The international community’s choice of Egypt as the venue for the 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP27) in November this year is a recognition of the stability and development Egypt has achieved over the past seven years and a landmark in the recovery of its international status.
But the choice has not sat well with those who do not wish well to Egypt and its people. They maintain that Egypt cares little about environmental protection and that it has made no progress in this domain, a claim that is patently false, as I know from personal experience.
Some years ago, I had the good fortune to meet with and learn a lot from three leading international environmental experts, all of them Egyptian, Abdel-Fattah Al-Qassas, Mustafa Tolba, and Rushdi Said. Out of my concern for the issue, I presented a motion to discuss the issue in parliament. After I spoke, a fellow MP complimented my speech, then adding that “fortunately, we live in a good and decent environment, thank God.” At the time there was little awareness about environmental issues. In fact, the man thought I had been talking about the social environment.
The disappointment only increased my determination to draw attention to crucial environmental concerns. Along with like-minded colleagues, I pressed for the creation of a national council or Ministry of the Environment. A ministry was then created and was headed by Laila Iskander, a social entrepreneur long involved in promoting environmental and social development projects. She was concerned by global warming, and she urged measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She presented proposals to this end, but unfortunately the cabinet at that time was not interested.
But Egypt was not alone at that time in its lack of concern for environmental dangers. Since then, however, the question has become of paramount importance, and Egypt has made great strides at the governmental, parliamentary, and civil society levels in raising awareness and taking the necessary actions to address environmental problems.
Under President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, the environment has acquired the priority it merits. His personal concern has been practical and exacting. On opening a cement factory, for example, when given a presentation that covered the technical and financial aspects of the project, he said, “now tell me about the environmental impacts.” Without the proper precautions, cement production is an environmentally pollutant industry.
Al-Sisi also attended the Biodiversity Conference hosted by Egypt, making him the first Egyptian president to place the environment high on the national agenda and on the agenda of the presidency. Soon after coming to power, he issued a presidential decree on producing electricity from renewable energy sources, the first of many similar acts to promote clean and renewable energy.
In case some think I am blinded by pro-government bias, I will turn to other media sources to testify to the new political will and the consequent progress in environmental matters.
The US channel CNN, known for its biases in favour of Israel, Turkey, and Qatar and its inclination to ignore Egypt’s achievements, has recently hailed a number of developments in Egypt such as the new desalinisation plant at Gabal Al-Asfar, the initiative to replace old petrol-guzzling cars with more environmentally friendly natural-gas powered vehicles, the new green public transport network, the clean energy awareness-raising campaign targeting women in rural Egypt, and the grassroots project started by a group of women to recycle used cooking oil in energy production.
In addition, there is the monorail project that operates on electric power and the new battery powered microbuses that have begun to replace those operating on diesel.
The Egyptian government is applying the latest international standards for sustainable, smart, and green urban development. One example is the New Administrative Capital, which according to one report is a model of integrated sustainable development with interconnected systems for waste management, clean energy, and green lungs. According to the report, there is 17 m2 of green space per capita, in keeping with international standards.
New legislation is now in place to stimulate and regulate investment in green energy. The government has increased investment in green projects and is expected to raise it again soon. In September 2020, Egypt became the first Arab country to issue green bonds, selling $750 million worth of the five-year bonds to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability and to investing in the green economy to ensure a healthy environment with a minimal carbon footprint for future generations.
In 2020, Egypt chaired the Conference on Biological Diversity. It is co-chair of the African Group of Negotiators on the Climate Change Agreement and co-chair with the UK of a coalition on climate adaptation and resilience. To my knowledge, Egypt is the only country that has a group of environmental activists called “Youth Against Coal.”
Successful work speaks for itself. But it is also important for Egyptians to be aware of these developments. In her recent meeting with Al-Sisi, Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, lauded Egypt’s progress, noting that it was one of the first developing nations to adopt decisive policies on climate change. She added that she looked forward to the COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, which she believes will be a milestone summit on climate change.
Al-Sisi expressed his appreciation of the fruitful cooperation with the UN and his hopes for the forthcoming collaboration in preparing for the conference in Sharm El-Sheikh. Egypt, he said, is eager to build on the outputs of the COP26 Glasgow meeting last year with the aim of promoting practical and internationally applicable solutions and commitments regarding actions related to reducing carbon emissions and marshalling the necessary funding.
The world’s attention will be focused on Egypt in November this year, and I have no doubt that the Egyptian government and people will rise to the task of hosting a successful conference.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.