From 6-18 November, the world will turn its attention to Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt, where the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) will take place.
The COP is the highest decision-making body of the convention, in which all states parties are represented to review the implementation of the convention and any other legal instruments adopted by the conference.
Its main task is to review national communications and greenhouse-gas emissions inventories submitted by the parties. Based on this information, it will assess the effects of the measures taken by states to reduce them and the progress made in achieving the ultimate objectives of the convention.
Crucial decisions are also taken to support the achievement of these goals and to promote the effective implementation of the convention, including institutional and administrative arrangements.
The COP meets annually, with the first version being held in Berlin, Germany, in 1995. Each meeting has its own number from COP1 to this year’s COP27. The five UN-recognised regions of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, and Western Europe, as well as the small island states, rotate in holding the COP presidency, and there is also a tendency for the COP venue to be swapped among these groups.
Last November, Egypt was announced as the representative of the continent of Africa to host the activities of the 27th edition of the COP to the UN convention in Sharm El-Sheikh.
During the first 23 years of the UN, work on climate issues was limited to operational activities, primarily through the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The beginnings of a real interest in environmental issues were at the UN Scientific Conference, also known as the “First Earth Summit”, which was held in Stockholm, Sweden, in June 1972. This adopted a declaration outlining the principles of conservation of the environment and its protection. The issue of climate change was raised for the first time, and the summit asked governments to examine activities that could lead to climate change.
Over the next 20 years, as part of efforts to implement the 1972 resolutions, concern for the climate slowly gained international attention. In 1979, the Governing Council of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) asked its executive director to monitor and evaluate the long-range transport of air pollutants, the result being the adoption of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985.
By 1988, global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer had become increasingly prominent in international public debate, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a forum for examining global warming and climate change, met for the first time in November of that year.
1989 was a watershed year for climate change, when the UN General Assembly, in Resolution 44-207, endorsed the request of the UNEP Governing Council to begin preparations with the WMO for negotiations on a framework agreement on climate change.
But the actual inauguration of serious steps to deal with the crisis only began in 1992, which saw the holding of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the representation of 170 governments and the attendance of 116 heads of state.
Since then, the issue of climate change has become an important one at international conferences, which are held periodically and at the highest levels with the aim of saving the Earth from the repercussions of climate change and reducing deadly carbon emissions.
The UN Framework Agreement on Climate Change, the most significant international action to date, aimed to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human impacts on the climate system. It came into force in 1994.
In March 1995, the first COP convened and launched discussions on a protocol containing stronger commitments for developed and transition countries. Perhaps the Paris meeting, COP21, has been the most famous thus far because of the launch of the Paris Agreement. But during the previous summits, there were also important developments.
Perhaps the 26th COP summit in Glasgow, UK, was the main sign of a growing disappointment among activists and some participants on action to prevent climate change.
After a year of hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, COP26 was weak and indecisive, especially after the world financial crisis that affected a large number of countries obliged to pay for climate finance.
The summit came after the US left the Paris Agreement at the hands of former president Donald Trump. But the promises of climate finance were later renewed by President Joe Biden, who returned the US to the agreement.
In September, I met Hakima Al-Haiti, Moroccan minister of the environment during the COP22 in Morocco. She said that Moroccan society had been widely impacted by the organisation of the conference, and its consequences and positive effects had extended beyond it.
In addition to the increase in awareness and personal interest in recycling and the use of environmentally friendly products, a large number of non-profit institutions working in the field of the environment and the climate have since emerged in Morocco, with an increasing interest on the part of the state and the government in supporting them.
In Egypt, there has also been a major rise in environmental and climate awareness among all sections of the population as a result of the organisation of the COP27, and there has been real participation between all the concerned ministries to prepare for it.
Egypt is one of the countries most at risk from the effects of climate change, despite its being one of the countries contributing least to greenhouse gas emissions, at 0.6 per cent of the world’s total emissions. Egypt’s signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1994, as well as the Kyoto Protocol, which it ratified in 2005, that requires national reports from all signatory countries every five years.
Egypt signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, which enshrined the international community’s pledge to limit the rise in global temperature “below two degrees Celsius” compared to the pre-Industrial Revolution era, and to follow up efforts to stop the temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius.
This is to be done by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, taking measures to reduce energy consumption, investing in alternative energies and reforestation, and seeking to establish a mechanism for reviewing pledges every five years.
During the work of the 2016 Paris Conference, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi referred to the dangers of the Earth’s temperature increasing by more than one and a half degree Celsius, calling for a fair and clear agreement with regard to preserving the climate and the need to reach an international agreement that guarantees the achievement of a global goal that limits harmful emissions.
He asked for support for Egypt’s efforts to confront climate change, for a focus on developing countries with regard to climate change, and for the provision of $100 billion annually to address climate change by 2020 and double it thereafter.
