This story was originally published by The Guardian and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A sponsorship deal between this year’s UN climate conference and Coca-Cola, which has been described as the “world’s top polluter” by an environmental group, has been branded “greenwash” by campaigners.

COP27, to be held in the Egyptian coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheikh from Nov. 6-18, is the world’s primary forum for governments, businesses and environmental organizations to tackle the climate emergency.

Emma Priestland, a co-ordinator for Break Free From Plastic, a global alliance of organizations and individuals, said: “Coca-Cola sponsoring the COP27 is pure ‘greenwash.’ Coca-Cola is one of the world’s biggest users of plastic.

“Over four years, we’ve found Cola-Cola to be the world’s top plastic polluter in our annual brand audits,” she said. “It’s astounding that a company so tied to the fossil fuel industry is allowed to sponsor such a vital climate meeting.”

Environmental campaigners described the partnership as baffling. A petition started by a delegate at COP26 in Glasgow has called for an end to corporate sponsorship of the COP talks, starting with the removal of Cola-Cola.

John Hocevar, oceans campaign director at Greenpeace USA, said: “It is baffling that Coca-Cola — the world’s biggest plastic polluter in all global Break Free From Plastic brand audits — will sponsor this year’s UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Egypt.

“Coca-Cola produces 120 billion throwaway plastic bottles a year — and 99 per cent of plastics are made from fossil fuels, worsening both the plastic and climate crisis,” he said.

“They have yet to even acknowledge that this is a problem or explain how they will meet their climate goals without ending their plastic addiction. This partnership undermines the very objective of the event it seeks to sponsor.”

Plastics campaigners call it "astounding" that a multinational they say is the world’s top polluter has sponsored the key UN climate meeting. #COP27 #CocaCola

The co-operation agreement with Coca-Cola was signed by the Egyptian government. During the signing ceremony at the foreign ministry in Cairo, Ahmed Rady, Coca-Cola’s vice-president of operations for North Africa, said: “Coca-Cola’s firm belief that working together through meaningful partnerships will create shared opportunities for communities and people around the world and in Egypt.”

The announcement was met with shock and disappointment across social media, where it was condemned as another example of corporate greenwashing.

Unilever, the consumer goods multinational, was the principal partner at COP26 in Glasgow last year, while AG Barr, maker of Irn-Bru, was the exclusive soft drink and water supplier at two convention centres in Glasgow during the conference. The Irn-Bru deal was seen as a marketing coup for the company, which included a surprise endorsement from U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after she was given a can by the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Sponsorship of COP26 was said to have been worth about £250 million, with companies involved including Sky, Hitachi, National Grid, ScottishPower, Microsoft, NatWest, Sainsbury’s and Unilever.

Coca-Cola said: “We share the goal of eliminating waste from the ocean and appreciate efforts to raise awareness about this challenge. We are prepared to do our part and have set ambitious goals for our business, starting with helping to collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell — regardless of where it comes from — by 2030.

“In 2020, we signed a joint statement urging United Nations member states to adopt a global treaty to tackle the plastic waste issue through a holistic, circular economy approach… Our support for COP27 is in line with our science-based target to reduce absolute carbon emissions 25 per cent by 2030, and our ambition for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

However, Hocevar said: “Cutting plastic production and ending single-use plastic is in line with the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 C.

“If Coca-Cola really wants to solve the plastic and climate crisis, it needs to turn off its plastics tap.”

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