating table as equal partners—that is not happening right now.” He explained that wealthy countries and corporate representatives have greater access to the summit’s processes, have more financial power to dictate the pace and tone of negotiation, and can set the standards and determine which topics can be discussed.
Hasan added that achieving a climate justice agenda is not just about stopping corporations from taking power but preventing them from grabbing land and resources. She added that “great things are happening”: while COP negotiators discuss solutions at the conference and reassure the global community, “people are fighting back, people are winning, governments have started to change, and there is a wider international community to stand by [advocates] when they need support.”