Starting Sunday, international attention will focus on Sharm El-Sheikh, host of COP 27 which will unfold in the entrancing natural setting of the city of peace and against a fraught global backdrop shaped by the cumulative political and economic repercussions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Hopes will be pinned on the participants at Sharm El-Sheikh rising to the challenges of climate change which threatens the entire planet. Egypt, as president of this year’s conference which will be attended by 190 nations, more than 90 heads of state and around 40,000 participants, has done its utmost to ensure COP27 transcends geopolitical differences and divisions to permit for open discussions of the urgent issues presented by climate change and binding agreements on effective solutions. Al-Ahram Weekly interviewed Egyptian Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad, ministerial coordinator and envoy to COP27, to learn about her views on the prospects of industrialised nations living up to their financial commitments to developing nations and on progress across the various fields of climate action.
What are the most important activities that will take place in Sharm El-Sheikh during COP27?
COP27 sets human needs at the heart of climate change. The conference’s thematic programme will be dedicated to discussions of energy, water, agriculture, and biodiversity. When we speak about climate change, we need to answer three questions. What? How? And who? What sectors will we focus on? How will we focus on them? The “how” we will find in science, funding, and solutions. The who addresses humankind and, specifically, the groups most affected and which can drive impact, namely youth, women and civil society. Adding what, who, and why to the sectoral topics, we get: energy, agriculture, water, biodiversity, funding, science, solutions, youth, women, and civil society. These define the order or headings of the conference’s thematic days.
Egypt espouses the African perspective on the challenges of climate change. Has Egypt developed an African agenda to present to the Summit of World Leaders? Will it be possible to build up sufficient impetus to reach a fair agreement for Africa, the region most vulnerable to the impacts and costs of climate change?
The conference will focus on several important points, especially the need to accelerate climate funding for developing nations, particularly African countries, which Egypt represents. Egypt, in collaboration with the Green Climate Fund, is in a position to identify types of international climate mitigation and accommodation initiatives that can contribute to improving the quality of life in these countries. We will propose several projects during what we see as an implementation conference that moves beyond the phase of funding pledges to the stage of execution.
African countries contribute less than four per cent of global harmful emissions, yet they suffer most from the consequences. African countries are the hardest hit by food insecurity and water scarcity.
This is the first time that international climate conference initiatives are built on a process of comprehensive global consultations. Six of the 14 initiatives to be proposed by the COP27 presidency have a clear focus on Africa, and two more include Africa in their aims.
The Fair and Affordable Energy Transition Initiative aims to unify and integrate existing efforts to help African countries accelerate their processes of energy transition. It will simultaneously serve as a point of reference for African countries and development for finance partners.
Egypt also seeks to roll out the successes of the Egyptian president’s Decent Life initiative across the continent. The Decent Life for Climate-Resistant Africa initiative, which will be carried out in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), aims to strengthen the adaptive capacities of rural communities. There is also an adaptation initiative for African women that aims to ensure better opportunities for women.
What other initiatives will the conference presidency present?
The COP27 presidency will present 14 initiatives addressing equitable energy transition, agriculture, food security, water security, climate adaptation, and sustainable cities. An important initiative on waste management aims to increase the amount of recycled waste in Africa to 50 per cent by 2050. At present, only around 10 per of the waste in Africa is recycled. Recycling creates green jobs and prevents waste burning which produces methane. The initiative will create the institutional frameworks to incorporate the African private sector into the waste management system.
In addition to these adaptation initiative and initiatives for African women, there is an initiative to support better nutritional habits that will reduce the production of greenhouse gasses and ensure better health for future generations. We also have a biodiversity initiative to safeguard aquatic environments. This is one of the initiatives that link desertification, biodiversity loss, and climate change, all of which jeopardise Africa’s natural resources. These initiatives also link the activities of COP27 with the forthcoming biodiversity conference in Canada in December 2022.
Sharm El-Sheikh was declared a green city in preparation for the conference. What does this mean?
Transforming Sharm El-Sheikh into a sustainable green city was the result of enormous collaborative efforts on the part of all government agencies and wholehearted support from the political leadership. The city now has a sustainable road and transportation system using environmentally friendly vehicles that run on electricity or natural gas. Around 110 to 120 hotels out of the 160 hotels in the city have received a green star, meaning they use new and renewable energy. Sixty diving centres have also received green stars. The whole of Sharm El-Sheikh Airport has transitioned to renewable energy thanks to solar energy panels that have been installed on top of airport buildings. The Sharm El-Sheikh Hospital is the first green hospital in Africa, and the city’s ultrafast Internet project has been completed.
