The Controversy of COP27 in Egypt & Why I Am Here
As I wrote in my blog post yesterday, the United Nations global climate meeting, known as COP27, that I am attending this week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, marks the first time that the conference has been conducted in the Middle East. After 26 prior such meetings, including last year’s in Scotland, the 2015 conference in France that produced the famous Paris Agreement, and another 24 other prior sites, 2022 is the first time a Middle Eastern country has hosted these vital global meetings. The region’s impact on global fossil fuel production is historic by any measure. But this year’s COP in Egypt is not without extreme controversy including boycotts and debate all over the world. A lot of controversy in fact. Before I address the controversy, as well as explain why I feel it’s important to be here, I think it’s useful to consider this region’s role in the global energy industry and most especially petroleum (fossil fuel) production.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Egypt was the 26th largest producer of fossil fuels as measured by barrels of oil produced per day (560,942) in 2021. Egypt’s immediate and well-known neighbor, OPEC member Saudi Arabia, whose mainland is a mere 17 miles across the Red Sea’s Strait of Tiran from my hotel room, ranked as the world’s third largest producer at around 9,313,145 barrels per day in 2021 (the United States, by the way, is the largest at an estimated 11,184,870 barrels followed by Russia at about 10,111,830).
And speaking of OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries), next year’s COP28 will take place in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), an OPEC member since 1967. Although Egypt is not an OPEC member, its proximity to so many others in the region and on this continent that are members would seem to me to send a message that the world is bringing its concerns about the product they produce to the very place it is produced. OPEC produces about 40% of the world’s crude oil and exports about 60% of the total petroleum that’s traded internationally. What’s that saying about keeping your “enemies” close?
And let’s think about where COP is located this year (and next) and then consider the OPEC member nations (Algeria, Angola, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela). Heck, only Venezuela, located in South America, is not in either the Middle East or on the African continent. So occasionally bringing the “fight,” so to speak, to at least some of these places could be productive and therefore is wise in my view.
And while some might, I suppose, debate the value of even holding the United Nations global climate conference in places that produce the product doing so much of the damage to our environment or even the very value of COP meetings in the first place, those issues are not the essence of the controversy concerning Egypt or the boycotts taking place by some environmental groups or activists.
No, the core concerns at the center of the controversy relate largely to Egyptian governmental leaders and their policies related to free speech, human rights, academic and journalistic expression, its estimated 60,000 political prisoners, as well as the idea that it is “greenwashing” itself as an ecological leader through positive public relations by hosting the event and not allowing public protest. The U.S. State Department even has a list of what our country calls “significant” human rights concerns with Egypt including extrajudicial killings by the government, arbitrary or unlawful killings, forced disappearances by state security, torture, and poor conditions in the country’s prisons.
These are serious concerns for certain that cannot be condoned. But do we avoid working to advance our transition towards sustainability by not attending such talks as COP27 here in Egypt as some activists have suggested because we have rightful concerns over a host country’s government? Or because a country has little to no tolerance for public protest designed to capture media attention? While I wish we could demand that host countries adequately address each of these concerns, the reality is that we have no choice but to take every possible opportunity to find global solutions to our climate crisis before it’s too late. One of our best such chances to advance these discussions as it stands today are the COP meetings like this one.
As I’ve said many times, we will only ever solve our global climate crisis by working together.
All of us.
That’s within our schools, communities, states, and country, as well as of course with other countries all around the world. The reality is that our energy system, sources, and global economy is interconnected. That’s why President Biden will be here. It’s why Chinese President Xi Jinping is coming to COP27, and, yes, it’s why Russian President Putin will be in Egypt. People and countries in the latter two examples are ones that we obviously don’t always agree with and whose social justice policies range from questionable to criminal, but they will be here because only together do we solve this incredibly complicated problem.
Boycotting the only global climate discussion that exists on the planet is not the smart thing to do for our planet at a time when we are running out of time to evolve the world’s energy system to sustainable solutions.
That’s why I am here. To listen and learn. To find common ground. To progress the hard policy work that so often does not capture headlines but will be key to fixing what’s broken. And most certainly to find ways to accelerate the transition that’s needed to solve the most significant challenge my generation will ever face during our time here on earth, our climate crisis.