Human rights and COP27

Alaa Shalaby, Tuesday 22 Mar 2022

The UN COP27 meeting on climate change to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh in November will help promote an accurate image of Egypt and its achievements abroad, writes Alaa Shalaby

The COP27 to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh in November, the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), will represent a landmark in Egypt’s march towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), strengthening its role in leading the developing countries towards a just distribution of burdens and allowing them to receive the financial assistance they need to meet the challenges of climate change.

The SDGs and actions taken to confront climate change are based on human rights norms identified in international law and in conformity with Egypt’s international human rights obligations. These are guaranteed in Article 93 of Egypt’s Constitution and reflected in Egypt’s National Human Rights Strategy 2021-2026.

The COP27 meeting is an opportunity that Egypt can seize in order to overcome certain obstacles, especially the false and negative image deliberately created abroad after the 30 June  Revolution to hinder the country’s independent path.

Last week, the Dubai EXPO 2020 in the UAE hosted a symposium on the “Right to a Safe Environment and Climate Change” organised by the Arab League in partnership with the UAE Ministry for Foreign Affairs and international cooperation. The UAE is hosting the COP28 meeting after Egypt’s hosting of COP27, and both countries are leading the region on five advanced models in response to the UNFCCC.

The symposium was organised on the 14th anniversary of Arab Human Rights Day, marked on 16 March each year when the Arab Charter for Human Rights came into force in 2008. 

The right to a safe, healthy and sustainable environment was first recognised at the 1972 Stockholm Conference on Human Development and re-emphasised by the UN General Assembly in 1991. It gained further international recognition as a result of the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and the 2002 Johannesburg Summit, along with the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), ending in 2015, the SDGs, ending in 2030, and various resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).

One of the main points discussed at the symposium in the UAE focused on the possibility of accelerating successful efforts made by Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Algeria in the context of hosting the COP meetings in 2022 and 2023.

Another point tackled was the region’s sometimes negative global image, and while the discussions avoided traditionally defensive approaches and conspiracy theories, the participants were keen not to exclude their own possible responsibilities for this as well as not to go too deeply into the Ukraine tragedy and its harmful impacts on Arabs and Africans. 

On the contrary, they paid attention to how the Arab countries can produce a better global image in the present situation, particularly since Arab societies are blessed with human wealth, human expertise, and natural resources.

The discussions pointed to the positive experiences that have been achieved in recent years, often in Egypt, which has achieved a lot in a very short period of time. The unique contribution that Egypt can make to COP27 relates to its position as a developing country and its major influence in both the Arab and the African worlds, as well as its remarkable achievements in the context of development in general and in the protection of the environment in particular.

It is not always easy to appreciate the full range of these achievements, since often they are hidden in government press releases. Even these do not always give comprehensive knowledge of what has been achieved, not least because there is no single place in which they have all been gathered. 

However, some achievements that might be emphasised include the adoption of advanced methods by Egypt’s Water Administration, including redirecting rainwater to the forestation of arid land, and the expansion of sanitation, including the scientific treatment of agricultural wastewater and of waste and solid waste. There has also been a doubling of the production rates of clean and renewable energy.

Such achievements should be accompanied by advances in core human rights as part of the Decent Life Initiative that is changing the lives of 57 million people in Egypt’s long-neglected countryside and border areas, drawing upon recent models of success and modernising living conditions to international standards. There are also Egypt’s 23 new cities and new economic, industrial, and commercial areas, along with new transportation networks and the addition of 2.6 million acres to the country’s farmland.

The core human right of ensuring dignity for all governs the state’s economic and social policies, emphasised on the economic and social level in 2016-2017 with the introduction of the Solidarity and Dignity cash-transfer programmes that support roughly 17 million citizens and the social-housing initiative that has been making inroads on remedying the country’s housing problems that have been present since the mid-1970s.

On the political level, there have been efforts made since 2014 to promote equal citizenship among all Egypt’s religious communities while also promoting gender and age equality. 

A further significant change came recently with the new rehabilitation complexes for prisoners, which will increase over the next three years from two complexes to six, replacing 47 other prisons and emphasising the principle that prisoners are only deprived of their freedom and not of their human dignity.

In the light of all these achievements, however, there is still a need to publicise them more widely, along with Egypt’s recently adopted National Human Rights Strategy. This would allow observers both at home and abroad to rely upon verified information and avoid political manipulation and false allegations.

A greater openness towards international counterparts and civil-society organisations working on human rights and the environment would be in the best interests of the country and would help in the promotion of the correct picture of Egypt circulating abroad.

* The writer is president of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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