Egypt has recently launched its National Climate Change Strategy 2050 and is currently finalising its updated national contributions, which will include specific and ambitious quantitative goals in a number of key sectors to reflect the efforts that Egypt has made and is making to achieve a fair transition to a green economy and renewable energy.
These contributions will also clarify the responsibilities that Egypt is undertaking to spare its people the negative effects of climate change and build its ability to withstand and adapt to it, especially in the light of successive global crises that have repercussions on energy and food prices.
Egypt sees the importance of not slipping into so-called “voluntary commitments”, according to a Russian proposal supported by the industrialised countries that aims to provide financial and technological incentives to the developing countries while knowing that these incentives already exist and in fact are the right of the developing countries in accordance with the UN Convention and Protocol.
The fulfillment by the developed countries of their obligations towards the developing countries, especially those most exposed to the risks of climate change, is a fundamental pillar in the success of negotiations on future obligations. There is also a need to focus on the issue of adaptation, along with the issues of mitigation and the reduction of gas emissions.
Egypt believes that the discussion of climate change should remain within the framework of the regular meetings, negotiations and conferences whose work is organised within the framework of the UN Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol and that the issue should not be politicised against the interests of the developing countries.
Egypt’s leadership of the COP27 as a representative of Africa started in 2015 when it chaired the African Ministers of the Environment Conference and the African States and Governments Committee on Climate Change. It is taking vigorous steps to prepare national studies and strategies on the effects of climate change and the most appropriate ways to confront it. The National Council for Climate Change (NCCC) was formed two years ago headed by the prime minister to prepare a national strategy to confront the effects of climate change, now published as the National Climate Change Strategy 2050.
Its importance lies in enabling the Egyptian state to respond effectively to the effects and repercussions of climate change in a way that contributes to achieving sustainable economic growth and preserving natural resources and ecosystems, while enhancing the country’s role at the international level.
Egypt also represents the African continent in the Green Climate Fund with Tanzania, South Africa, Sudan and Gabon, which is the financing mechanism that the African countries rely on to finance adaptation projects and reduce emissions on the continent.
Egypt also, on behalf of the African continent, has taken part in international negotiations on the issue, as it assumed the presidency of the Group of 77 developing countries and China during 2018 and the African Negotiators Group on Climate Change in 2018 and 2019. It chaired the Committee of African Leaders and Presidents concerned with climate change in 2015, the 2016 African Ministers of the Environment Conference, and the two African initiatives launched by President Al-Sisi for adaptation and renewable energy during the Paris Conference in 2015 and at the UN Climate Summit in 2019 in Egypt.
In partnership with Malawi and the UK, it chaired the Adaptation Alliance and is co-chair of the Adaptation Friends Group in New York.
Hosting the COP27 Climate Conference is the culmination of the efforts made by Egypt on behalf of the African continent.
“Egypt’s hosting of this conference is an affirmation of the importance of integration and consistency of national policies, strategies, plans and programmes to confront climate change and achieve sustainable development by adopting the green economy,” Hussein Abaza, an advisor to the Ministry of Environment, explained.
Abaza expects the private sector to increase its interest and social responsibility in new environmental and climate projects and to increase the number of start-ups operating in the field of recycling, agriculture, and renewable energy.
Sameh Riad, head of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) in Alexandria, told Al-Ahram Weekly that it “has been engaged to spread the culture of environmental awareness in all sectors” and that “the Alexandria governorate alone has organised dozens of dialogues to discuss national changes.”
Riad said he has seen a “tangible improvement in raising awareness, especially among the youth group, with awareness being the key to the solution.” He emphasised the importance of paying attention to the border governorates that suffer from special problems, such as sea erosion.
On the human rights side, Mohamed Mamdouh, a member of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), stressed that Egypt’s hosting of the COP27 on behalf of the African continent indicates its leadership of climate justice locally and regionally. The event has focused the interest of the NCHR on climate change, especially in the light of the UN General Assembly’s agreement that a clean and healthy environment is a human right.
Mamdouh said that the concept of human rights is limited in the minds of some to political or social rights, but one of the most important of human rights is the availability of resources for the continuation of life, and these resources are now threatened by climate change.
In Egyptian civil society, there are a large number of non-profit institutions working in the field of the environment. One of the oldest is the Arab Youth and Environment Office headed by Emad El-Din Adly, also a jury member of the National Initiative for Smart Green Projects, who emphasised the importance of civil society institutions at the climate conference.
Adly said that each represented the spirit of the governorate it serves. He has also helped a large number of organisations to be present at the conference under the umbrella of the Arab Youth and Environment Office.
The author is an environmental and climate change expert who works with local and international bodies and has represented Egypt at conferences on the environment and climate abroad.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.