The Egyptian hosts of the next UN climate summit have issued a plea for countries to set aside tensions and animosity over the Ukraine war for the sake of focusing on the climate crisis.
Egypt will host the Cop27 conference in Sharm El-Sheikh in November, intended as a forum for companies to fulfil the promises they made at the landmark Cop26 summit in Glasgow last year.
However, expectations for the meeting have dimmed, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has set nations at loggerheads, while the rocketing energy prices and food prices that have resulted have wrought economic and political damage across the developed and developing world.
A diplomatic freeze between the US and China – the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases – over Taiwan has also cast a pall over the talks.
Wael Aboulmagd, the Egyptian government’s special representative for Cop27, called on nations to concentrate on the pressing nature of the climate crisis and to carry on negotiations despite their differences on other geopolitical issues.
“Animosity will have a cost. We as responsible diplomats ask everyone to rise to the occasion and show leadership,” he said during a call with journalists on Wednesday. “Put political differences aside and come together.”
Climate negotiations are supposed to carry on in their own diplomatic stream, regardless of external events, and the three decades of talks under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have weathered wars and regional conflicts before. In June, at a preparatory UN climate meeting in Bonn, some countries staged a walkout when Russia took to the conference floor but returned to negotiations later.
Aboulmagd said countries must not use the upheavals in geopolitics and in national economies since Cop26 to hide their inaction. “Show more ambition,” he said. “I urge everyone not to use this unfolding geopolitical situation as a pretext for backsliding.”
Rather, rising fossil fuel prices should concentrate minds on finding alternatives, he said. “I hope and urge everyone to take the right lesson from this: that overdependence on fossil fuels is problematic, and we need to expedite the transition to renewable energy.”
He pointed out that no country would escape damage from the climate crisis, and that all countries agreed at Glasgow on the vital importance of working together to bring down greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of extreme weather. “Set aside the adversarial zero sum approach. With this most existential threat, we need to act to save lives and livelihoods. There is no time for delays, no pretext for not acting or backtracking.”
Aboulmagd, who was Egypt’s ambassador to Brazil and is now assisting Sameh Shoukry, the foreign minister who will act as president of Cop27, also promised that civil society would be represented at the talks.
Activists fear demonstrations will not be allowed and that their participation in the meeting will be limited by the Egyptian government, which has clamped down severely on other protests.
Aboulmagd tried to reassure campaigners. “We do not believe in tokenism. We are involving civil society stakeholders across the board and every step of the way,” he said.
He said the Egyptian government had moved to recognise an increasing number of groups active in climate campaigning and would devote several days of the fortnight-long conference to issues such as youth engagement, under-represented groups, climate finance and related issues such as water and nature.
However, many campaigners have told the Guardian of difficulties obtaining visas and passes to the conference, and prohibitively high prices for accommodation. They are also worried about their ability to protest, and whether groups and individuals they work with in Egypt may face reprisals after the summit.