For the next two years, the Arab world will bear the climate change torch with Cop27 and Cop28 hosted in Egypt and the Emirates, respectively. Each of the two countries will preside over international climate change efforts for the 12 months following their respective conferences. In agreeing to host these events, both have shown an unwavering commitment to multilateralism and the global common good, as well as the courage, confidence and conviction with which challenges must be met even in the most difficult times.
The past few months’ focus has been on the tragic and very dangerous events in the Ukraine. They threaten to shake the world order at its seams, and have driven the powers that be to openly threaten the use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Cop27, from November 6 to 18, will bear witness to the international community attempting to tackle an existential climate change threat that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described as one that has placed our community at the very precipice of oblivion.
The volatile, acutely polarised political landscape and the immense economic challenges caused by the Ukraine war are not conducive to a strategic environment for decision-making in the best interests of the global community. We do not, however, have the luxury of procrastination with respect to immediately addressing the dangerously increasing consequences of climate degradation. International co-operation in these circumstances is imperative despite the ominous challenges posed by the global politico-economic landscape.
This is the context within which Egypt will formally take on the Presidency of the Global Climate Change Agenda. The spotlight will be focused intensely on the city of Sharm El Sheikh, with over 90 heads of State and government committed to attending, including those representing states in conflict as well as numerous anxious entities from the NGO and business communities. Hopefully, a year from now Cop28 will be convened in more auspicious circumstances.
Operational issues for events of this size will always be challenging, but I believe they are surmountable. In the existing environment of polarisation, with a dark cloud looming over international co-operation and consultation, any slight misstep or over-extension by a participant can overshadow – if not derail – serious and important negotiations.
Some argue that Egypt is bearing great risk by hosting Cop27 at this volatile political juncture. The risk is there, but given its long standing commitment to multilateralism, and the severe consequences the Mediterranean and North Africa face as a result, it is not surprising that the challenge has been taken on. Egypt believes it has a special responsibility to bear in this regard.
Others also argue that climate change targets unmet at Glasgow have almost no chance of being fulfilled in Sharm El Sheikh, given the challenging global circumstances. That is probably true, but that is even more reason to shed a bright light on excessive practices and inequities negatively affecting efforts to address climate change issues and try to address as many as possible. Time is of the essence.
Egypt will face a moral, technological and economic challenge. We all have the right to legitimately pursue development goals and better standards of living. Excessive consumerism by the developed world without due consideration for climate change’s consequences is the root cause for present circumstances. These policies are what make it more probable that any global warming will be limited to a temperature closer to 2°C rather than the imperative 1.5°C .The developed world, not the developing one, should carry a substantial share of costs in addressing these issues. And addressing climate change should not be at the expense of legitimate development aspirations in developing countries.
At the same time, the international community at large must increasingly and more rapidly move towards cleaner technologies. That requires significant investment in sustainable energy and cleaner technologies, as well as enabling the less affluent to have access to them at viable costs. More sophisticated technologies, at lower costs and with wider equitable distribution, is critical. Funding resilience and sustainability is necessary. And the unmet annual $100 billion commitment previously made for this is no longer sufficient. Climate finance and climate adaptation is a condition sine qua none for progress.
As Cop27 President, Egypt will be duty-bound to pursue objectives with global consensus, not only its national goals or those of developing countries. It has thus accepted that the Sharm El Sheikh conference will primarily be one implementation rather than increasing past emissions targets, in addition to other concrete proposals and actions.
Overcoming cool relations between the US and China to engage in serious and constructive climate change negotiations will seriously test Egypt’s diplomacy. As will the containment of any potential political posturing between Nato countries and Russia. I would hope that with its history of diplomatic dexterity Egypt could even use the presence of so many high-level attendees for some diplomatic door-opening or ice-shattering, even beyond the issue of climate change. Political de-escalation has rarely been more important than it is today.
Nevertheless, the developing world, and Africa in particular, will be expecting better results in Sharm El Sheikh, given Egypt’s stature. They will hope for more substantial and responsive climate change financial support than they have previously received.
Expectations will also be high for Sharm El Sheikh to lead to more equitable support for the developing world, too. Africa, after all, hosts 17 per cent of the world’s population and generates only 3 per cent of CO2 emissions because of low rates of development and limited availability of basic services. It is also worth highlighting that 60 per cent of what has been pledged to help developing countries thus far comes in the form of loans. Investments in climate change transition, particularly in the region’s private sector remains financially unattractive and well below required standards. Ultimately, climate change success globally and especially for developing countries is predicated in synchronising environmental and development policies encouraging public and private sector sources of financing .
These are challenging times, but Egypt clearly has the confidence and conviction required to play its role and bear its responsibilities. Success or failure however will have to be put in context. The Global Community at large stands at an historic crossroads. Through its positions and actions, the global community as a whole will determine success or failure at Sharm El Sheikh and define potential pathways towards the future.