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‘Loss and damage’ to take centre stage at Cop27

World leaders will attend Cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh from November 6 - 18 Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani
World leaders will attend Cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh from November 6 - 18

The United Nation’s Cop27 summit has opened in Egypt with secretary-general Antonio Guterres stating that climate change is happening with “catastrophic speed” and the planet is sending a “distress signal”.

More than 120 world leaders are due to arrive at the Cop27 summit being staged in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. This will kick off two weeks of negotiations between countries on climate action.

Cop27 president, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, urged leaders to not let crises related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hinder action on the issue of climate change.

“It is inherent on us all to demonstrate our recognition of the magnitude of the challenges we face and our steadfast resolve to overcome it.”

In his opening remarks at the summit, Shoukry said that this year’s event marked the first time the issue of climate damage reparation would occupy “an institutionally stable space on the formal agenda of Cop and the Paris Agreement” and that its inclusion “reflects a sense of solidarity for the victims of climate disasters.”

He said climate reparation deals could be concluded by around 2024.

The Egyptian Cop27 presidency had long signalled its intention to give more space to the discussion on rich countries’ responsibility towards developing countries suffering from the effects of climate change. 

Following the failure of Cop26 in Glasgow, UK, to achieve any substantial progress on the issue of reparation, non-governmental organisations advocating loss and damage discussions welcomed the announcement but expressed concern at Shoukry’s comments that a conclusion to negotiations may not be reached until 2024. 

“Developing countries need finance for health and other climate impacts which are already unfolding,” said London-based Jess Beagley, a policy analyst at Global Climate and Health Alliance. “They don’t have two years to wait.”

In the past year there have been growing calls for action on loss and damage from the developing countries, as well as frustration over rich countries’ failure to meet their own $100 billion commitment on climate finance agreed in 2009.

Speaking at a pre-Cop conference in October, special representative of the Cop27 presidency, Wael Aboulmagd, Egyptian ambassador and special representative of the Cop27 president, called industrialised countries’ lack of progress on climate finance “shameful”.

“It is largely emissions from Europe and North America that are responsible for where we are now,” said Aboulmagd, adding that poorer countries that have contributed the least to climate change are experiencing the worst of its effects.

Muted civic action 

Outside the conference centre the starkest difference between this and previous climate conferences is the absence of protestors. Recent summits have been characterised by colourful demonstrations and frequent clashes between protestors and police. 

But in Egypt, where public protests are effectively banned, no large-scale demonstrations have materialised.

Speaking off-the-record, members of international climate groups said that the security situation in Egypt convinced them not to organise protests this year.

Security in the resort town is tight. Each of the roughly 800 taxis in Sharm el-Sheikh have been fitted with surveillance cameras and microphones controlled by the Interior Ministry. 

One of the few activists who attempted a solo protest, an Indian national named Ajit Rajagopal, was arrested and detained on October 31 as he marched from Cairo to Sharm el-Sheikh. He was released shortly after following an international outcry.

Despite frustrations with the security situation, Egyptian climate activists said that they are generally in favour of the government’s prioritisation of loss and damage.

“But this is only the beginning,” said Beagley of Global Climate and Health Alliance. “Parties must step forward and ensure the process delivers the support that developing countries need.”