The 2023 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and CEO summit took place in San Francisco during the third week of November. Attending were 21 heads of states or their representatives from the Indo-Pacific region and heads of companies doing business there. The city even cleared the homeless off some of its streets to make itself look pretty. The APEC meet was much anticipated by the US media due to the planned meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. With all the name calling and finger pointing on both sides, it was hoped that the meeting would at least declare a time-out and allow everyone around to take a deep breath.

But these events attract a lot of activity outside the chandeliered halls too. Compared to the US, some other APEC members who also host such summits have much less tolerance for protests and take draconian measures to prevent them when they play host. And so, as may well be expected, an organisation whose eponymous name is No2Apec Coalition arose to coordinate among reportedly 150 others to ensure the protests were as successful as the official meetings. There is a lot going on around the world today requiring protests. Wars in Gaza, Ukraine and parts of Africa, communities disrupted due to climate change, CEOs with disproportionate compensation, migration, and a variety of political causes.

Varied objectives

The objectives of the protestors were varied — some wanted to disrupt the meetings so it would not take place, while others were voicing their particular peeves. So, protests were held not only outside APEC venues but also outside other buildings to target individual attendees (such as the ‘Free Tibet’ protestors outside the Chinese consulate).

Participating in these events carries its own risks. You could be subject to a baton charge. Or as the Czech news crew found out, you could be held-up at gunpoint and relieved of your camera and other equipment. It is worthwhile reflecting on this desire to protest. Tibet is not going to be freed by a dozen holding posters, but the issue is kept alive and that dozen feel strongly enough about the issue to experience the discomfort and harassment from law enforcement officials to make their voice heard by a global audience.

And let’s face it, just as some protestors misbehave, and don’t follow police guidelines, some governments and corporations are also up to mischief. Take the climate business. Media reports on how flooding in cities have disrupted urban life and changing weather patterns have impoverished farmers makes you feel that any action is worthwhile if it improves protection. One such move is to create a global market for carbon credits as a market-based solution to help polluters transit to an era which reduces reliance on polluting industries and thereby reduce emissions that lead to global warming. As consumers, we are addicted to fossil fuels and certainly countries that are heavily dependent on fossil fuel exports need a way to transition.

So, there can be nothing wrong if polluting countries make use of carbon credits from countries generating them. But an honest player would expect the credits to come from real reductions in emissions and not just book adjustments to make the numbers look good. But that is what is happening in many parts of the world where polluting industries make deals with those who can generate credits. A recent report suggests that the royalty of UAE, a major oil exporter, has created a company that would buy credits from African countries with large swathes of forests. There is money to be made in the trade, folks.

I don’t believe there were protestors in San Francisco holding up signs about this. But they need to. The gap between the marginalised and impoverished and their betters is widening at an alarming rate. And there is enough hypocrisy among the global elite to make the powerless want to take up a placard and stand in front of the next global summit.

The writer is an emeritus professor at Suffolk University, Boston