I attended COP27 in Egypt, representing Feasta, Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability and the Irish Environmental Network. This is my report from my 9 days there. Reference to “we” includes Martin Vernon.
Ahead of the 27th Conference of the Parties, Stop Climate Chaos prepared a briefing document. It consisted of 5 headline recommendations with 16 subheadings. This was some of my homework. The headline list:
- Closing the gap in ambition. We are currently on a trajectory to a minimum of 2.5 degree rise in temperature so more must be done to stay on track with the Paris agreement of aiming for no more than 1.5 degree rise. Ramp up climate finance for mitigation and adaptation including delivering on the promise of $100 billion climate finance delivery plan promised in 2021.
- Create a finance mechanism for loss and damage.
- A call for Ireland to submit it’s LTS, Long Term Strategy and prioritise bold, fast climate action.
- Fossil fuel phase out – a fossil fuel non proliferation treaty.
At COP27 it turned out that some countries did indeed want to roll back on 1.5 and the $100bn funding promise but that was avoided. In the end there was no change in commitment towards fossil fuel phase out and a much celebrated baby step was taken on loss and damage. I’ve no update on Ireland’s LTS.
We arrived at COP27 on the day officially dedicated to finance, Nov 9th. Finance is always a dominant issue at the conference and this year there was a new item on the agenda in the form of “Loss & Damage”. Advocates for L&D have been calling for a finance facility to be established so that countries who have done the least to drive climate breakdown can be reimbursed for their loss and damage. The concept is pretty simple and fairly well supported, possibly because it is the right thing to do given that those most affected by climate breakdown are not the ones to have benefitted from the emissions causing it. It’s also a fact that in some instances the fossil resources used to create the wealth, cause the emissions and plunge nations into climate chaos were stolen from them as colonies. There is absolutely nothing fair about how the climate crisis is playing out.
It takes a couple of days to get your bearings at COP so I knew I would need at least day 1 to get acquainted with the venue. Within days of arriving I was in 10 messaging groups, watching reports from the daily Climate Action Network briefings and more involved in international NGO networking. The CAN messaging groups were very useful as they had an update on the negotiations, a list of side events worth attending and a list of protests.
Representatives from a number of Irish NGOs and aid agencies attended the daily briefings and were very involved in CAN. This was very reassuring for me as Feasta were collaborators on the Irish civil society agenda for COP27 including the Stop Climate Chaos briefing. CAN were pushing very hard to get a Loss and Damage Funding Facility, climate justice as well as a commitment to keeping global warming increase to below 1.5.
My self imposed mandate was youth and community activism, awareness and education. I did not need to be heavily involved in observing negotiations or getting bogged down in policy as there were plenty of people doing that. People who are paid to do it. There was also plenty of media reporting. My policy interests are the role of youth and community in climate action and activism so I planned engaging with those themes throughout my time at the conference. My other attribute is protest, specifically to amplify the message of those working to influence the policy and that was what I could add to our repertoire.
I was also the support for Feastas youth delegation, not that they needed it. We had youth representatives from Pakistan, India, Brazil and Ireland. This was the deciding factor when faced with the opportunity to visit my daughter in Abu Dhabi enroute to Egypt.
Before travelling to Egypt I had received a message detailing the colour themes for various demonstrations:
👉👉👉 CALENDAR OF ACTIONS 👈👈👈
Many actions will be happening at the blue zone. Almost every day. Actions details will be shared one day before, or depending on the case, with less time.
Some of them are as follows:
✅ 8th African feminist day. Bring green clothes to support
✅ 10th Dess in white in solidarity with political prisoners
✅ 10th Kick Big Polluters Out
✅ 11th. Loss and Damage Flood the COP. All in blue clothes!
✅ 12th Global Day of Action. Red clothes
✅ 15th People’s Plenary.
✅ 15th Don’t Gas Africa
✅ 15th Dance 4 the planet
✅ 18th Last day!
