“The COP27 climate conference drew to a close this week on much the same lines as the previous meeting: calling on the world’s richest polluting nations to cover the costs of climate change being borne by poor nations, a concept known as ‘loss and damage.’ These discussions are certainly important considering the scale of the threat posed by climate change. Yet in their zeal to clinch headline-grabbing deals with major powers like China, climate change envoys often ignore the woeful record of autocratic governments on environmental issues. This history does not bode well for a climate strategy grounded on securing the cooperation of these governments.

“The fact this year’s conference was hosted by the repressive Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is an unfortunate reminder of the way in which these assemblies provide a public forum for autocrats to launder their reputations while presiding over some of the world’s greatest environmental abuses. Latin America’s autocrats are particularly adept at this game too. Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro never misses the chance to use events like COP27 to blame capitalist democracies for the scourge of climate change, conveniently omitting his own country’s record as one of the world’s largest producers of fossil fuels. A recent United Nations (UN) report showed that Maduro’s regime may have committed crimes against humanity associated with strip mining projects in the arco minero (mining arc), making the Maduro regime perhaps the region’s worst abuser of the environment as well as human rights.

“In Nicaragua, Maduro’s ally Daniel Ortega has also been abysmal on these issues. In April 2018, students gathered peacefully to demand action to control wildfires in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve. Instead of taking action to protect the reserve—one of the largest and most important for Nicaragua and the region—Ortega sent police and para-police thugs to break up the protests and failed to address any of the issues raised.

“Bolivia’s democratically elected but authoritarian government has overseen one of the highest deforestation rates globally. Forest fires, illegal mining, and land grabbing in eastern indigenous territories have taken place unabated under several governments, Left and Right. The current government, like the previous Movement toward Socialism (MAS) government of Evo Morales, promoted extractive activities with little regard for their environmental impact while suppressing information on the damage this has caused and persecuting NGOs and activists. …”

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