UN Climate Conference COP27 Begins in Egypt

The United Nations climate summit Cop 27 began Monday in Egypt. Humanity is on a “highway to climate hell”, the UN secretary-general warned world leaders at the COP 27 opening. 

António Guterres said the fight for a liveable planet will be won or lost in this decade.

“We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing … And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”

The grim, bleak statement was part of the opening for the annual summit, which has seen much criticism already this year. 

More than 100 heads of state and government from around the world gathered in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on Monday for two days of closed-door meetings and public events to discuss the climate crisis.

Many leaders will make an appearance at COP this year, including President Joe Biden, who will attend later in the week after the midterm elections. 

Biden and other leaders from wealthy nations will get a lot of flack from poorer nations when they arrive this week, experts say. But if Biden joins up his existing policies across geopolitics, trade, and climate, he could help move the agenda forward.

Biden can drive forward ”Just Energy Transition Partnerships” (JETPs), which aim to fast-track the decarbonization of developing economies, with countries such as India. This will advance Western interests while saving the planet, experts say. 

The Cop 27 conference got off to a slow start, with delays after there was a tussle over the agenda for the talks themselves. Negotiators spent more than 40 hours over the weekend wrangling over what would be on the agenda. 

At the heart of the disagreement was the vexed question of loss and damage, which refers to the devastating consequences of climate breakdown suffered by the poorest and most vulnerable countries, and how to help them.

Delegates could not agree on whether and how loss and damage should be put on the agenda for the two-week summit. The scheduled 10 am start was delayed by hours and delegates worried that the contentious opening might indicate a fractious conference to come.

Negotiators said it is going to be a difficult Cop this year. There has also been much controversy over the COP presidency residing with Egypt this year. 

At most UN climate summits, activists and protesters play a key role. However, Egypt clamps down on dissent and its jails are full of political prisoners. 

While Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s government has promised that climate activist voices will be heard, their activities have been massively curtailed, with protesters kept at a separate site and required to register in advance to be granted permission for even minor demonstrations.

There are mounting fears over the surveillance of delegates at the Cop 27 climate talks in Egypt, with cybersecurity experts warning that the official app for the talks requires access to a user’s location, photos, and even emails upon downloading it. 

The revelation has raised concerns that Egypt’s authoritarian regime will be able to use an official platform for a United Nations event to track and harass attendees and critical domestic voices. 

The official Cop27 app, which has already been downloaded more than 5,000 times, requires sweeping permissions from users before it installs, including the ability for Egypt’s ministry of communications and information technology to view emails, scour photos and determine users’ locations. 

This data could be used by Sisi’s government to further crack down on dissent in a country that already holds about 65,000 political prisoners. Egypt has conducted a series of mass arrests of people accused of being protesters in the lead-up to Cop27 and sought to vet and isolate any activists near the talks, which will see governments attempting to hammer out an agreement over dealing with the climate crisis.

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