COP27’s Coke sponsorship leaves bad taste with green groups
LONDON This year’s United Nations Climate Summit is brought to you this year by Coke.
Soft drink giant Coca-Cola Co.’s sponsorship of the flagship U.N. climate conference, known as COP27, sparked an online backlash and highlighted broader concerns about corporate lobbying and influence.
The COP27 negotiations aimed at limiting global temperature increases are set to kick off next month in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. When they announced the sponsorship deal in September with Coca-Cola, the Egyptian organizers cited the company’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases emissions and its key focus on climate. This triggered immediate outrage via social media.
Activists attacked the company for its large contribution to plastic pollution. They also pointed out the deal as an example corporate “greenwash”, which exaggerates climate credentials to cover up polluting behavior. An online petition calling for Coke to be removed as a sponsor has garnered more than 228,000 signatures, while hundreds of civil society groups signed an open letter demanding polluting companies be banned from bankrolling or being involved in climate talks.
Coca-Cola stated that its participation demonstrates its ambition to reduce its carbon emissions and clean up ocean trash.
Critics claim corporate participation is against the spirit and purpose of the meetings, where tens to thousands of delegates from all over the globe gather to reach global agreements on climate change to prevent the earth from warming to dangerous levels. According to the Egyptian presidency, this year’s focus will be on how to fulfill previous promises.
At the COP meetings, “the corporate participation is huge, of course” and it’s an effective marketing campaign for them, said Bobby Banerjee (a management professor at City University of London Bayes Business School), who has been to the meeting three times since 2011..
Over time, the meetings have become more like trade fairs. Big corporations, startups, and industry groups set up stalls and pavilions to lobby and schmooze. This demonstrates how increasing numbers of companies are interested in the event and the potential for commercial opportunities as climate change becomes a greater global priority.
IBM and Vodafone have also signed up as partners or sponsors, but they have received less criticism than Coca-Cola.
The United Nations Climate Change press team referred media inquiries at the organizers, stating that it was a matter between Egypt’s company and Egypt. Email requests for comment from the Egyptian presidency were not answered by the presidency. U.N. Climate Change’s website says it “seeks to engage in mutually beneficial partnerships with non-Party stakeholders.”
Georgia Elliott-Smith, a sustainability consultant and environmental activist who set up the online petition, said she’s calling on the U.N. “to stop accepting corporate sponsorship for these events, which simply isn’t necessary, and stop enabling these major polluters to greenwash their brands, piggybacking on these really critical climate talks.”
Environmental groups slammed the decision to let Coca-Cola be a sponsor, saying it’s one of the world’s biggest plastic producers and top polluters. They claim that petroleum-based plastic manufacturing emits carbon dioxide. Many single-use bottles are made in countries with low recycling rates. These bottles end up littering the oceans and being incinerated, increasing carbon emissions.
Coca-Cola stated that it supports the goal of eliminating ocean waste and appreciates efforts to raise awareness about this issue. Coke’s packaging accounts for around a third of its carbon footprint. Coca-Cola stated that it shares “the goal of eliminating waste from the ocean” and appreciates “efforts to raise awareness about this challenge.”
Coca-Cola stated that it will work with other businesses, civil societies organizations, and governments to support cooperative action on plastic waste. It noted that it signed joint statements 2020, 2022, urging the U.N. member countries to adopt a global treaty for the problem “through an holistic, circular economy approach.”
“Our support for COP27 is in line with our science-based target to reduce absolute carbon emissions 25% by 2030, and our ambition for net zero carbon emissions by 2050,” the company said by email. Experts believe that sponsorships are a distraction from a larger problem: fossil fuel companies lobbying for and influencing the talks in backroom negotiation.
” The real deals are done indoors, you see, in closed rooms,” said Banerjee the management professor. At the first one he attended — COP17 in Durban, South Africa, in 2011 — he tried to get into a session on carbon emissions in the mining industry, a topic he was researching.
” But guess what? They turned me away and who enters the room to discuss, to create global climate policy? Banerjee stated that the ministers were followed by the CEOs of Rio Tinto and Shell, BP. He also said that a Greenpeace member was behind him. “This group of people — mining companies and politicians — are deciding on carbon emissions.”
Elliott-Smith, the environmental activist, attended last year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, as a legal observer to the negotiations. Although she isn’t naive about corporate-political lobbying she was shocked by the number of corporates who attended the conference (and) the open participation between climate negotiating delegations and CEOs in these discussions. “
In Glasgow, retailers, tech firms and consumer goods brands signed up to be partners. However, British organizers reportedly banned fossil fuel companies. According to researchers from a group NGOs, more 500 lobbyists connected to the industry attended the conference.
This year, oil companies may feel more welcome as Egypt is expected to highlight the region and draw a large contingent from North African and Middle Eastern countries whose economies and government revenues depend on oil and gas.
Egypt has historically stood with developing countries that resist the pressure to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. They believe they shouldn’t be forced to pay the price of rich countries’ past carbon dioxide emissions.
The U.N. human rights specialists and international rights groups criticised the Egyptian government’s human right track record. They accused authorities of covering up a decade worth of violations, including a clampdown against dissent and mass incarcerations, in an effort to improve their international image. The country’s foreign minister stated earlier this year to The Associated Press that there would be room for protests. Against this backdrop, “it’ll be that much easier censor, prohibit, or silence attempts to hold the process accountable for delivering the required outcomes,” said Rachel Rose Jackson (director of climate research at Corporate Accountability). “It will also make the polluter PR and greenwashing surrounding the talks that much more effective.”
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