Egypt’s Green Zone exhibitors find themselves on the margins of Cop27

The space dedicated to companies, academics, government ministries and civil society is rich in innovation but away from the ‘real action’

The Green Zone is the Egyptian government-managed area of the conference and is open to registered members of the public. Nada El Sawy / The National
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As Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh draws to a close on Friday, the Green Zone has been particularly quiet in recent days.

Exhibitors say the Egyptian government-managed space — which was open to the registered public and dedicated to start-ups, companies, academia, government ministries and civil society — was a great way to showcase innovations and network.

But it was also both figuratively and literally away from the action at the UN-managed Blue Zone, which requires accreditation and is where the actual climate negotiations take place.

Rather than them being directly adjacent to one another, a five-minute drive separates the two zones.

The 12,000-square-metre Green Zone features five halls accommodating dozens of booths and two meeting rooms with panels throughout the day. However, it pales in comparison to the bustling Blue Zone.

“The Green Zone is amazing, but it really, really needed some strong panels like those in the Blue Zone. This is what we missed,” Manal Saleh, chief executive of the Egyptian Clothing Bank, told The National.

On the positive side, “there is a lot of energy here, which is actually representing the work on the ground”, Ms Saleh said. “So the Blue Zone was all the ideas, the strategies, the policies, but the Green Zone is what people are actually doing on the ground, which is fascinating.”

Manal Saleh, chief executive of the Egyptian Clothing Bank, a non-profit charity that repurposes discarded clothing and fabric waste. Nada El Sawy / The National

Her stall in the “Future Generations and Innovation Hub” features her non-profit charity Egyptian Clothing Bank, alongside for-profit start-up Up-Fuse.

The Egyptian Clothing Bank salvages pieces of clothing and fabric waste from landfill, manufacturing facilities, retailers and individuals and repurposes them.

If they are in good shape, they can be fixed up and donated to underprivileged university students. Damaged clothes and shoes can either be turned into blankets or children’s toys. Special vintage fabrics are used for a fashion line.

Up-Fuse, founded by Yara Yassin and Lama El Khawanky, transforms plastic waste and tires into fashionable handbags, clothes and shoes.

Amr Helmy, co-founder and chief technology officer of Shift EV, a start-up that converts conventional vehicles into electrical vehicles. Nada El Sawy / The National

A few booths away is Shift EV, an electric mobility start-up that converts conventional vehicles into electric vehicles at about 20 to 40 per cent of the cost of a new one in just a few hours.

The company started as the first facility in the Middle East and North Africa to design and manufacture lithium ion battery packs. Its factory now converts fleets of two-wheelers, three-wheelers and minivans for businesses through a subscription-based model.

“Everything that’s related to internal combustion — the engine, the fuel tank, the tail pipes — anything that results in emissions basically, we take it out and we put our own batteries and our own connectivity,” Shift EV’s chief technology officer and co-founder Amr Helmy told The National.

There are 12 entities that are customers in some respect, including German logistics company DB Schenker. By switching to electric, they save 80 per cent of the vehicles’ operational costs.

Shift EV has raised $9 million from investors since it was founded in March 2019 and has a pipeline of 1,000 cars per year.

Mr Helmy said despite the slow pace of the green zone, it was beneficial for networking with other start-ups, innovators and investors.

“You’re meeting a lot of like-minded people who are doing things differently,” he said. “All of these people would never have been in the same place in Cairo.”

Mariam Afifi, chief operating officer and co-founder of Tagaddod, a start-up that collects used cooked oil from Egyptian households to convert it into biofuel.

Tagaddod, a start-up that collects used cooking oil from Egyptian households to convert it into biofuel, was also in the same hub.

Chief operating officer and co-founder Mariam Afifi said it brought 24 of its 250 employees to participate in the booth.

“It’s very rare that these types of events happen in Egypt and we wanted to expose the employees…to the talks, to other companies within this space — to understand that they’re part of a bigger picture,” she told The National.

Tagaddod collects 1,500 tonnes of used cooking oil per month from around 20,000 households and 3,000 restaurants and businesses. The company wants to increase that number to 60,000 in 2023.

Because there is no market in Egypt for biofuel, Tagaddod exports the used cooking oil to HVO (hydrogenated vegetable oil) producers around the world. HVO has been approved for use as a sustainable aviation fuel.

Ms Afifi said she found the Green Zone useful in building partnerships, especially with Egyptian women’s organisations that can expand the start-up's reach.

“It’s great that they have actually given this space to SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and organisations to be here,” she said.

However, Ms Afifi said there should have been more efforts to make the Green Zone more attractive to visitors and include some of the important talks there. Even a live-streamed screen in the middle of the zone would help “to feel more involved”.

“It would have been very, very eye-opening if we had the opportunity to visit the Blue Zone and know what’s happening there,” she said.

“There have been a lot of interesting things that we’ve attended. But I still would have liked to see where the real action is.”

Updated: May 31, 2023, 10:04 AM