Egypt hopes to kickstart the measures needed to deal with a warming world when it takes over the presidency of the major UN climate talks in November, but warns countries will need a “reality check” if the progress falters.
As presiding over the tipping point where a decades-long United Nations climate process flips from negotiations to “implementation,” Egypt has set a high bar for its leadership at this year’s COP27 climate summit.
But the challenge of maintaining international momentum on climate change has become even more difficult as the world faces a catalog of challenges, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and deepening food, energy and economic crises.
“Due to the geopolitical situation, climate change is being pushed back,” Ambassador Mohamed Nasr said at a meeting in the German city of Bonn that was set to lay the groundwork for the Egyptian conference.
“We are facing a major challenge.”
Outgoing UN climate leader Patricia Espinosa had told delegates that when world leaders gather in Sharm el-Sheikh in November, the world “will not look the same” as it did during the Glasgow climate talks last year .
The international community agrees that climate change poses an existential threat to human systems and nature.
But action to reduce carbon pollution and prepare for its accelerating impact is lagging behind, as is support for vulnerable countries facing the ravages of a changing climate.
“It’s time to start the reality check. We planned and planned,” Nasr said. Now the question has to be: “Does it deliver locally or not?”
– loss and damage –
Nasr said that while the Egyptian presidency of the conference will have “African flavor and vision,” it will retain a resolutely international focus.
Adding to geopolitical crises is the growing frustration of vulnerable nations least responsible for climate change because they lack the financial resources of rich polluters to help them deal with a warming world.
A promise of $100 billion per year from 2020 is still not being fulfilled.
Another focal point is “loss and damage”, UN speaks for climate damage that has already occurred. Developing countries have called for a separate financing facility, but instead only engaged in a “dialogue”.
The issue dominated talks in Bonn last week and, with little resolution found, it looks set to be a key issue at COP27 as developing countries push to put it on the agenda.
“We didn’t hope for that,” said Nasr.
He said the historic 2015 Paris Agreement struck a “very delicate balance” between pushing ahead with increasingly ambitious emission-reduction measures and working to help countries prepare for future impacts and deal with damage.
While countries have increased ambition – if not action – to meet the Paris target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, he said equal urgency still needs to be given to the other elements.
“We need to reassure the broad group of developing countries that their priorities will be treated at the same level,” Nasr said.
Another key challenge is to use the financial clout of development banks and the private sector to remove barriers that hamper investments needed to reduce emissions and build the infrastructure countries need to cope with climate change will.
“We need this transformation that has taken place here (in the UN process) to find its way into these institutions,” Nasr said, calling for more innovative ways to open access to investment.
“We cannot continue in a business-as-usual scenario in terms of funding.”
Egypt will publish its own updated climate plan within weeks, Nasr said, pledging “ambitious targets” as the country seeks to cut emissions in sectors such as energy and transport.
But the country, currently plagued by record inflation and a severe economic crisis, faces an uphill battle to clean up polluting sectors.
Nasr stressed that “as with the overwhelming majority of developing countries, fulfillment and implementation” of the country’s strategy would depend on adequate funding.
– ‘Start delivery’ –
The annual UN Conference of the Parties is attended by almost 200 countries, with hundreds of observers, non-governmental organizations and – very often – mass demonstrations to increase pressure on political leaders.
In Glasgow, large, colorful street protests involving young activists, Indigenous groups and local communities filled the streets for several days.
Nasr said such gatherings are allowed around the conference in Egypt, where demonstrations are banned, although he said protesters must notify authorities in advance and “coordinate with them”.
He also tried to calm observers’ access to the UN process after hotel room costs had escalated dramatically for some, adding that the government had booked 10,000 rooms in two- and three-star hotels.
As for decision-makers due to meet in Sharm el-Sheikh, he said that after nearly three decades of UN climate talks, they know what it takes to get things moving again.
“They should facilitate it for the presidency and each other and start extradition,” he said.
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