Sunday, 02 Apr 2023

I am going to Cop27 in Egypt but can the UN climate conference deliver? | Adam Morton

I am going to Cop27 in Egypt but can the UN climate conference deliver? | Adam Morton

I am going to Cop27 in Egypt  but can the UN climate conference deliver? | Adam Morton

Greta Thunberg is not a fan of Cop27, the climate conference that got under way in Egypt overnight on Sunday. She reckons it's just a chance for the powerful to get away with "greenwashing, lying and cheating", and that the annual summits of national governments, policy experts, spruikers and hangers-on aren't working. She's not going.

She might be right not to go. As a privileged middle-aged man from a generation that has failed to do enough to address the climate crisis - more than half all historic emissions have been in the past 30 years - I'm not here to say she's wrong.

There is plenty to be cynical about. The Egyptian hosts have named Coca-Cola, which uses fossil fuels to produce about 120bn throwaway plastic bottles each year, as a sponsor of the conference. In Kenya, a civil society group has pointed out that nearly half of the plastic bottle waste in its country can be traced back to Coke. It's a similar story across the developing world, where plastic rubbish clogs cities and waterways.

There is a tradition of this sort of thing across 27 years of UN climate summits. As reported in last year's Australia v The Climate podcast series, some conferences have been sponsored by coal companies. Last year, an Australian government pavilion in Glasgow gave over its main display space to Santos, a still-expanding oil and gas company.

The problems going into Cop27 are broader than this. Tens of thousands of people are expected in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, but protesters are not welcome. Instead, civil society has been offered a pen far from the conference centre where they will be allowed to express their views behind a fence in the desert sun.

Activists estimate Egypt has 60,000 political prisoners. In the lead-up to the event, civil society groups have been calling for the release of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, a pro-democracy activist who has spent most of the past decade in prison and has been on a hunger strike since April. At the time of publication, the Egyptian government hasn't responded. Meanwhile, youth activists from across Africa, from some of the countries most sharply affected by the climate crisis, say they have struggled to get passes to what is supposed to be the African Cop, reinforcing a perception that UN climate conferences are an event for the wealthy and comfortable.

Hopes for progress at the talks themselves are limited and have fallen since the relative high of Cop26 in Glasgow last year. Then, countries agreed to limit global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - an advancement on the landmark 2015 Paris agreement - and acknowledged that meant immediately considering how to ratchet up action this decade. But 2022 has not delivered on that promise. Only 24 countries have updated their voluntary pledges to the UN, and only India and Australia have taken noteworthy strides forward, the latter from a very low base.

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