A successful conference

Ziad Bahaa-Eldin
Tuesday 15 Nov 2022

COP27 was successful for sure, writes Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, but how to capitalise on that? 

 

The right question to ask is not whether Egypt succeeded in organsing the COP27 Climate Conference. It certainly succeeded, and it was an impressive success in at least four respects: from the point of view of organisation, management, safety and security, which were at an almost impeccable level; in responsibly representing the African continent; in actively participating in all sessions, activities and events of the conference, with remarkable intellectual and scientific contributions; and with respect to the highly distinguished representation by banks, companies, industry and trade associations, universities, research institutes, NGOs, young entrepreneurs and others.

The question we should really be asking ourselves is what to do with this success. Should we rejoice in it, celebrate, and just exchange congratulations, and then go back to our normal affairs? Or should we instead think of investing it – especially in the economic field – so as to build on it for the future, considering it a starting point to overcome the economic crisis we are still facing?

In my opinion, the economic situation and the climate conference are linked, because it is up to us to take advantage of the conference’s success to overcome the economic crisis. But this will not be achieved alone. It requires conscious decisions from the state to encourage the participation of the private sector, and maintain the pace of the positive vibes generated by the conference.

To prove my point that such a positive pace will not continue by itself, let me remind you that this is unfortunately not the first time in the past years that we have had the opportunity to achieve economic progress and wasted it. There was similar optimism in the wake of the investment conference held in March 2015 in Sharm El-Sheikh and attended by the whole world. Those in charge of investment at the time assured us that agreements worth billions had been concluded. But then all of that evaporated because there was no follow-up or implementation of supportive policies. The same thing happened again in the wake of the “big floatation” in November 2016. Again optimism was high about the return of investment and the ensuing rise in production, export and employment. But once again the floatation was not accompanied by policies to support investment, so we paid the price twice: once in the inflation that accompanied the floatation, and once again in the absence of returns from the much anticipated investments .

Now we are at the same point again, but with significant differences.

The first difference is that COP27 was bigger, more complex and far more important than any previous occasion hosted by Egypt. Therefore, the positive outcomes from its success are also much greater.

The second difference is that in 2015, following the investment conference, we had different paths and alternatives to choose from. Today - with the rise in external public debt, high inflation, difficulty in borrowing externally, and bad economic conditions globally - our only option is real and rapid economic reform that allows us to attract private investment, local before foreign, and unleash the potential for production, innovation, employment and export.

The success of the economic conference and the interest it brought in Egypt, the promotion of our tourism, the rapprochement we achieved with so many countries around the world, the building of bridges with world leaders, the high profile attained by our leading companies and financial institutions, and the promotion of our investment opportunities, in addition to the imminent conclusion of the agreement with the International Monetary Fund and the rest of the donor development institutions: all this will give Egypt - on the economic level - a big boost and the significant international support we need to overcome our economic crisis. But it is just a boost. If we do not use it to propel ourselves on the path of economic reform, then its impact will expire after a short period and we will return to the same problems, concerns and crises.

That is a reflection for the near future. But for the time being, my sincere appreciation and respect to all those who worked so hard to make the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Conference such a resounding success, my best wishes for its safe conclusion, and my hope that one day it will be said that it was the moment when the Egyptian economy took a turn towards long-term and sustainable reform.

 

The writer is an economist. This article also appears in today’s edition of the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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