COP27: Navigating a difficult road to Sharm El-Sheikh

Against a backdrop of rising urgency, COP27 in Egypt will bring all aspects of climate action into the spotlight – but especially the role of the host country.

Expert comment Updated 7 July 2022 Published 6 July 2022 3 minute READ

As COP26 drew to a close in Glasgow, Egyptian officials announced their priorities for COP27, emphasizing climate finance and climate adaptation – a new approach given previous COPs mainly focused on mitigation, reducing emissions to limit climate damage.

This was followed by the COP27 presidency outlining its vision at MENA Climate Week 2022 to achieve ‘substantive and equal progress’ on all aspects of the negotiations, and Egypt emphasizing its intention to focus on implementing existing carbon reduction targets rather than pushing for further carbon cuts.

Egypt argues it is hosting COP27 on behalf of African nations and that, while it is promoting the interests of the developing world, it will be an impartial arbiter. However it is also useful to consider its priorities from the Egyptian government’s perspective.

Agenda drivers

Egypt has long prioritized climate finance and adaptation because it remains in need of technical and financial support to adapt, especially in agriculture and tourism.

It plans to expand its access to climate funding and investment, an area in which Egypt has been relatively successful as it currently receives 27 per cent of all multilateral climate finance in the MENA region and has issued the region’s first sovereign green bonds.

With public debt currently 94 per cent of GDP, Egyptian officials have also called for debt relief for Egypt and other developing countries.

Egypt’s Climate Change Strategy reflects this approach, aiming to enhance Egypt’s rank on the Climate Change Performance Index in order to ‘attract more investments and acquire more climate funding’.

Not pushing for more emission reductions at this critical moment risks derailing global decarbonization momentum and undermining global climate action

Limiting the mitigation scope and the focus on finance also echoes Egypt’s own reluctance to make carbon reduction commitments. The Egyptian nationally determined contribution (NDC) – its 2030 pledge under the Paris Agreement – does not include any quantifiable emission reduction targets.

Egypt is one of only a few countries which failed to submit an updated NDC in 2021 and its upcoming update will not include an economy-wide carbon reduction target.

Egypt has also never published a long-term strategy and has no decarbonization plans despite independent estimates it should cut rising emissions by one-quarter by 2030, and by two-thirds by 2050 to be aligned with the Paris Agreement. This partly explains why observers rate Egypt’s climate action as highly insufficient.

Furthermore, Egypt’s championing of ‘moving from pledges to implementation’ without having quantifiable carbon reduction pledges of its own effectively exempts it from both pledging and implementation.

As a developing country, Egypt’s negotiating position is supported by UNFCCC provisions which recognize differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities of nations.

Its proposal to focus COP27 on the implementation of climate action and finance pledges is important in consolidating progress. But not pushing for more emission reductions at this critical moment risks derailing global decarbonization momentum and undermining global climate action.

According to optimistic estimates, if current climate pledges were implemented the world would still remain on track for 2°C of warming by the end of the century, with far worse impacts than if warming was curbed at 1.5°C.

Under a 2°C scenario, 37 per cent of the global population could regularly be exposed to extreme heat waves compared to 14 per cent in a 1.5°C warmer world, with developing countries expected to be worst-affected.

A 2°C trajectory also runs the risk of tipping points such as the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, triggering runaway climate change. Time to change the warming trajectory is running out as the latest IPCC assessment warns the window of opportunity is now ‘brief and rapidly closing’, and the UN Secretary General recently called for faster carbon cuts by the end of 2022 to avoid a ‘climate catastrophe’.

A different energy transition

Egypt opted not to join any of the voluntary sectoral coalitions at COP26 on reducing methane, clean energy transition, transition to zero-emissions vehicles, or moving beyond oil and gas.

This position is explained by its growing role as an exporter and advocate for fossil gas in the energy transition. Egypt is the second-largest producer of natural gas in Africa and is emerging as a fossil gas hub for the eastern Mediterranean, which is shaping its domestic energy policy.

Egypt is open to dialogue – not just on refining the COP27 agenda but also on reviewing its own climate priorities and leveraging its energy sector for a more ambitious transition

Its 59GW electricity generation capacity is almost double the peak demand and is dominated by gas-powered electricity generation, which currently represents 42 per cent of all Africa’s gas generation.

Egypt’s climate policy is also shaped by fossil gas, and its national Climate Change Strategy encourages the expansion of gas use by promoting a transition to compressed natural gas for vehicles, the expansion of its domestic natural gas network – despite having universal access to electricity – and shifting to a gas-fuelled shipping sector.

Egypt also voiced support for other African countries to extract and deploy fossil gas and oil resources, making it one of the protagonists of the ‘great fossil gas pushback’. These advocates defend the right of developing countries to deploy fossil gas as a ‘transition fuel’ and champion its necessity to solve energy poverty.

But their position is not shared by all African and developing countries, and is rejected by some civil society groups, who argue it risks locking in greenhouse gases and local emissions for decades as well as delaying future development of low carbon energy systems.

Egypt’s huge spare generation capacity has contributed to a slowdown in renewable energy projects over the past two years. With renewables representing just 6GW, Egypt is expected to miss its renewable energy target for 2022, set at 20 per cent of generating capacity.

Engaging Egypt better

But these positions are more malleable than they seem, and Egypt is open to dialogue – not just on refining the COP27 agenda but also on reviewing its own climate priorities and leveraging its energy sector for a more ambitious transition.

COP27: Navigating a difficult road to Sharm El-Sheikh 2nd part

The emerging partnership between the European Union (EU) and Egypt on renewable energy, green hydrogen, energy efficiency, and – for a limited period – fossil gas demonstrates that, with constructive engagement and the right incentives, compromises can be achieved which address the demands of developing countries without jeopardizing the goals of the Paris Agreement.

It also shows how to work with those developing countries still with fossil fuel resources, and could open the door to collaborative work with the voluntary coalitions which could offer technical assistance and leadership credibility to Egypt.

Consternation over unmet needs for climate finance and adaptation support for developing countries has been deepening in recent years as climate impacts worsen. Creating the right partnerships at COP27 would secure its legacy not just as a platform for meaningful progress on adaptation and finance, but as the starting point on a roadmap for more inclusive climate action.