Egyptians ‘running out of time’ to join Cop27 baton relay from UK

Race organisers still have slots for people to join the 275km Sinai segment that will start at the Taba border crossing and end in Sharm El Sheikh

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Thousands of people will have taken part in carrying a baton along its almost 8,000-kilometre relay through 18 countries from Glasgow, which hosted Cop26, to Cop27 host Sharm El Sheikh by the time it arrives for the summit in early November.

But organisers of the Running Out of Time relay to raise climate change awareness say people are literally running out of time to take part and there are still spaces open for the 275-kilometre Egypt segment.

Only eight people have registered so far for the 27 stages in the Sinai Peninsula that start at the Taba border crossing with Israel and end in Sharm El Sheikh, the site of the UN climate summit that is set to begin on November 6.

Running Out of Time’s operations director Hetty Key said she is not concerned and that “by and large, we see sign-ups fairly close to the event”.

Participants can run, cycle or sail in their stage, with the minimum number of people per stage being one and the maximum 25.

The organisers have dealt with many logistical challenges during the non-stop relay that started on September 30 — from “last-minute drop-outs at 1 am” to navigating a glacier crossing in the Alps.

“It is never a dull day,” Ms Key said.

On November 4, the baton will cross the Israeli-Egyptian border, which organisers have co-ordinated carefully “to make sure there aren’t any issues” and that “we have everything in place”, she said.

Sinai desert run

The main challenges in the Egyptian section of the race are the heat and remoteness of Sinai, a sparsely populated desert region with few roads and barren mountains.

The relay will pass through small fishing towns along the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba. The only places that attract some tourists are Dahab and, to a lesser extent, Nuweiba and Taba further north.

After finding out about the relay through Running Out of Time’s Twitter account, James Scanlan, an Arabic-English translator, registered for three stages of the race and will complete 27km near Dahab on the morning of November 5.

“I loved the idea and I love running, [especially in] support of alternative, human-powered means of travel”, Mr Scanlan told The National.

James Scanlan, a British Arabic-English translator who lives in Dahab, signed up to run nearly 30 kilometres in the Cop27 baton relay. Photo: James Scanlan

Mr Scanlan lived in Cairo in 2017 and worked for the American University in Cairo Press before deciding to relocate to Dahab with his Egyptian wife.

“We moved out of Cairo to Dahab to be in nature, by the sea, by mountains,” said Mr Scanlan, 31.

He is an avid long-distance runner who has completed marathons and ultra-marathons. A few years ago, he decided to walk from Morocco to the UK over the course of six months.

In 2018, he and his wife walked a total of around 100km from Cairo to Tanta along the Alexandria railway line.

Last year, they walked more than 130km from Cairo to Mansoura as they followed the Damietta branch of the Nile Delta.

He applauds the effort to raise environmental awareness and believes “change does come from activism”.

Kenyan climate researcher and training co-ordinator Caroline Ouko at the UN Climate Change Conference in the UK last year. Photo: Caroline Ouko

Caroline Ouko, a senior climate research scientist and training co-ordinator from Kenya, signed up for a 9km stage in Sharm El Sheikh.

Her focus at Cop27 is on the theme of Ace, or Action for Climate Empowerment, which covers education, training, public awareness, public access to information, public participation and international co-operation.

“That is why I joined [the relay] because it is calling for climate action,” said Ms Ouko, 49.

She attended her first Cop summit in Kenya in 2005 as a student and went to Glasgow’s Cop26 last year.

Quoting Kenyan Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, she said “we should always be like a hummingbird” to make a difference in climate change.

Ms Maathai told a story of a forest consumed by fire as the animals watched helplessly, except for a hummingbird that filled its small beak with water and went back and forth trying to put out the flames.

“Whatever little we can do will add up somehow,” Ms Ouko said. “You take action, you address an issue. And if we are a critical mass, then we will make a difference.”

The Egypt Green Building Council will also be holding side events along the relay route to talk about its projects, the built environment and climate change action people can take.

The non-profit organisation was founded in 2012 and is an emerging member of the World Green Building Council, a global network that aims to establish green buildings around the world and bring about change.

For the grand finale that runs along the Naama Bay walk in Sharm El Sheikh on the evening of November 5, Ms Key said they are considering ideas to make it an “incredibly special moment” while taking into account security clearances and other considerations.

It is then that the baton's message — which would have been taken over glaciers, mountains and deserts — will be shared with climate leaders.

“We want to make sure that we are, despite the remoteness and the challenges, really celebrating what [the relay participants] have been doing,” Ms Key said.

Updated: October 26, 2022, 9:10 AM