An important, yet somewhat controversial international summit, the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – commonly known as COP27 – is currently taking place in Egypt (6–18 November 2022). The first COP meeting was held in Germany in 1995 and the series of subsequent meetings has been crucial in addressing the issue of global warming but also controversial in terms of the credibility of many countries’ unfulfilled climate pledges.
Against the backdrop of the ongoing global energy crisis, every government is now at a turning point in terms of re-examining not only its policy but also the coherence between its words and deeds. For instance, travelling to the luxurious summit venue on private jets is utterly inconsistent with the world leaders’ enthusiastic messages on sustainability.
Besides the number of policy issues being covered by COP27, an interesting and even amusing development, albeit rather informal, in the recent COP meetings has been the announcement of the “Fossil of the Day” Awards.
What are the “Fossil of the Day” Awards?
The Fossil of the Day Awards are sarcastic and rather dishonourable awards given by the Climate Action Network (CAN), an environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO). At each COP summit, CAN namechecks several countries that are “doing the most to achieve the least” and “doing their best to be the worst” in terms of the progress on climate change. Of course, these awards are not part of the official COP programme; CAN members organise the ceremony as a satire in an allotted event space and announce the awardees on each day of the summit.
At last year’s COP summit (COP26 in 2021), the inaugural Fossil Award was given to the UK, which hosted COP26, and the “Colossal Fossil Hall of Shame” on the final day was awarded to Australia for “not signing a pledge to phase out fossil fuels”. In fact, Australia’s refusal to join the pledge at COP26 reflected its limited commitment to climate action, although the then Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed that his government was acting on climate change in “the Australian way”, a comment which was also criticised at home and abroad.
This year, the first Fossil of the Day award at COP27 was given to Japan for being “the world’s largest public financier for oil, gas, and coal projects, contributing US$10.6 billion per year on average between 2019 and 2021”, according to the public data. Japan had also been presented with this award at COP25 and COP26. Receiving the Fossil of the Day Award for the third consecutive year is a stark contrast to fashionable statements in the Japanese government’s paid content published in Reuters immediately prior to COP27, which claim that Japan takes the lead in collaboration on the global energy transition.
Highlighting National Governments’ Greenwashing
When seeing national governments’ tactical statements, we really need to ask ourselves which information can be considered trustworthy. Although there are many positive communications on environmental and sustainability practices, the reality is not so positive (Burbano, cited in Gilbert, 2021); in other words, so-called greenwashing. While the concept of (and issues with) greenwashing has been discussed extensively in business and management studies, it is, as Burbano suggests, certainly applicable to governments.
The COP summits, as well as other international events, are useful theatrical settings for national governments – and of course international organisations – to promote their positive position. Moreover, in the progressive digital era, governments and public sector organisations have been increasingly utilising online media platforms to spread their messages on sustainability, often without meaningful actions and contributions.
Possibly, the sarcasm associated with the Fossil of the Day Awards can counteract the governments’ greenwashing. Year by year, the awards have attracted growing media attention, while CAN itself is sharing information about the awards on social media platforms. However, is this type of naming and shaming an effective way of encouraging governments to commit themselves to climate actions? After all, an award is a form of satire and even the awarded government can take it lightly and simply laugh it off. Nevertheless, CAN chooses countries for particular reasons, such as their ineffective environmental policies and missed targets, which politicians often try to avoid addressing. The Fossil of the Day Awards can, at least, remind world leaders that we are all aware that they are not doing enough despite their diplomatic and somewhat greenwashing proclamations.
Furthermore, the awards also remind us of which national governments are failing climate goals. A recent study by Kolieve, Page and Tallberg (2022) also underscores how international shaming by NGOs affects domestic support for government policies. Governments and individuals alike need a reminder in order to sustain our efforts to tackle climate change, and these sarcastic awards highlight greenwashing by national governments at COP summits.
In addition, it is also important that, wherever possible, civil society disseminate the right message in a constructive and civilised manner. Seemingly, the “Fossil of the Day” Awards may be contributing to this goal, in contrast to some aggressive activists’ disorderly behaviour, which is on the rise across many countries. To work on the present sustainability issues and make a positive impact for the future, both critical thinking and well-controlled considerate actions are more important than ever.
Kolieve, F., Page, D., & Tallberg, J. (2022). The domestic impact of international shaming: Evidence from climate change and human rights. Public Opinion Quarterly, 86(3): 748–761.
Faith Hatani is Associate Professor of International Business at Copenhagen Business School. She is interested in the role of multinational enterprises in sustainable development, focusing on the interactions between business strategy and government policy concerning global value chains.