🎽 🎽 DRESSING CODES 🎽🎽
Actions at Sharm El-Sheikh: Bring your colours!!! 😀
Before packing your suitcase, make sure you include some WHITE, RED, GREEN and BLUE clothes. These are for three different actions that will be properly announced. If the BLUE clothes can be a 💃 traditional shirt/dress 💃, the better.
Bring your BEST traditional BLUE DRESSING! 🎽🎽
From the outset we had heard stories of flooding in developing nations. The taxi driver en route to the airport in Abu Dhabi was from Pakistan. He was telling us how India and China control the river flow into Pakistan and Bangladesh. The troubling fact was that he was more focused on the political aspect than climate breakdown. India and China have the capacity to flood the countries downstream as well as inflict drought.
At the bus stop by our hotel on our very first day we met a representative of ICIMOD, The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. ICIMOD is an intergovernmental knowledge and learning centre working on behalf of the people of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). It is based in Kathmandu, Nepal and works on behalf of eight regional member countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.
There are 1.6 billion people in India dependent upon water from the Himalayas. We met regularly on the bus or at the bus stop on the drive or walking the long driveway to our hotel.
ICIMOD had 2 key messages going to COP27:
Moving mountains: Shifting the understanding of mountain realities from the periphery towards the centre of global climate and environment discourse, and to recognize the HKH as the pulse of the planet – a region that is most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Mountains of opportunity: Mountains of opportunity is a framework to guide decision makers to invest in common solutions to (a) address transboundary climate risks and (b) deliver climate action at scale and with speed. These investments will put in place the building blocks by 2030 for mountain communities to step into a resilient and carbon-neutral world.
Given our conversation with the Pakistani taxi man on our way to Egypt I really hope that the work of ICIMOD is successful in ensuring that politics do not hinder climate action or the understanding of global warming in the region.
Solidarity – White Day
On Nov 10th we wore white and joined an action on human rights in solidarity with voices silenced at COP such as environmental defenders, activists and political prisoners. An Egyptian-British activist Alaa Abdel Fattah had been on hunger strike for months and went on to refuse fluids in the early days of COP27. Near the end of my stay in Egypt I met a local man who told me there are at least 60,000 people in jail because of their opinion. He said he is afraid to share anything on social media and that everything the people do is watched. We had been warned early on not to download the official app after someone read the terms and conditions. As it happened the authorities intervened when Abdel Fattah nearly died on Nov 10th, soon after our protest. Photo credit Sami Dellah:
Climate Education Coalition
After the protest I attended an event by Earthday.org to launch the Climate Education Coalition. This was the first I had heard of the coalition and I was surprised that Ireland wasn’t involved. I spoke with some of the team and promised to introduce the initiative to my contacts in Ireland. I have since put their office in touch with An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland who run the Green Schools programme. I will do more in time.
That same day I attended a panel at the Youth Pavilion facilitated by Rosalind Skillen discussing the role of the media in climate breakdown. There was interesting insight from the media professionals on the panel as they explained the shifting appetite of the consumer and competition in the media for print/screen space. Interestingly when the audience got involved the conversation came back to what the panel did individually. I was surprised by this and somewhat dismayed. We need to be clear in our focus on the system change – we need collective commitment and I hope that high standards and judgement of individuals are not going to deter potential collaborators.
The main lessons from this workshop was that TikTok, Instagram and Facebook are the current platforms for climate messaging. Martin is great at listening to peoples stories so we decided to do some videos for Tik Tok so that others could hear the heartbreaking realities for so many people. They are available here https://www.tiktok.com/@theresaod23. Also on my Instagram and Facebook.
The next item on my list was to meet up with Feasta’s youth delegation. Needless to say they were hanging out in the corridors of power – by the negotiation rooms and main plenary.
They were organising a human rights action in solidarity with environmental defenders and the oppressed, including Alaa Abdel Fattah. We went along to give our support.
Here we are with Jessica, Saoi, Sumaya and Theresa Rose.
They met with Taoiseach Micheal Martin 2 days previously with Rosalind.
