Climate Mis- and Disinformation around COP 27

By Jenevra Wetmore

COP 27, the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, took place this past November in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Each COP Conference is meant to be a time for Nations to come together to address the climate crisis; the Conference has been happening annually since the date of the first UN Climate Agreement in 1992 (excluding in 2020 due to the pandemic). I was born in 1994, which means that this conference has been running longer than I have been alive. It was therefore with great dismay and disappointment that I read the outcomes of COP 27. Though progress was made in some areas, the final agreement did not agree to phase out fossil fuels—the biggest drivers of climate change. Instead, the agreement’s language encourages “efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” After 27 years of conferences, this language leaves much to be desired.

COP27 Climate March: 12 November 2022, Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Friends of the Earth Scotland via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

We know the causes of climate change and we can predict the impacts—in fact, we are seeing them on the ground now in the form of intensified storms, wildfires, drought, sea level rise, the list goes on. How and why do we fail to act? A new report from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) provides some answers to this question. The report, titled “Deny, Deceive, Delay: Exposing New Trends in Climate Mis and Disinformation at COP 27” outlines various attacks on climate action and how mis and disinformation were weaponized against climate action surrounding COP 27. For example, entities connected to fossil fuels spent at least $3 million on Facebook and Instagram ads between Sept. 1 and Nov. 21 of last year in the leadup to and during COP 27. One ad launched by the Heartland Institute on 16 November falsely stated: “New poll debunks the 97% consensus claim about #climate change.” The old trick of denying climate change is ever-present.

The discourse around climate change is no longer just about denial (though that is ever-present as well). Strategies the report describes as climate “delayism” and “inactivism” are now common in media surrounding climate change. What does spreading a climate inactivism narrative look like? Around COP 27 fossil fuel companies continued to promote the “necessity” of fossil fuels, promoting gas as “clean.” Chevron, the second largest global carbon polluter since 1965, advertised that they were boosting “energy security and supply.” Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil all advertised their green credentials and contributions to achieving Net Zero during COP27, despite investment portfolios that remain overwhelmingly biased towards oil and fossil gas. Rather than outright denying climate change, many are seeking to prevent meaningful action.

In a 1959 petroleum conference called the “Energy and Man” Symposium, scientist Edward Teller warned of global warming caused by carbon dioxide. This was ten years before humankind went to the moon. Exxon (now ExxonMobil) has known about climate change since at least the 1970s, when they began studying climate change and producing internal reports, all while continuing to deny and downplay risks publicly. In 2019 Peter Trelenberg, Exxon’s manager of environmental policy and planning, requested that language about the Paris Climate Agreement be removed from Exxon’s policy statement because “creating a tie between our advocacy/engagements and the Paris Agreement could create a potential commitment to advocate on the Paris Agreement goals.” No matter what public image these companies attempt to create, they have a long history of refusing to act on climate change.

Vermont author Gus Speth, environmental lawyer and advocate, has an excellent quote on this subject: “I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

More than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists attended COP 27—an increase of over 25% compared to the previous year. The industry is clearly having a growing influence at climate talks, where they arguably should not be. There were more industry lobbyists than any one delegation from the African continent at COP 27. Fossil fuel lobbyists also outnumbered representatives from the 10 countries most affected by climate change (Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Haiti, Philippines, Mozambique, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, Nepal). If we are going to make progress on climate change we must emphasize the voices of those experiencing it on the ground, and trust science. As fossil fuel companies have shown time and time again, they will not be the leaders of a green revolution.

What you can do:

  • Read Gus Speth’s compelling book: They Knew: The US Federal Government’s Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis (The MIT Press).
  • Advocate for local climate action by contacting your representatives.
  • Join your local town Energy Committee.


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