- Though the Egypt government did not allow protestors to organise themselves in the streets during COP27, the United Nations (U.N.) for the first time, offered them space to protest that is usually reserved for diplomats.
- These activists raised issues ranging from climate justice to human rights and the total phase-out of fossil fuels.
- People from several African countries raised the concerns of under-developed nations and protested the developed world and elites, accusing them of promoting ‘fake solutions.’
While Egypt, the host of the climate conference, COP27, did not allow protests in the streets of Sharm el-Sheikh where the conference was held, the United Nations (U.N.), permitted climate activists to raise their voices in the Blue Zone. This area is usually reserved for official proceedings and activists are usually not allowed to protest here.
The activists gathered every day at the Blue Zone during the two-week event where they raised their voice for more ambitious climate policies as well as social, economic and climate justice. Among the other issues that the activists raised were setting up a loss and damage finance facility, reparations for loss and damage and human rights as part of climate justice.
In the rest of the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the recently concluded COP27 was held, there were restrictions on assembly and protest imposed by the Egyptian government.
“COP, the annual gathering, provides an important platform and meeting ground for climate activists from different parts of the world. Without this very small group of feisty civil society activists, COP27 would have been like an expo-fair of NGOs, corporations, and government agencies outside and an increasingly farcical and failing multilateral sideshow inside,” said Zeina Al Hajj, programme director of 350.org, an international environmental organisation addressing the climate crisis.
During these protests, they emphasised over the need to reduce emissions to “real zero” and “not net zero”. In their opinion, fossil fuel lobbyists are more influential than frontline countries and communities. Representatives of corporate interests dwarf delegations from African countries and indigenous communities, these activists alleged.
On the one hand, negotiators at COP27 were strategising on how to reduce fossil fuel emissions. On the other, the event had a number of representatives of the fossil fuel industry. For them, the African gas reserves offer businesses an opportunity, especially when the Russian-Ukraine conflict has pushed the European countries into an acute energy crisis, noted some activists.
The activists representing several NGOs, women and gender organisations, indigenous peoples’ organisations, trade unions and children and youth joined the call from the COP27 coalition, a network of African civil society. They echoed, “Don’t Gas Africa.” Phase out all fossil fuels as the leading climate action, they demanded.
At one of the protests, Ugandan youth climate activist Leah Namugerwa, said that there is a “neo-colonial” gas grab going on in Africa. This would benefit only the gas multinationals and the country elites, while poor people would suffer even worse consequences from global heating, she said. But western “countries are wary of appearing hypocritical in urging African nations not to exploit their gas. Besides, many European countries want to import African gas to ease their own cost of living crisis.”
Human rights activists joined the climate change protests on the Global Day of Action march in the Blue Zone on November 12. Saana, sister of Alaa Abd El Fattah, Egypt’s most prominent political prisoner, joined Asad Rahman rights activist of the U.K. and Tasneem Essop of Climate Action Network (CAN), a global network of more than 1,800 civil society organisations in over 130 countries, along with faith and indigenous group leaders. “We have not been defeated,” the clarion call of the protestors at COP27 was a nod to Abd El Fattah’s book, “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated.” Abd El Fattah is an activist and software developer, imprisoned for most of the past nine years for his condemnations of Egypt’s government. He has been on a hunger strike since April 2022. Civil society groups have written a letter to all heads of state and called upon them to take a strong stand against the human rights abuses and immediate release of Alaa Abdel Fattah and all other prisoners of conscience. Such treatment also violates the Paris Agreement, which reaffirms the critical importance of a vibrant civil society and respect for civil rights and political freedoms, said the letter.
Another concern echoed at the protest was about “false solutions” to climate change impacts. Africa and other developing countries are fast becoming the dumping ground for “false solutions”, many of which are driven by corporations who see the climate crisis as a way of profiteering, said Mohammad Adow of Powershift Africa.
“We are in Africa. Those from South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Gambia and elsewhere are here, came with many expectations. Our mothers, small-holder farmers, fisherfolks, and young people are suffering the impacts of climate change. With greater responsibility and capacity, richer countries must do much more to end their emissions and provide finance, technology, and capacity to developing countries,” people were arguing from the stage.
Activists from AOSIS and SIDS countries, a grouping of small island nations at COP27, highlighted how climate change risks food security in many Pacific Islands, impacting fisheries and agriculture. As the sea level rises, island nations risk losing coastal arable land to degradation and salination.
“We need loss and damage finance,” said Disha Ravi of Fridays for Future India, which is a part of the climate campaign started by teen activist Greta Thunberg, who has boycotted COP27. “There has not been any substance so far,” Ravi said, adding, “We need to see some money on this account.”
“The moral and political argument for loss and damage is unimpeachable. The countries that contribute least to climate change continue to suffer the most. The cost to them has already been high, and with a global recession looming, there is a growing threat of a massive debt crisis in the Global South. Rich countries must repay their climate debt by reducing emissions to zero and paying reparations for climate impacts, including adaptation and loss and damage,” they were arguing.
By the end of COP27, the parties agreed to establish loss and damage funds. For the civil society, this was a win.
Read more: Egypt summit decides to set up a fund for climate catastrophes
Banner image: While COP27 failed on the mitigation front, rich nations agreeing to setup a Loss and Damage fund can be considered as a success. Photo by Shailendra Yashwant.