I have to reiterate how amazing the young people are. They were in the thick of it, watching every move, scrutinising every decision, keeping up to date with every important conversation and holding decision makers to account. They completely understand the inequity and the injustice of it all. They know the policy inside and out as well as the politics. They do not accept the excuses, opaque promises or laments of decision makers. They challenge everything. It was not unusual to open a media link and see one of them front and centre. I am delighted that Feasta can support them in their vital work. They are true heroes committing so much of their lives in pursuit of a better world. A world that is being destroyed by their ancestors. It is so unfair.
News also broke on Nov 10th about the number of fossil fuel delegates at the conference. That fact got plenty of media and political attention. Here is what Greenpeace posted about that:
Flood the COP – Blue Day
Nov 11th was deemed the day to Flood the Cop.
🔴 WE ARE FLOODING THE COP27 🌊
⚠ The big action ⚠
📅 11th November
⏱ 3:30 PM
The Global South has experienced devastating impacts of climate change, including horrific floods in Pakistan and Nigeria. Now we bring the FLOOD to COP27.
We demand rich nations to cancel the financial debts Global South owes and compensate most affected communities for loss and damages caused by the climate crisis.
🗣️ And endless blue wave 🌊 is coming 🗣️
We had heard many stories of flooding and that continued throughout the conference.
- In Trinidad and Tobago the largest river had recently broken its banks for the fourth time in a few months.
- We heard of how a teenager was shot as he ventured further from his town looking for water.
- In Bhutan the fishermen have to live in their boats as their land is flooded.
- There are stronger and more frequent cyclones in Bangladesh. They are focusing on building one sanctuary in the town so that people can retreat there and while they will not lose their lives their homes and crops will be devastated.
- We heard from more people concerned that India and China have control over rivers that countries further downstream depend upon.
On Nov 11 we also attended a press conference, Carbon negative and equity positive by 2035 in California, with Professor Dan Kammen, UC Berkeley from The Climate Center in California. Besides being in awe of how much California has done, my one BIG takeaway from this presentation was that lithium can be made from seawater. With a little searching online it seems to be a legitimate solution to mining on land.
Global Protest – Red Day
Saturday 12th started with an action by Fridays For Future Ukraine and MAPA, Most Affected People and Areas, calling for an end to war. The Climate Crisis and Wars share one root: Fossil Fuels. We stood together to relay the message that the only place for Fossil Fuels has to be in the history books with Imperialism and colonialism. I live in Lisdoonvarna where the number of Ukrainian refugees is more than the original population of the village at the start of 2022. Between asylum seekers and refugees the population has approximately tripled since January 2018. They are all welcome and supported by our community as well as the government however the situation is indicative of things to come as climate migration worsens.
The previous day I had attended a meeting where a speaker from Ukraine claimed that the war had led directly to emissions of 33 million tons of greenhouse gases. Ruslan Strilets, Ukraine’s environmental protection minister later stated “Russia has turned our natural reserves into a military base. Russia is doing everything to shorten our and your horizons. Because of the war, we will have to do even more to overcome the climate crisis,” We met some young people directly affected.
Following the action in solidarity with Ukraine and MAPA we joined the march inside the COP for the global day of action. Marches were happening all over the world. Due to Egypts oppressive regime we were limited to a relatively small space within the venue, at the discretion of the UNFCCC.
The UNFCCC had identified a handful of spaces within the venue that could be used for protest. Their permission was necessary beforehand. Here are some images:
We sprinted to the event “Climate Justice in Action: Solutions for enhancing adaptation and responding to loss & damage” on Saturday 12th. It was co-hosted by the Government of Ireland and Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders. The panel consisted of:
- Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders
- Constance Okollet, Community Activist, Uganda
- Colm Brophy, Minister of State, Ireland
- Tina Steege, Climate Envoy, Marshall Islands
All week Mary Robinson had been calling out the presence of fossil fuel lobbyists, the resistance by wealthy countries to deliver on their promises and the oppression of protest by this year’s hosts. She has great appreciation for activists.
