Pressure grows against Coca-Cola’s “corporate infiltration” of COP27
03 Nov 2022 --- US environmental organizations Just Zero and Beyond Plastics are calling on the UN to drop Coca-Cola as a sponsor for its upcoming COP27 climate talks. Critics have raised over 235,000 signatures in an online petition to prevent “corporate infiltration” of the event. The conference, set for 6th-18th November, will be held in Egypt.
Peter Blair, a state policy director for Just Zero, tells PackagingInsights the rising opposition to Coca-Cola’s involvement in the event is centrally over concerns that corporate influence could impact policymaking and that international governments are allowing corporations to greenwash their images via important political events.
“Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the UN has teamed up with a polluting corporation to sponsor climate talks. Last year, COP26 was sponsored by Unilever, another plastic pollution giant,” he says.
“The UN’s continued reliance on corporate polluters as sponsors shows that they see corporations as a part of the conversation regarding solutions, which is dangerous. These companies have repeatedly shown they are part of the problem and that their only goal in sponsoring these events is to greenwash their image.”
In a statement, Coca-Cola says it shares many of the conference’s goals, such as ending plastic pollution and reducing carbon footprint, and that it is attending COP27 “with the goal of listening and learning.”
Just this week, the UN’s progress report on how corporations are faring against their commitments to the Ellen McArthur Foundation’s Global commitment to end plastic pollution shows that Coca-Cola has increased its plastic use by 3% in the past two years.
However, Blair and others like him fear this situation is beyond hypocritical. “It is unclear the direct impact Coca-Cola’s sponsorship will have on the conversations at the conference,” he says.
“However, it is clear what Coca-Cola’s goal is. With this sponsorship, they want everyone, including the delegates gathering in Egypt, to believe that they have things under control.”
“They want to show off the voluntary commitments they’ve made so that the delegates think they don’t need to pass binding resolutions mandating plastic reduction. We’ve seen Coca-Cola do this type of greenwashing before. They’ve lobbied against strong plastic policy at the state and federal level, and now they’re doing it at the international level,” he continues.
Just Zero points to the fact that most of Coca-Cola’s voluntary environmental commitments have never been met. Between 2019 and 2021, Coca-Cola’s total plastic use increased by 8.1% to 3.2 million tons.
Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF) notes the corporation creates 100 billion plastic bottles annually, equating to 200,000 bottles a minute.
In 1990, Coca-Cola promised to use an average of 25% of recyclates in its PET bottles. Now, three decades later, that percentage is only 10%.
This recyclate goal has been constantly readjusted, notes PSF – the last time as part of Coca-Cola’s “World Without Waste” initiative. It now says that in 2030, its bottles will be made of 50% recycled material.
The drinks giant has now pledged to sell at least 25% of its brands in refillable and returnable glass or plastic bottles by 2030, drawing skepticism from environmental groups.
Private sector action
Coca-Cola says that by sponsoring COP27, it is “constructively engaging in positive climate action. We agree that we have a responsibility to reduce the carbon footprint of our value chain, and we transparently report our progress while taking more action to address the serious challenges facing the planet.”
“While we recognize that we have more work to do, we believe that effective climate solutions will require all of society to be involved, including governments, civil society and the private sector.”
Just Zero, Beyond Plastics and numerous other NGOs are unconvinced by these arguments.
“By pouring millions of dollars into sponsoring COP27, Coca-Cola is making a shameful play to give the appearance of environmental responsibility,” says Blair.
“The fact that Coca-Cola is a benefactor of the world’s largest climate conference makes it hard to see this meeting as anything more than a performative act.”
By Louis Gore-Langton
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