Eyeing climate reprisal, Arab states snuggle up and strategise ahead of the COP27 summit
As the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference approaches countries across the Arab world and further afield are racing to burnish their credentials in environmental protection.
Egypt, which will host the gathering better known as “COP27” from November 6 to 18 in the resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, has the greatest incentive to showcase its track record on climate change mitigation.
At the same time, Egypt’s neighbours – facing heat waves, wildfires, and worse – feel no less urgency to exploit COP27 as an opportunity to curb global warming.
"COP27 may represent a chance for Egypt’s neighbours to spread the often-considerable costs of climate change mitigation"
Just across the Red Sea from Egypt, Saudi Arabia is using the leadup to COP27 to improve its own reputation and draw closer to the North African country.
During Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s June visit to Egypt, Egyptian and Saudi officials discussed topics as varied as marine conservation, renewable energy, and sustainable tourism. On October 16, Saudi Arabia then dispatched a senior delegation to the fifth edition of Cairo Water Week.
The coming weeks will go a long way toward demonstrating Saudi Arabia’s collaboration with Egypt on environmental protection.
Mohammad bin Salman noted in an October 20 statement that Egypt will host summits for two of his signature projects, the Middle East Green Initiative and the Saudi Green Initiative, “in tandem with COP27.”
The crown prince added, “Our partnership with Egypt reflects a shared belief in the importance of collaborative action to address the environmental and climate challenges facing the region and the world today.”
Even academic institutions are joining in the Saudi outreach to Egypt. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a private university with long-standing ties to Saudi Aramco, will participate in the Sustainable Innovation Forum, which also overlaps with COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh.
All these initiatives will help Saudi Arabia market itself at COP27 as what Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud called “a model for” Arab sustainable development.
Jordan, another long-time ally of Egypt, is taking its own steps to promote its role at COP27 despite having more limited resources than Saudi Arabia.
Jordanian Environment Minister Muawieh Radaideh made a point of attending a key meeting of environment ministers in Copenhagen in May, and Jordanian ministers participated in conferences on climate change in Petra in September and October.
The Jordanian Environment Ministry has also called on civil society to join its delegation to “the sisterly Arab Republic of Egypt” at COP27.
Instability has weakened the ability of Egypt’s other Arab neighbours to prepare for COP27. Competing governments in Libya, both of which command a constellation of militias, all but preclude the formulation of a cohesive environmental policy and response to global warming.
Sudan, meanwhile, has suffered two coups d’état since 2019 while civil disorder and sectarian strife prevent authorities from enforcing effective measures for environmental protection.
Despite Libya and Sudan’s lack of action, the two countries need serious assistance with climate change mitigation. A May 2022 report by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute described Sudan as “severely exposed to climate change” with “extreme weather, recurrent floods and droughts, and changing precipitation.”
According to the International Committee for the Red Cross, Libya also faces “increased and more severe sand and dust storms, droughts and increased temperatures.”
COP27 may represent a chance for Egypt’s neighbours to spread the often-considerable costs of climate change mitigation, allowing Saudi Arabia and other wealthy kingdoms to lend a hand to developing countries such as Sudan.
Libya and Sudan will likely welcome collective action, given that the Sudanese Council for the Environment and Natural Resources has warned that “climate change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment.”
To some extent, the region is already moving in this direction. The Arab Coordination Group, a coalition to support developing countries that includes Emirati, Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Qatari, Saudi, and other Arab aid agencies, declared in June that it “agreed to provide financing to mitigate the impact of climate change and strengthen climate resilience.”
The coalition also pledged to “launch a detailed action plan at” COP27 with “a collective financial commitment and a roadmap to accelerate the energy transition, increase climate resilience and promote energy security.”
A glossary of “climate change terms” for COP27 published by the Egyptian State Information Service defines the hot-button issue of “climate finance” as “local, national or transnational financing – drawn from public, private and alternative sources of financing – that seeks to support mitigation and adaptation actions.”
The glossary adds, “Climate finance is needed for mitigation because large-scale investments are required to significantly reduce emissions.”
When climate finance reaches the agenda at COP27, the discussion will likely focus on the responsibility of wealthy countries such as China and the United States, two of the world’s biggest producers of greenhouse gas emissions, to assist their counterparts in the Global South.
Nonetheless, Egypt and its neighbours may also have a conversation among themselves on how best to cooperate on climate change mitigation. Whatever the immediate cost, the region has little choice but to share the burden of global warming in the long term.
Austin Bodetti is a writer specialising in the Arab world. His work has appeared in The Daily Beast, USA Today, Vox, and Wired