Photo credit: Ciaran McCormack
The three things she wanted to see come from COP27 were the establishment of a loss and damage fund, a materialisation of adaptation finance which should also be doubled and governments to be more ambitious cutting their emissions. She wants to see the fossil fuel subsidies of $1.8 trillion, annually, stopped.
Minister Colm Brophy, junior minister responsible for Irish overseas aid, had been very affected by his recent visit to Africa. He spoke of his harrowing visit to the Horn of Africa where he witnessed a baby dying. He also urged world leaders to pay their dues.
Osukuru United Women’s Network chair and Ugandan farmer, Constance Okollett said: “Give us the money before we die… let us put words into action”. She identified Cop as a talking shop while people were dying. She too put an emphasis on African, especially women and children.
Tina Steege spoke about the impact of climate breakdown on the Marshall Islands. The sea is claiming their land and the only way for them to go is up. The estimated cost of which is $62 billion. Climate breakdown means that the people of the marshall Islands are losing their homes, their land and their culture.
Mary Robinson mentioned how disappointed she was that COP27 was prohibitive for activists, wishing there were more young people and women attending. I was sitting in the front row directly across from her and was very tempted to stand up with the banner “Listen to African Voices” that I had under my arm from the march we had just left.
Pressure was on COP to deliver Loss and Damage and the EU was waking up to the call. “The EU appears to be starting to listen to some of the demands from developing countries, while the US, New Zealand, Norway and COP31 host hopefuls Australia, among others, are the most visible blockers.”
Meeting with Minister Ryan
As part of the Irish Civil Society Delegation we met Ireland’s Climate Action Minister Eamon Ryan on Nov 14th. Space was limited to 20 and time was short at 30 mins. I had a list of topics which was easy to whittle down as others, more knowledgeable on the topics, were there to take them on. Keeping 1.5 alive and a foss and damage fund were the most pressing issues. The fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty was also discussed as was standards in advertising. Replacing GDP with different metrics that include wellbeing was raised as was a call for Ireland to stop subsidising fossil fuels.
Activism and public participation were on my agenda as well as the use of gas in stand alone power plants for data centres. I questioned the fact that Ireland is a member of Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, BOGA while happily accepting planning applications for massive stand alone gas fired power plants to run data centres. I also shared my new information about lithium being extracted from seawater which also seemed to be news to others, including the minister, who also happens to have remit over prospecting licences. I asked that Ireland prepare a plan for the COP26 initiative Action for Climate Empowerment, ACE https://unfccc.int/news/cop26-launched-a-decade-of-action-for-climate-empowerment
The day beforehand we had received the following message and I decided to read it the minister:
Fridays for Future, Trinity College Dublin & Extinction Rebellion Ireland would kindly ask you to raise below demands with Minister Eamon Ryan. We held a COP27 protest last week and we think some of those demands are immediately achievable:
1.- Permanent display of Climate Clocks on landmark buildings in all Irish cities (https://climateclock.world/)
2.- Ireland to sign Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty
3.- Establish Climate Mental Health Council: prevention, detection and free treatment
4.- Codify Ecocide as a crime. Create and implement Future Generations Act.
5.- Ireland transitions to a wellbeing economy, immediate “Doughnut Economics” model to be implemented
6.- Ireland to Exit Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) & phase out fossil fuel subsidies
7.- Mandatory Climate Education for all bureaucrats, and all educational institutions
8.- Implementation of 30% Marine Protected Areas and just transition for fisher people
9.- Just transition to a Plant Based Diet. Adopt Plant Based Treaty. Support farmers transition.
The following day we began the process of a collaborative statement to give to the Irish delegation. https://www.stopclimatechaos.ie/assets/files/pdf/scc_letter_to_irish_delegation.pdf
This was my contribution:
Action for Civil Empowerment and Civil Society
The Glasgow pact invites countries to put in place a plan for ACE, Action for Civil Empowerment. The six topics of ACE are education, training, public awareness, public participation, access to information and international cooperation.
