Climate reality awaits COP27 delegates in Egypt

climate politics, Road to COP28

Climate reality awaits COP27 delegates in Egypt

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Talk organizers worry a distracted world will struggle to focus on climate change efforts.

Against a global backdrop of war, inflation and growing hunger, Egypt is hoping a distracted world can focus on climate change as it prepares to host the next UN Conference of the Parties (COP) summit in November.

With only months until thousands of delegates descend on the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El-Sheik for the 27th United Nations COP, Egyptian organizers say they have every ministry working day and night to ensure the meeting is a success, even as the country struggles with its own inflationary pressures and growing debt.

Egypt’s UN High-Level Champion for COP27, Mahmoud Mohieldin, is not mincing words about what’s at stake.

“Global warming remains the most rapidly growing threat to the human species on the planet,” he wrote in a recent post in response to the IPCC 2022 climate change assessment. “Rapid, deep and immediate emissions reductions across all sectors leaves no room for speculation as to what must be done.” 

We must not let the current geopolitical crisis weaken our momentum towards a net zero and climate-resilient world.”

As part of its preparation for COP27, Egypt recently submitted to the UN its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), the plan required from each country under the Paris Agreement.

Water supply and food production at risk

The country faces stark water challenges with 95% of its population of 102 million living in the Nile river valley and delta. Per capita water availability shrank from 1,972 cubic meters per year in 1970 to just 570 cubic meters per year in 2018. Climate change and population growth are expected to see that figure shrink further — potentially to 390 cubic meters per year by 2050. 

Sea level rise, estimated to reach 1 meter by 2100, is expected to inundate 1% of land area where millions of Egyptians live. In the Nile delta, food production is tipped to fall by a staggering 30% by 2030 due to droughts and floods. 

“This will compound the already economically tense and food insecure state of the region,” the document says.

Egypt ups its carbon-cutting plan

Egypt is committing to cut its energy-related emissions by 33% by 2030 compared to business-as-usual — a significant improvement on its previous NDC, which made no emissions reduction commitment.

Egypt says it will do this by increasing renewable energy to 40% of the country’s energy mix by 2030 from less than 10% now — replacing obsolete thermal power plants with more energy-efficient ones and improving the electricity transmission system, including the use of smart grids.

Egypt also claims it will reach 65% emission reductions in the country’s oil and gas sector by 2030 through efficiency improvements. Still, as one of the world’s top natural gas producers, Egypt reportedly is signing gas deals with the European Union as the EU attempts to wean itself off Russian gas.

In transport, Egypt’s NDC says emissions cuts of 7% will be achieved through expanded metro, bus rapid transit, light rail and fast train networks in and between major cities. Other cuts will come from a focus on more sustainable buildings and cities. 

Adapting to climate reality

The country’s NDC also emphasizes adaptation — especially in agriculture — through more resilient crop varieties, improved irrigation systems and support to small farmers.

The NDC’s preparation was a major milestone for the country’s build-up to COP, according to Dr. Mona Elbahtimy, Egyptian diplomat, chief of staff to Mahmoud Mohiledin and a key player in Egypt’s High Level Champions team.

“The climate change agenda cannot be a second priority because of the current crisis.”

Elbahtimy told Climate & Capital Media that it’s taken “lots of preparation nationally to have our priorities set, our gaps identified, our challenges identified and to have a set of projects that will translate the goals of the national strategy into action.”

For Egypt, the focus now is on finding the $246 billion in financial resources to implement its NDC.

Pandemic, conflict, economic woes compete for attention

Elbahtimy said Egypt recognizes that countries are facing multiple challenges simultaneously, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic still straining public health systems and causing major supply chain and labor problems worldwide.

“It’s a very challenging time, especially when we’re talking about finance, because no one wants to put more money up considering the multiple crises we’re witnessing,” she said. “It’s a huge challenge but at the same time it’s also a huge opportunity to prove faith and trust in the multilateral climate change regime… and to accelerate action, especially for the energy transition that the world needs most now.

Hosting a COP is a major undertaking for any country at the best of times. Egypt is determined to use “Africa’s COP” to move the needle, especially on the all-important agenda of unlocking the finance that countries need to cut emissions, build resilience to worsening impacts and ensure the developing countries who have contributed the least to climate change can adapt. 

According to the NGO Tearfund, analysis of 11 sub-Saharan African nations, those least responsible for climate change, shows that they will have to spend up to five times more adapting to the growing impacts of global warming than they do on healthcare. With a population of 350 million, these nations are already experiencing climate change impacts. Meanwhile, the  $100 billion climate finance per year target set at previous COPs has yet to be delivered as promised.

Africa needs the developed world to meet climate funding commitments

In August and September, the COP Presidency, the High-Level Champions Team and the UN Regional Economic Commission will be hosting a series of five regional “matchmaking” forums in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Beirut, Geneva and Santiago, where countries will present “bankable” climate projects to potential private and other funders. These match-made projects later will be presented at COP27.

This is an example of Egypt’s attempt to get away from the talk fest and move towards implementation, says Elbahtimy.

In the run-up to COP27, prominent economists Nick Stern and Vera Songwe are leading a “High-Level Expert Group on Finance” to identify the barriers to getting the finance flowing for climate projects. They will present their report at the COP in November.

“At the end of the day, we have lots of commitments but we need to see implementation on the ground,” she said. “We need to sharpen the implementation teeth of what we’ve already agreed upon.” 

Written by

Elisabeth Mealey

Elisabeth Mealey is Climate & Capital Media's COP expert and is a freelance writer and communications strategist, specializing in climate change and environmental topics. She worked at the World Bank on climate policy, the Australian Government on indigenous land reform, WWF on Pacific Island conservation and Greenpeace on nuclear testing in the South Pacific. She started life as a journalist, working for newspapers in Australia and the UK and is now back on the environmental beat.