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A ‘COP out’ or not? Important challenges in COP27 and the role of Egypt as a host

Staff writer Catherine Hervieu assesses the decisions made at the COP27 Conference and the implications of Egypt as a host. 

Will this year be different from the last?

Footage of Alok Sharma resisting tears was what we were left with at the end of the Glasgow COP. Many countries watered down their commitments, particularly over the use of coal, last minute during COP26. This year the Egypt presidency has tried to set their focus on implementation and “mobilising collective efforts for ambitious emission reductions”. Too many promises from states have not been kept in the history of climate action. The Paris Agreement of 2015 agreed that the global average temperature rise would be kept below 1.5%; 2% at the most. It has been unanimously agreed that the efforts promoted in line with this goal are not enough to achieve it. Have talks in Sharm El Sheikh appeared to solve these shaky promises?  

It’s unfortunate that governments need a catastrophic war to come around to clean energy. But this year it seems that commitment to action is being pushed by that very stimulus. Clean energy is now seen as the “energy of freedom”, helping us remove our reliance on Russia. PM Rishi Sunak certainly advocated this stance in his COP27 address, outlining the need to “insure ourselves against energy dependency”. In this sense, Egypt’s COP may seem to be meeting its implementation aims through an opportunity in crisis.

But the agreed draft of the COP27 text, announced early Sunday morning, includes disappointing elements. The practice of watering down commitments to emissions has been adopted. It’s been accepted once again that coal emissions will be “phased down” rather than “phased out”. The Guardian outlines that proposals for all fossil fuels to be “phased down” were also excluded at the second draft of the text; in terms of cutting emissions, it seems COP27 has not delivered. 

Big economies versus little ones: “your payment is well overdue”

The ‘100 billion goal’ was a commitment from large economies to help poorer countries with their adaptation to climate change. Made in 2009, this $100 billion was aimed to be fulfilled per year by 2020. It is still yet to be achieved.

  “Every leader before us has postponed until tomorrow what needed to happen yesterday. And now tomorrow is here today. And countries like mine are out of time” — Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis

In a nutshell, lower-income countries will experience a worse struggle to adapt to climate change. Ironically, these are the countries which have contributed the least emissions. Separate from the need for adaptation funding is the idea of loss and damage, where large economies need to pay up for unavoidable climate impacts.

This COP has been described by some as an “African COP”. The opportunity for Africa to have a large voice in Egypt’s COP opened up discussions of its role in the crisis. Africa is predicted to experience some of the worst effects of climate change, including surface temperature rises above the global average. The World Bank has predicted that if climate conditions continue to worsen, around 86 million Africans could be displaced from their homes by 2050. How much does it contribute to the problem? Africa makes up only 2-3% of global CO2 emissions.

Another example is the Bahamas, for which an eloquent address was given by Prime Minister Phillip Davis: “The Bahamas is not now and never has been the problem. But yet we are forced to pay the price.”

How far have countries committed to adaptation this year? The UK, as one example, has announced £200 million of funding to the African Development Bank (AfDB), as well as tripling its adaptation funding by 2025. The COP27 presidency has announced an “adaptation agenda” to build climate resilience and “address the adaptation gap”. This global plan sets out 30 clear targets focusing on food and agriculture, water systems, human settlement, and other key issues of adaptation. Also outlined is the need to mobilise up to $300 billion by 2030. However, there are still doubts as to whether enough will be done. Doctor Megan Bowman, from King’s College London, recalled that the initial 100 billion goal and its failure to be met signified both a trust gap, “the gap between promises and action”, as well as an instrumental gap: 100 billion still simply isn’t enough. In fact, it was presented at COP27 that around $2tn is required per year by 2030 to really help developing countries adapt to climate change. 

Then we have the need to address loss and damage. PhD student at Kings, Hannah Getachew, commented that compensation to low-income countries would mean “we could collectively build a world that is equitable and beneficial to people and our planet”. Her ideal COP resolution would result in a “financial mechanism dedicated to loss and damage”, separate from existing mechanisms. Getachew also mentioned that this year’s focus on loss and damage is extremely belated — 31 years belated, in fact. It was first proposed in 1991 by the Foreign Affairs Minister of Vanuatu. 

Passionate students at a debate with King’s College London’s Sustainability Team, Climate Action Network and Climate Action Society, discussed the issue of loss and damage. Larger income countries need to commit to helping adaptation alongside funds, they claimed. Among their discussion, the recent flooding in Pakistan and its relation to climate issues caught much attention. The loss and damage agenda now cannot be ignored or excused.

Concerning loss and damage compensation, or, increasingly, “climate reparations”, final decisions from the plenary have largely been dubbed as “historic”. This is where COP27 can be deemed successful. The first loss and damage fund has been set up for countries to accept their “common but differentiated responsibilities…in the light of differing national circumstances”, which is a huge step of progress. However, it must be noted that the fund remains voluntary. Arguably a major setback. Questions of whether China and India will contribute remain to their discretion. 

What about the human rights violations in Egypt? 

There are around 65,00 political prisoners in Egypt today. 

While a crying Alok Sharma was left in our heads after COP26, the lasting image of COP27 may be of a lonely prison cell. The case of Alaa Abd El-Faatah is one which argues whether Egypt is an appropriate COP leader. Other heads of state are increasingly reassuring the press that they have raised concerns with Egypt’s President Sisi about the pending release of political prisoner Alaa. Alaa gained British citizenship in 2021 and is still yet to be released. He has implemented a hunger strike against his imprisonment for spreading incorrect news about the Egyptian state. Can we focus on important decisions for the climate when the team leader is oppressing its activists? 

Naomi Klein discusses the connection between Egypt’s attempt at being an inclusive eco-leader and its fundamental human rights violations. She labels it as a “greenwashing police state”.  320 organisations and 830 individuals from across the world, including activists such as Greta Thunberg and charities like Amnesty International, have petitioned against Egypt’s human rights issues ahead of its leadership of this year’s COP. 

To dispel this non-inclusive reputation, the ‘Green Zone’ at COP27 allows protestors and activists to come to the COP and express their opinions. It must be admitted that it looks very pretty. It warmly welcomes the “registered public”. In order to book a place in the Green Zone you must be affiliated with a certain climate organisation or group. Human Rights Watch indicates that this registration restricts the participation of anyone simply interested in attending and expressing their views. 

Human Rights Watch has expressed concerns not only over violations to the right of participation, but also of the right to privacy, over speculations that surveillance is being misused during the conference. Adding to Egypt’s poor hosting capabilities, the atmosphere of concern for young activists includes the experience of many youth delegates attending the conference. Their two weeks have allegedly included staying in rooms without locks and not enough beds. This is a far cry from the luxury beach destinations where most world leaders are rumoured to be staying.

It seems that COP27 has struggled to tackle its intended problems whilst simultaneously bringing attention to new ones. Has the conference given enough commitment, or is this another COP-out? Some historic steps have indeed been made and looking at the glass as half-full can push us to carry on. But a climate crisis and a human rights crisis have been entangled; neither of which can be said to have been adequately addressed. 



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