To what extent has Egypt prioritised environmental issues?
Egypt was nominated to host the climate conference in November last year. Before this we hosted the biodiversity conference in 2018. As people familiar with these issues know, the conventions on climate and biodiversity are the two most important environmental agreements in the world. No other country has hosted these two conventions’ conferences in succession and Egypt will have hosted both in Sharm El-Sheikh.
There is a story I like to tell about this city. When I speak of an implementation conference, the point is to convey two messages. The first is that the existence of mangroves in Sharm El-Sheikh is proof of the link between biodiversity and climate change. The roots of the mangrove tree filtrate and purify water, balancing the environment to maintain biodiversity while above ground the leaves store carbon dioxide. The second message is that we need to get things done. This has been embodied in the transformation of Sharm El-Sheikh to a green urban space in every dimension, including energy, transportation, waste management, biodiversity and all other aspects of environmental preservation and human well-being. People will see that the ideas participants are talking about inside the conference halls are applied on the ground in Sharm El-Sheikh.
What types of activities are planned for the Green Zone? Will they have a direct impact on the discussions and negotiations in the Blue Zone where the main conference halls are located?
It was important to us for the Green Zone, which is a space for youth, women, civil society, indigenous communities, and academia, to be situated next to the Blue Zone, as per President [Abdel-Fattah] Al-Sisi’s instructions. Youth, as the leaders of tomorrow, have an important role to play. The recommendations they make during the Climate Change Conference of Youth (COY17) on 2-4 November will be presented to COP27 and we will provide opportunities for them to participate in and attend other conference activities.
Whenever a conference is described as comprehensive and representative, the question always arises as to where the voices of youth and future generations are. We were determined to ensure that when we say COP27 is a comprehensive conference these would not be idle words. So, the thematic days we have scheduled for the Blue Zone will have their counterparts in activities in the Green Zone, and when governments, private sectors and international organisations talk about funding, civil society, youth, women, universities, and indigenous communities will have a say on the same subject. This is why I describe COP27 as inclusive, integrated, and people-centric. It is a conference that gives all sectors of society the chance to discuss themes which are interrelated and complementary and reflect the human needs at the heart of climate change.
What, in Egypt’s view, are the priorities of the developing world, especially with regard to green funding and investment?
We have three main hopes. First, that everyone fulfils the pledges they made in Glasgow last year. I am referring not just to funding pledges but also to the commitments made on reducing emissions, updating plans, and mutual support. Second, that participants summon the political will and moral resolve to make progress on climate change. And third, that everyone sees existing problems, including food security, energy security, supply chain blockages, and political security, as additional reasons to ensure this conference gives hope to people around the world that we can overcome the grave challenges posed by climate change.
Mahmoud Mohieldin, Egypt’s climate champion, has compiled 50 projects for African and other developing nations to present for funding from the private sector and international bodies. This is important for Egypt. Our national climate strategy calls for 26 projects involving various ministries, with the Ministry of Environment playing a central role in their design. We have selected nine of these, all linked to essential needs such as energy, food and water, for funding sourcing in the conference, including projects launched by the Ministry of International Cooperation in the framework of the NWFE Programme, a nexus of water, food, and energy.
What is the link between Glasgow, Sharm El-Sheikh, and the UAE, where COP28 will be held?
Each conference passes the agreements and recommendations it reached in the negotiating tracks on to the next. The negotiating tracks are adaptation, mitigation, losses, and damages and financing. So, for example, for six years we worked on the framework agreement reached in COP21 in Paris. That work resulted in the action plan in Glasgow which brings us to the implementation conference in Sharm El-Sheikh.
What progress has the Environment Ministry made in climate mitigation and adaptation?
Climate governance involves improving climate-related financial infrastructures, such as bank financed climate projects, green bonds and green economic incentives for projects in energy, transportation, green hydrogen, waste management, and single-use plastic reduction. The ministry has designated a package of priorities for research and development projects in fields ranging from energy, transportation and carbon emissions reduction in the petroleum sector to agriculture, irrigation, and water management. Our climate mitigation and adaptation projects will cost an estimated $211 billion and $113 billion respectively to 2050.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.