Autocracies and Fossil Fuels Go Hand in Hand

 Autocracies and Fossil Fuels Go Hand in Hand


Covering Climate NowThis story originated in The Guardian and is part of “Climate & Democracy,” a series from the global journalism collaboration Covering Climate Now.

At first glance, last autumn’s Glasgow climate summit looked a lot like its 25 predecessors. It had:

  • A conference hall the size of an aircraft carrier stuffed with displays from problematic parties (the Saudis, for example, with a giant pavilion saluting their efforts at promoting a “circular carbon economy agenda”)
  • Squadrons of delegates rushing constantly to mysterious sessions (“Showcasing achievements of TBTTP and Protected Areas Initiative of GoP”) while actual negotiations took place in a few backrooms
  • Earnest protesters with excellent signs (“The wrong Amazon is burning”)

But as I wandered the halls and the streets outside, it struck me again and again that a good deal had changed since the last big climate confab in Paris in 2015—and not just because carbon levels and the temperature had risen ever higher.

The biggest shift was in the political climate. Over those few years the world seemed to have swerved sharply away from democracy and toward autocracy—and in the process dramatically limited our ability to fight the climate crisis. Oligarchs of many kinds had grabbed power and were using it to uphold the status quo; there was a Potemkin quality to the whole gathering, as if everyone was reciting a script that no longer reflected the actual politics of the planet.

Now that we’ve watched Russia launch an oil-fired invasion of Ukraine, it’s a little easier to see this trend in high relief—but Putin is far from the only case. Consider the examples.

Brazil, in 2015 at Paris, had been led by Dilma Rousseff, of the Workers’ Party, which had for the most part worked to limit deforestation in the Amazon. In some ways the country could claim to have done more than any other on climate damage, simply by slowing the cutting. But in 2021 Jair Bolsonaro was in charge, at the head of a government that empowered every big-time cattle rancher and mahogany poacher in the country. If people cared about the climate, he said, they could eat less and “poop every other day.” And if they cared about democracy, they could… go to jail. “Only God can take me from the presidency,” he explained ahead of this year’s elections.





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