Land back, not greenwashing! Indigenous protesters denounce COP28

This past week, bourgeois politicians have been gathering in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), for the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28). The choice of venue is apt. Dubai is a luxury playground for billionaires, maintained by the superexploited labor of migrant workers, many of whom helped build the facilities where the conference is taking place.    

Pro-Palestine demonstrators outside COP28, December 2023. Photo: Rafiq Maqbool

Although the corporate media has celebrated the COP28 as a major environmental breakthrough, the world leaders attending the conference have done nothing to address the climate catastrophe caused by the forces of capital, and the genocidal settler colonialism and imperialism these forces have unleashed. 

The only “solutions” offered at COP28 are nonbinding promises of “net zero emissions by 2050,” “carbon capture” and “credit” schemes that benefit the same multinational corporations responsible for the climate crises in the first place.  

At COP28, Indigenous activists detailed the ways in which the worsening climate catastrophe has affected their nations and communities. Worldwide, Indigenous peoples defend at least 80% of Earth’s remaining biodiversity. 

John Ruben, a resident of Vanuatu, an archipelago in the South Pacific, described the devastation and trauma he and his one-year-old daughter suffered during a vicious series of tropical cyclones this past year: “These tropical cyclones are some of the events that are becoming severe at the moment in the past 10-20 years. We have experienced three severe tropical cyclones in just a span of eight months this year, so it’s something that confirms that our climate conditions now are totally different to what we have had in the past.” (Al Arabiya, Dec. 5)

However, the bourgeois officials and technocrats who run the conference have largely ignored the testimonies of Ruben and other Indigenous activists. Although COP28 attendees agreed to set up a fund to offset the damage climate disasters are inflicting on Indigenous nations and the Global South, the initial amount pledged is only $429 million, which would cover only a vanishingly small fraction of the destruction these communities have already experienced. 

As Libyan activist Nissa Bek explained in a Dec. 4 Democracy Now! interview, “The loss and damage fund will only be a Band-Aid if fossil fuels continue to be produced. Loss and damage from climate change cost $1.5 trillion last year alone.”

Polluters dominate COP28    

The failure of COP28 to address the capitalist climate disaster is by design. The president of the conference, Sultan Al Jaber, who has extensive ties to Western investors, also heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, UAE’s state oil company. At a press conference on Dec. 4, Al Jaber denounced efforts to “phase out” fossil fuels, insisting that “no science” supports such a proposal. (The Guardian, Dec. 3) 

Most accounts of Jaber’s gaffe in the international bourgeois press single out the UAE and other Gulf States for blame, ignoring the capitalist world system in which these states operate, and distancing COP28 itself from the controversy. Yet far from being “out of step” with the conference he is facilitating, Al Jaber merely revealed its true commitments.   

Advising COP28 is McKinsey, a consulting firm whose clients include Exxon, Chevron and British Petroleum (BP). Larry Fink, chairperson and CEO of investment giant BlackRock, which has tens of billions of dollars invested in fossil fuel industries, sits on the Conference’s “Advisory Board.” 

According to a Dec. 5 BBC report, a record 2,400 representatives of fossil fuel industries are attending this year’s COP conference, far outnumbering the delegates from the 10 nations in the Global South at greatest risk of climate change. ( 

Solidarity with Palestine

Outside COP28’s Dubai venue, demonstrators gathered to denounce this exercise in “greenwashing,” the cynical corporate-backed campaign to rebrand capitalism as “environmentally conscious.” 

Many activists stressed solidarity with the Palestinian people and their struggle against the ongoing genocidal Zionist assault on Gaza, which has inflicted unfathomable ecological and human devastation. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Zionist settlers have stolen and destroyed Palestinian lands and water reserves. The latest Zionist terror campaign has only escalated this devastation. 

Aerial photos posted by Human Rights Watch on Dec. 4 on X (formerly Twitter), show that Israeli Occupation Forces have systematically destroyed orchards and farmland in the Gaza Strip, increasing the already acute risk of mass starvation for the 2 million Palestinians imprisoned in Gaza. Zionist authorities threatened to flood parts of Gaza with seawater, poisoning aquifers and ruining the soil. ( 

“What good is a world that is green if the roots are soaked in blood?” asked Tariq Luthun, a Palestinian activist at the COP28 protest. “What good is a world that is green if there’s nobody left to live in it? The precedent set on people’s lives and the calculations we make as to who is expendable, that is the precedent we set for who’s expendable anywhere.”  

Chebon Kernell (Seminole/Muscogee Creek) emphasized the common struggle of Indigenous nations against genocidal settler colonialism, from Palestine to Turtle Island.  “For many years now, we have lived in an occupied state. ” Kernell said in the Muscogee language. 

“We were dispossessed of our lands. We were forced upon reservations, where we were confined to one area. The water and the resources that we have known for thousands upon thousands of years were taken from us and commodified and exploited and stolen from our peoples. Today we come here, and I stand in solidarity with each one of our relatives here.” ( 

As the COP28 protesters stressed, the future of “green” capitalism promised by the conference will only continue the settler-colonial destruction and exploitation. Corporate wind farms and lithium mines continue to displace Indigenous people and ravage their lands. 

By endorsing these “solutions,” the capitalist governments overrepresented at COP28 show that they remain committed to the systems of genocide and exploitation that have caused the climate catastrophe in the first place.  

Capitalist destruction of world ecology began with the ongoing settler-colonial genocide of Indigenous nations, and the theft, enclosure and exploitation of their lands. Therefore, an end to this destruction can only come through full solidarity with Indigenous nations as they and their allies fight to dismantle these systems of exploitation and win ultimate liberation.

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