COP27: Egypt says it wants to shift focus to developing countries
Egypt is attempting to position itself as an impartial arbiter while hosting this year's COP27 UN climate summit, as it pushes other nations to act on climate pledges while promoting the interests of the developing world, a senior Egyptian official said.
Egypt, where unauthorised protests are banned and brutally suppressed by the regime, might allow demonstrations during the 7 to 18 November summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, said Wael Aboulmagd, special representative to the COP27 president.
Analysts believe such rallies would be entirely environmental in focus, closely monitored or organised by the regime, and fit with the government's agenda, given that Egypt has undergone its most severe political repression in living memory.
Thousands of activists have been jailed and members of the Muslim Brotherhood given death sentences.
A natural gas exporter, Egypt takes over the presidency of the UN climate talks from the UK.
Yet it also coincides with Egypt's push to extract more gas from the Mediterranean.
Last year's summit in Glasgow, Scotland, ended with the nearly 200 countries in attendance promising to strengthen their climate pledges this year.
Wealthy nations also disappointed many in Glasgow by saying they would not deliver the $100 billion per year promised from 2020 until 2023 to help developing countries with their energy transition and with adapting to a warming world.
Delivering this financing is among Egypt's priorities for COP27. It also wants to focus on securing separate "loss and damage" funds, or compensation payments to climate-vulnerable countries already suffering from climate-related weather extremes, Aboulmagd said in an interview.
"There are issues that are of interest and priority to developing countries, and there are high expectations from us as a developing country to ensure that these issues are taken on board and that they achieve commensurate progress with how important they are," he said.
But Egypt also would seek to mediate between developed and developing countries that have clashed over issues including carbon emissions and climate financing, as it tries to help steer a move from pledges to action, Aboulmagd said.
"In this particular year it is in the interest of the process that a perception of impartiality and equal distance from everyone is maintained."
Aboulmagd said Egypt was working to launch about 17 voluntary initiatives in areas including food and agriculture and water management, hoping to inspire ideas and action to help countries meet their pledges.
Egypt is fine-tuning its own updated target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, known as a nationally determined contribution (NDC).
"We intend to move even faster, despite very difficult circumstances," Aboulmagd said, referring to economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
Egypt's nomination as host of COP27 has been met with bemusement from climate activists within Egypt, viewing it as another of Sisi's tactics to portray the country positively. Yet, serious climate and social challenges in Egypt remain to be answered ⬇ https://t.co/8vF99kmXlU— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) December 15, 2021
To promote global access and representation at COP27, Egypt has sought to fast-track accreditation for under-represented civil society organisations from Africa, Aboulmagd said.
"There are certain rules and we're working with the secretariat to ensure that if there are people who want to protest, they're entitled to do that, and it's done in a peaceful manner," he said.
"It's good to have people yelling at you - hopefully not throwing stuff at you, but just yelling at you and we're accustomed to that."
Yet the government has shown no tolerance toward such acts of protest in the past and thousands of pro-democracy activists languish in jails, where torture is routine and conditions are dire.
This includes Alaa Abdel Fattah, a human rights campaigner who is on hunger strike over his detention by the regime.
Egypt's government had worked with hotels to provide affordable accommodation for participants in Sharm el-Sheikh, a tourist resort on the Red Sea, he said.
"What we have done to the utmost is to ensure that decent hotels and very reasonable rates are made available."
(Reuters contributed to this report)