Ireland is doing well at ACE and we feel it would be useful to collate our current actions as a basis for a national ACE plan. This is a worthy action insofar as it will identify what’s being done in Ireland within the ACE framework, ensure there’s a joined up plan that will traverse governments and offer an opportunity to cooperate internationally in sharing our work and learning from others. This could be done in conjunction with an academic institution.
Action for Civil Empowerment and Civil Society
The world population hit 8 billion on Nov 15th 2022 while it was ACE and Civil Society day at COP. This was my day!
The presidency hosts the official events for the thematic days. I attended the introductory plenary and briefing update at 10am. As they hold the presidency this event was hosted by an Egyption diplomat who introduced the panel of 4 men and 2 women, in that order. The first speaker had vast experience of the UNFCCC. He was extremely supportive of the role civil society and activism plays. He stated that if it weren’t for civil society sounding the alarm 30 years previously the UNFCCC would not exist in its present form. Despite the dissenters and perceived lack of credibility, people had persevered until the world was listening and engaging.
I was dismayed by the imbalance of the panel and for some reason I timed the speakers. All were given 7 minutes to speak. The only people to stick to that request were the women who spoke for 7 and 6 mins. One of the men went on for 15 minutes. Counting gender allocations is not something I do regularly so something must have irked me but I have no idea what.
The second panel was more diverse but similarly uninspiring. I heard that 69% of Egyptians were unaware of climate change.
I found myself wandering around looking for interesting “unofficial” events and landed back at the Earthday.org education hub pavilion. They had an event “Advancing the Glasgow work programme on ACE”.
Under the Glasgow work plan countries are invited to devise a plan for ACE. As of yet Ireland has failed to do so. This workshop, based in experience in the previous year, was a great insight into the steps a country should take when doing theirs.
First and foremost there must be capacity building at government level.
Last bloody day
At the CAN briefing on Nov 16th we learned that Ireland was taking the lead negotiator role for the EU. This was an invitation to Irish civil society to put pressure on the Irish delegation to keep 1.5 alive and fight for a loss and damage funding facility.
Nov 16th “Blood on your hands” was our last action before leaving COP27.
🩸 10:30 TOMORROW – BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS IF 1.5 DIES 🩸
As the narrative shifts to abandoning 1.5, we need to bring the focus onto 1.5. The alternative is unimaginable death and destruction, predominantly in the Global South.
That’s why we’re planning a powerful action with strong visuals. Here are the details:
📍 After the entrance, in the food court
🙋♂️ Just bring yourself. We have the rest!
This is UN approved and not branded to any one organisation!
Feasta’s youth representative from Pakistan, Hania Imran, spoke on a panel about resource justice and the wellbeing economy. Club of Rome speaker Sandrine Dixon held nothing back followed by Eric Njuguna from Youth Climate Justice. Anja Fortuna (European Youth Forum), Petros Kokkalis (Member European Parliament), Neza Repanšek (EESC), Sophia Wiegand (Youth representative EESC) and Emilia Reyes (Equidad). You can watch it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2dzoZcR_O0 Also worth a look is the Club of Rome website https://www.clubofrome.org
Also on Nov 16th, one year on from its launch, the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, BOGA provided an update on its progress and an event to explore the role that a managed phase-out of oil and gas production can play in climate, energy, and economic security, and an orderly, just transition. Washington State, Fiji and Chile were confirmed as joining BOGA with some others announcing their intent to join. BOGA now has 10 core members (Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Greenland, Ireland, Portugal, Quebec, Sweden, Wales, and Washington State); two associate members (California and New Zealand); and five “friends of BOGA” (Chile, Fiji, Finland, Italy, and Luxembourg).
The one question BOGA raised for me was if BOGA could do what the COP is failing to do. This also could be asked if the Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty happens. While both are initiatives being discussed around the COP that is the only claim it can have on them. It provides a platform for them but no commitment.
