Soft drink giant Coca-Cola is sponsoring next week’s COP27, an annual United Nations climate conference where global leaders gather to discuss solutions for climate change. This year’s event is hosted in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
The Egyptian organizers cited the company’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to justify Coke’s presence at the climate talks, the Associated Press reports. In the announcement, COP27 organizers applauded Coke for its plans to reach net zero in its European supply chain by 2040 and net zero emissions globally by 2050. But that effort—if it even pans out—hardly makes up for the fact that Coca-Cola produces 3.3 million tons of plastic packaging each year, all while company leaders have made bullshit excuses for not phasing out single-use plastics. And yet somehow, this isn’t even Coke’s first participation at a COP: It was a “platinum” sponsor at COP22 in Morocco in 2016.
When the UN announced the head-scratching sponsorship in September, it sparked outrage and inspired a petition calling for Coca-Cola to be removed as partner, which has garnered more than 236,000 signatures. “The infiltration of corporations into the conference was sickening - the collected CEOs of the world’s biggest polluters, brazenly lobbying politicians to protect their interests and inflate their profits, telling us how we could save the planet if we bought more of their stuff,” petition organizer Georgia Elliott-Smith wrote on the webpage.
Corporate Accountability, a nonprofit that focuses on challenging corporations and raising awareness about how large companies are destroying the environment and eroding democracy, argued that major climate talks should not have any corporate sponsors in a recent statement. The organization warned that allowing companies like Coca-Cola to sponsor climate talks allows problematic businesses to greenwash themselves in the public eye, instead of being held accountable.
“Somehow, Coca-Cola fits the mold for Conference of the Party (COP) sponsor, even though its unhealthy products play an indisputable role in fueling the non-communicable disease epidemic across the world, its extractive practices continue to undermine people’s basic human right to water in the Global South, and its political giving advances voter suppression policies further disenfranchising Black people in the U.S.,” the Corporate Accountability statement said.
“They spend billions of dollars every year, lobbying aggressively to advance their polluter-friendly and anti-climate policy proposals. It’s Coke this year, but every year, you can just fill in the blank,” Rachel Rose Jackson, the director of climate research and policy at Corporate Accountability, told Earther.
Jackson argued that allowing companies like Coca-Cola to be involved in these talks just gives them an opportunity push for their own best interests, instead of being held accountable.
Last year’s COP26 in Glasgow was awash in corporate sponsors. Big Oil was technically not allowed at the 2021 conference, but its presence was felt. Fossil fuel giant BP was rejected as a Glasgow sponsor, but organizers still allowed the fossil fuel giant to participate in pre-COP conferences. Earther reporter Molly Taft attended COP26 and noted the many kiosks and announcements from corporate sponsors like Amazon, car companies, and airlines. COP24, held in Poland in 2018, was sponsored by a multitude of coal and fossil energy companies. Organizers also thought it was a good idea to fill the conference’s exhibit center with literal coal displays.
These inappropriate corporate sponsors have angered green groups and climate activists for years. Greta Thunberg, who called last year’s UN climate talks a “failure”, recently said she would not attend COP27 due to the corporate greenwashing, The Guardian reported.
“This tells you everything you need to know about how compromised the climate talks’ integrity has become. There’s so much at stake; yet no round of talks will ever deliver until governments protect climate policy from the manipulative agenda of Big Polluters once and for all,” Jackson said.