Climate action has been high on the international community’s agenda for years, as can be seen from the meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COPs) concerned with climate change that have been taking place since 1995.
But the fact that the next COP meeting, the 27th, will be held outside of Europe for the first time in Egypt and in the world’s poorest continent, Africa, will add a new and crucial dimension to this action. The COP process, long dominated by Western outlooks, now has the chance to reflect the needs and preferences of African and other developing nations.
Egypt and other African countries have long held a clear and publicly stated position on international climate action. This says that while the African nations have contributed the least to greenhouse-gas emissions, which cause global warming, they suffer the most from the damage done to the climate and environment.
It also says that the industrialised nations, the US and China above all, are the largest source of harmful emissions and that therefore they have a special obligation to provide the necessary funding for climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in order to enable the developing nations to shift to more environmentally sound technologies and practices and to adapt to the detrimental impacts of climate change in a way that does not detract from their ability to achieve sustainable growth.
Things have begun to move more quickly in this direction since the beginning of this year and since Egypt was chosen to host the COP27 Climate Change Conference. Climate change is no longer just an issue that the leaders of the developing nations raise from time to time in UN discussions. It has now become a domestic concern in these nations and one that is being discussed in various public opinion forums.
NGOs and community organisations have begun to organise volunteer activities related to environmental conservation and climate protection, including projects to clean up beaches and coastal areas and campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers of the unregulated disposal of plastic waste and old electronic equipment.
Following the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, growing attention has also focused on the linkage between climate change and the food crisis suffered by the North African countries in particular and on how the African nations have to find new methods of agriculture adapted to the effects of climate change that will enable them to achieve food security.
As environmental awareness grows, the domestic and foreign private sectors in these countries have come to include environmentally friendly components in their activities. Many so-called “green” companies have emerged in the continent, especially in South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and Kenya, to sponsor projects aimed at fostering environmentally conscious behaviour.
Egypt’s assumption of the presidency of the COP27 Climate Conference has also ushered in “climate diplomacy” in Africa and the Middle East. This is not just the domain of governments, as the private sectors of the countries concerned have also played a major role in, for example, the workshops organised by Egyptian embassies across the continent to formulate unified demands expressing the priorities of the African nations on the implementation of international pledges on climate action.
This increasingly active climate diplomacy in Africa could alter the international agenda for climate action in a way that reflects the needs and priorities of the African countries. As these are the countries most adversely affected by climate change, they are particularly determined to ensure that the forthcoming conference leads to effective measures to activate and implement the pledges that were made at the COP26 in Glasgow last year. If the COP27 succeeds in this, it will have given the African nations a more prominent place on the map of international climate action.
However, these positive developments coincide with less-heartening ones that could undermine the political significance of the COP27 Conference and what it can achieve. Last week, several US banks that are members of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero threatened to leave the alliance formed at the COP26 meeting, in order to mobilise financing for climate action aimed at reducing harmful emissions to zero by 2050.
This could reduce the alliance’s financial contributions to climate action of critical importance to African and other developing nations. In addition, some voices in the US are now campaigning to void the forthcoming COP27 Conference of its substance, arguing that its success will translate into a success for Egypt and for its political and economic model of which they disapprove. It goes without saying that this is a shortsighted position that turns a blind eye to the fact that the conference is not about Egypt but is about discussing and stimulating action for crucial international climate work.
The international community has a golden opportunity at hand to build on the substantial developments in the African and other developing nations’ outlooks on the question of climate change. As the various activities in preparation for the COP27 Conference indicate, these countries now have hopes of making the agenda for climate action more inclusive of their priorities and more responsive to their needs, enabling them to continue to work towards sustainable development under the conditions of global climate change.
* The writer is head of the security research department at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and a visiting professor of political science at Cairo University.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.