Tuvalu and Vanuatu are calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. The 3 aims of the treaty are to prevent the proliferation of coal, oil and gas by ending all new exploration and production; phase-out existing production of fossil fuels in line with the 1.5C global climate goal; fast-track real9 solutions and a just transition for every worker, community and country. There was a lot of interest and my hope is that it will follow in the footsteps of BOGA. Perhaps this shared vision and commitment from countries collaborating on the peripheries of COP will garner more ambition and commitment than the UNFCCC has.
The tagline to COP27 “Together for Implementation” poses many questions. Why hasn’t implementation happened already? Why has it taken until 27 to focus on implementation? Years of empty promises and broken commitments support the claim that COP is a talking shop.
I have no doubt that the perseverance and constant protests played a major role in Loss and Damage making it onto the agenda and into agreement. The commitment to it in the agreement is abysmal of course but it demonstrated to me that protest works. Had there been more protests would the commitment be stronger? We will have to wait and see.
This tweet from António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, is a very fitting tribute.
COP27 facilitated a space for the fossil fuel industry to lobby against climate action and tout for business. Based on the outcomes from the event and a number of announcements in the weeks after COP it looks like it did that well. The incremental change that comes from each COP will not prevent climate catastrophe.
The commitments on the peripheries are what give me hope. The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, fossil fuel non proliferation treaty, civil society collaborating, the determined networks of the youth, the perseverance of the developing nations are all that is good about COP. None of that requires an annual conference that costs as much as the current model both environmentally and economically. The costs mean that countries that can afford to are well represented. The costs mean that women, youth, indigenous people and civil society who are all essential to a democratic decision making process are not adequately represented. The people with the money make it to the conference and they are the people who don’t really want their lives to change as much as is necessary to stop climate breakdown. It’s not hurting them enough. Yet.
Some additional insight
Loss and damage
Ahead of COP27 it was widely agreed that NGOs would be seeking the establishment of a Loss and Damage Funding Facility. I had read the reports and appreciated the significance of this demand. On behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Vanuatu had sought compensation for the impacts of sea level rise as far back as 1991. Countries on the frontline of climate breakdown could not even get L&D on to the agenda. The developed countries party to the UNFCCC process had spent years delaying any progress.
It makes sense that compensation be paid. It serves to address the injustice of the fact that those who are doing the least are suffering the consequences most. In many cases climate breakdown is being caused by the exploitation of countries worst affected. How is it fair that a country can colonise your home, steal your resources, use them to develop an economy that in turn pollutes the environment that subsequently destroys what’s left of your home. The global north has got rich by exploiting the natural resources of the global south and it is time for retribution.
While the concept of payment for Loss and Damage is accepted there are major delays in the process of defining what qualifies as L&D. Can a price be put on loss of culture, loss of livelihood, loss of land, loss of life and more? Industry has the power to protect future profits with Investor State Dispute Settlements but people whose lives are turned upside down because of the fossil fuelled economy have no such protection. The lack of political will and delay tactics that are inevitably behind the bureaucracy demonstrate the uphill battle the most vulnerable face.
It also follows that if the wealthy countries are paying compensation in the form of loss and damage it is in their interests to limit the loss and damage. There are many benefits to having this fund in place.
It took me a few days into my time in Egypt to realise what was missing. There were little or no local women, anywhere. Apart from 2 women at my hotel and a few at COP, men held the jobs. We have spent many years discussing the need for women in decision making if we are to address our ecological crisis and sustainable development. Here’s a report “Changing Laws and Breaking Barriers for Women’s Economic Empowerment in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia” https://www.oecd.org/countries/tunisia/changing-laws-and-breaking-barriers-for-women-s-economic-empowerment-in-egypt-jordan-morocco-and-tunisia-ac780735-en.htm and another on women in politics in Egypt https://www.oecd.org/mena/governance/womens-political-participation-in-egypt.pdf
Theresa ODonohoe December 2022