‘From the River to the Sea’: Activists link Gaza freedom to climate justice at COP28

Holding banners calling for a “ceasefire” and “climate decolonization,” activists in the Dubai Expo City chanted “Free, Free Palestine.”

Excerpts from a presentation given at the Socialist Unity Party national plenum on Dec. 16, 2023.

COP28 just concluded in Dubai. Annual COP (Conference Of the Parties) conferences are sponsored and organized by the United Nations. They are supposed to be where nations get together and map out a strategy and set goals to beat back climate change.

This year’s conference will be remembered as the one when the oil companies took over. The conference’s leader was Sultan Al Jaber, who happens to be the CEO of the United Arab Emirates’ state-owned oil company. 

UAE is one of the most oil-rich nations in the world. Jaber has a close relationship with Saudi Arabia and, by extension, the United States. Jaber’s ascent to the leadership resulted from a carefully crafted, years-long plan accomplished with the guidance of the world’s five biggest public relations firms, all based in the United States. Jaber’s leadership impressed John Kerry, Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, who praised him and has visited with him seven times since joining the Biden administration.

The world’s poorest countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, are only responsible for a minuscule portion of the greenhouse gases that heat the atmosphere. Britain and the U.S. are historically responsible for more than half. But because of the poverty imposed on them by imperialist wars, the theft of their resources, and economic sanctions, it is much more difficult for poorer countries to recover from extreme weather events. The anger over this has been growing at each one of these conferences. For years, there has been an outcry for the rich imperialist countries to organize a fund to develop renewable energy and, more importantly, for developing countries to recover from punishing weather events. Moving people inland, rebuilding infrastructure, and recovering from spikes in the costs of medical care are all very expensive.

At last year’s conference in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, this issue turned the conference into somewhat of a battleground, forcing the imperialist countries to agree to a Loss and Damage fund. Since then, the U.S. has been demanding that it be organized through the World Bank, opening the door to calling already existing aid and loan packages part of the fund. Funds that were promised have been dribbling in, leaving countries that have already been devastated by deadly weather events, like Pakistan, Madagascar, and Mozambique, in dire straits.

During the Sharm el Sheik conference last year, a former Clinton administration climate official was asked why he thought a Loss and Damage fund wouldn’t be realized. He responded that it seemed too closely related to the demand for reparations for Black people in the United States. Once again, an agreement for a Loss and Damage fund has been announced this year, but how it will turn out remains to be seen.

Part of the UAE’s clever agenda to win leadership of COP28 included sending some aid to countries in the Global South in the months leading to the conference and Jaber pushing for the Loss and Damage fund to be finally organized. The amounts donated by the UAE are tiny compared to the enormous oil profits of even their own oil operation and far less than the $332 billion raked in by U.S. oil companies in 2022. He used the racist intransigence on the part of the United States, hoping to burnish his reputation with the Global South delegates. The White House doesn’t seem to mind the minor difference in policy because having the UAE run the show results in such significant gains.

The gains most significantly include doing away with the language of “phasing out” fossil fuels. Jaber pushed for the final text to call for lowering emissions from the production of fossil fuels using Carbon Capture and Sequestration to limit the emissions only from power generation. CCS is panned almost universally by climate scientists and engineers as unscalable and as a means to allow the continued use of fossil fuels. Jaber’s narrative is sleight of hand – distracting the attention from the emissions from all sectors of the capitalist economy, including heavy transportation. Manufacturing, aviation, and agriculture, not to mention Pentagon warfare, which has been excluded from discussion at COP conferences for years. If placed on a list of countries contributing GHGs to the atmosphere, the Pentagon would rank somewhere near Portugal or Denmark. But it isn’t just the emissions from warfare that need to be exposed. It is the poverty imposed on so much of the world that maintains the imbalance of power.

These conferences have always been exclusive affairs. Climate activists in many organizations from around the world travel to them and can participate in certain forums, but the real decisions are made behind closed doors. Still, millions of people around the world have pinned their hopes on the United Nations to somehow overpower the domination of the imperialist powers. The reality is that the global effort is nowhere near on track to keeping the atmosphere below 1.5° higher than pre-industrial temperatures. So far, in 2023, oil and natural gas extraction have reached their highest levels ever, and energy giants ExxonMobil and Chevron are buying up other oil operations to expand. The fact that the fossil fuel industry has now exerted so much weight on the outcome of the conferences is a dangerous precedent and calls into question the value of the conferences as a vehicle for the desire of humanity to save the planet.

The most promising development at COP28 is that pro-Palestinian activists held an action in solidarity with the people of Gaza and called for a ceasefire. The restrictions on them were shocking. They were not allowed to chant the widespread slogan, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free,” (they still did) nor carry a Palestinian flag. Some were detained and restricted to certain areas away from the conference halls. But they bravely held their protest to show that climate change and war are the same issue. Since the Biden/Netanyahu genocidal assault on Gaza began, others, including Greta Thunberg and activist colleagues from developing countries, have come out in solidarity with Palestine. They’ve been slammed for it in the press but have held their ground.

The movement to save the planet must embrace the fight against U.S. imperialist wars, proxy wars, and sanctions, while building solidarity with its victims. If possible, the issue has to be brought to the floor of the U.N. conferences, but more importantly, it must link the issues at every climate change action in the streets and around the world. Without the Pentagon, there would not be a Global South. Millions now trapped in endless poverty would be living free from the devastating threat of U.S. war and able to use their own natural resources freely.



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