US climate envoy John Kerry paid a two-day visit to Egypt this week during which he held talks with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Foreign Minister and COP27 President Sameh Shoukri.
On Monday, Shoukri and Kerry participated in the first meeting of the joint US-Egypt climate working group which they had agreed to set up in November 2021. According to the US State Department, the group has two foci: this year’s COP27 climate summit, which is scheduled to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh in November, and “bilateral cooperation on a range of mitigation and adaptation-related issues”.
The working group’s Monday meeting was the result of the latest round of strategic dialogue between Egypt and the US, according to a statement released by Presidential Spokesman Bassam Radi.
“Egypt has always been interested in consulting with the United States on climate change as part of the Egyptian-American partnership, and in preparation for COP27,” President Al-Sisi said. Egypt, as president of the next COP27 summit, will adopt a comprehensive and objective approach taking the priorities of all countries into account and ensuring the summit ends with positive results for the climate, he added.
The president also stressed that Egypt will work towards helping developing countries get the funding they need to contain the negative impacts of climate change.
Kerry said the United States is confident Egypt’s leadership of COP27 will give much needed momentum to international efforts on climate change, and that he is aware Egypt has concerns about developing countries, particularly African ones, in terms of fighting climate change, cutting emissions and green transition.
Al-Sisi and Kerry also discussed US involvement in Egypt’s energy sector, not least ways to reinforce cooperation between the two countries and open the door to American companies and institutions to be involved in Egypt’s efforts to establish itself as a regional energy hub and achieve ambitious goals in green hydrogen, solar and wind energy, and low-carbon and electric transport.
Egypt, said President Al-Sisi, has taken great strides towards creating a favourable climate for energy investments in terms of passing and amending laws and creating new sources of finance for green projects such as issuing green bonds.
Following the meeting with Al-Sisi, Kerry delivered an address at the American University in Cairo on the future of international climate action, saying: “We know the world is appropriately focused and following the situation in Ukraine, where critical values and countless lives are at stake. Today, I am here to talk about another threat to the planet, our changing climate.”
The former US Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate emphasised “implementation plus”, explaining that this “means delivering on existing commitments, strengthening commitments that are not strong enough, and creating new commitments and efforts where none exist”.
Kerry said he was happy to be in Egypt eight months before it hosts COP27.
“I come here now because these eight months are filled with promise and challenge, and it is imperative we — all of us — do everything in our power to give life to the many commitments of COP26 in Glasgow. We must make these months count for the climate fight with all the passion and energy we can summon. Not because President Biden or I say so — but because scientists around the world are compiling evidence that is screaming at us to protect the planet and act now to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.”
Kerry added that it was particularly fitting to gather in Egypt, the “Mother of the World”.
He argued that COP27 should aim to build on what was achieved in COP26 last November, saying that the 200 nations which came together in Glasgow had taken unprecedented steps in pursuit of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal the requires cutting greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 45 per cent by 2030, and achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
Kerry warned that if the world did not stick to these goals “we likely will not avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis”.
“In the US alone,” he said, “extreme weather took almost 700 lives and cost more than $145 billion in damage.”
He added that developed countries must make every effort to fulfill their collective goal to mobilise $100 billion annually to help developing countries reduce emissions and confront the impacts of climate change. “Our climate and our atmosphere do not distinguish between emissions from one country or one continent — every ounce of pollution counts the same.”
On Monday, Kerry met with Shoukri, after which they held a press conference. A subsequent press release said “both countries — Egypt and the US — underscored their determination to work together for a successful and ambitious 2022 and COP27. In light of the importance of strengthened adaptation efforts and this year’s Africa COP, Egypt and the United States expressed their determination to strengthen and support adaptation action in Africa, including through jointly hosting an Adaptation in Africa event on the road to COP27.”
Abdel-Hai Ebeid, chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, commented on Kerry’s visit to Egypt in a TV interview.
“Since Joe Biden came to office in January 2021, Egyptian-American relations have been a little bit frosty. But with repeated visits by US officials to Egypt ahead of November’s COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, I think we will see relations getting warmer and warmer,” he said.
Abdallah Al-Sinnawi, a journalist and political commentator, pointed out that while economic relations between the two countries are going well “in political terms, relations are not so warm, though this may change because of the holding of the Sharm El-Sheikh summit, and through strategic dialogue on thorny issues such as human rights and arm sales”.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.