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Dhaka Tribune

Climate disinformation during COP27: Five top themes

‘Disinformation, backed by the fossil fuel industry, to persuade people climate change is not real had previously shifted from outright denial to more subtle delay tactics’

Update : 18 Nov 2022, 12:15 PM

Posts blaming climate policies for the Ukraine war were among misleading narratives spread during the COP27 summit, monitors said, warning that strategies to deny the crisis and delay action are thriving.

Monitors have "seen a resurgence of climate denial", said Jennie King, head of civic action at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), which was monitoring climate disinformation during this year's UN climate meeting in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh.  

Disinformation, backed by the fossil fuel industry, to persuade people climate change is not real had previously shifted from outright denial to more subtle "delay" tactics, she said – but "we are now seeing that out-and-out denial is making an absolute comeback". 

Here is a roundup of five big climate disinformation themes at COP27. 

Ukraine war climate disinfo 

The ISD said Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine and its impacts were fuelling false climate claims this year.

"We have seen argumentation which suggests... that Putin was emboldened to invade Ukraine because of the West's fixation on net zero agendas," King told a news conference at the summit. 

Amid war-fuelled supply chain and energy crises, "there has been an incredible effort by anti-climate and disinformation actors to frame that situation as the fault of green levies and other net zero policies." 

Climate finance and taxpayers 

As delegates at COP27 focused on demands for polluters to compensate vulnerable nations for climate damage, numerous online posts complained rich countries were being forced to pay "reparations" while their own citizens endure rising taxes and high energy prices.

Some British posts linked the issue to a parallel narrative in tabloid media about authorities paying to house immigrants in hotels.

Opponents of climate action are "attempting to make 'climate reparations' a toxic wedge issue and draw on nativist, xenophobic and polarising rhetoric to gain support," said Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD), a group that analyses trends in false claims online.

"As many countries sit on the brink of a recession, such arguments will find fertile ground."

In a YouGov survey published by AFP on November 17 more than half of respondents in six wealthy nations said halting global warming should be a "key priority" regardless of the state of the economy.

Greenwashing warning 

COP27 was hit by warnings of "greenwashing" – corporate climate disinformation intended to polish companies' images.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies — a PR company working for fossil fuel firms — was reportedly hired by host Egypt to handle public relations for COP27. A report by watchdogs including Global Witness said more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists registered for the summit. 

"There is huge asymmetry in resources available to scientists versus what is available to the purveyors of disinformation, especially corporate and corporate-funded disinformation," Naomi Oreskes, a professor at Harvard University who has authored leading studies on climate misinformation, told AFP.

"This is why people are up in arms about Hill+Knowlton being the PR team for COP27. They helped to invent modern techniques of disinformation." 

Abusing protesters 

COP27 coincided with a series of high-profile climate protests. Activists threw liquid at paintings in several European museums, disrupted motorway traffic around London and occupied an area for private jets at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. 

The actions sparked hostile reactions from many social media users. Anti-activist "rhetoric across social media is becoming more extreme", said CAAD. 

"Right-wing media on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as malign actors online, are deploying abusive language towards those involved, calling for punitive measures against them and sometimes endorsing calls for violence." 

CAAD also identified a trend of posts branding protesters as mentally ill, with thousands of retweets. 

Private jets 

CAAD detected over 177,000 tweets and shares of a claim that 400 private jets were used by COP27 delegates, who were branded hypocrites. Some posts put the figure as high as 1,500.

Aviation analytics company Cirium told AFP that data showed "240 private business, private charter and VIP/Head of State flights tracked as arriving into Sharm el-Sheikh" from November 5 to 10 alone. A source close to the Egyptian aviation authorities told AFP the figure was over 400.

"COP is the main platform for developing robust climate policy at a global level and cannot be deemed 'illegitimate' because a handful of delegates use less-than-optimal transport," said CAAD.

"COPs are necessary specifically because no amount of personal sacrifice can address the international, systemic dependence on fossil fuels."

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