(Bloomberg) — The United Nations flagship climate summit is usually a lively affair. As well as drawing world leaders, scientists, even executives, thousands of travel to cities hosting the COP talks, staging colorful demonstrations to demand more urgent action and holding events to raise awareness of specific issues. Not this year.
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Non-profit organizations and seeking to attend COP27 in Egypt’s remote seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh say they’ve faced hurdles obtaining accommodation accreditation and finding potentially limiting civil society representation and even hindering the profit. profile Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg, who’s expressed solidarity with Egyptian political prisoners, to skip what she called the “greenwashing” conference. Climate campaigners from developing countries such as Pakistan, where global warming significantly exacerbated this year’s record floods, have faced particular difficulties getting funding to attend.
“The real voices and real struggle of people in Pakistan should be featured on stage,” said Pervez Ali, a 19-year-old Pakistani activist with Fridays for Future who, many fellow campaigners, secured accreditation and funds to take part. “The small number of is going to affect the results, and the fair and free process of COP — if you’re not allowing who are suffering the consequences of climate change to tell their stories, if you’re blocking them, you ‘re hiding that reality from the world.”
Egyptian officials say they are making efforts to ensure civil society groups can participate meaningfully, but the difficulties campaigners have endured offer a glimpse into the challenges local face in their home country on a daily basis.
Demonstrations are effectively banned in Egypt and NGOs operate in a highly restrictive environment, their leaders often facing government pressure, trial, even imprisonment. The crackdown on society has worsened since President Abdel-Fat El-Sisi seized power in 2013, reversing democratic gains made during the Arab Spring uprisings, violent protests and rounding up opponents. That has turned climate activism — like any activism in Egypt — into a perilous undertaking, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch.
Egypt ranks 168th out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index. Despite a series of pardons this year, thousands of political prisoners, including both Islamists and secular critics, continue to be held in their jails, often in poor conditions and without proper trial, Amnesty International said. They include about 21, making Egypt one of the world’s biggest jailers, according to Reporters Without Borders. Among them is prominent Egyptian-British blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, who has been on hunger strike since April.
Wael Aboulmagd, special representative for the Egyptian COP27 presidency, said organizers would ensure society organizations are able to participate in all activities except for the negotiating process, which is open only to country negotiators “We’ve exerted every effort to ensure their presence,” he told reporters at a briefing in October. “We’re doing a lot to ensure meaningful participation.”
But the number of accreditations available to attend the conference is very limited and the costs are particularly prohibitive for young campaigners from developing nations, according to the Fridays for Future movement, which estimates that attending COP27 would set each activist back around $7,000. a crowdfunding effort to send 75 people from Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania, as well as Black, Indigenous and People of Color to the conference. They have so far raised around $19,000, not even enough to dispatch three people.Read More On COP27:
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It’s not just young from poorer nations struggling to make it. The director of a Western research center who had booked and paid for accommodation in a 5-star hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh months in advance was suddenly notified the charge would be increased four-fold, attributing it to a government directive. Speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions, the person said their organization had found alternative accommodation that, even if less convenient, would allow them to attend — though many of their contacts have effectively been priced out.
Egyptian authorities deny intervening to raise hotel prices for COP27. The government is subsidizing “a few thousand rooms” in 2- and 3-star hotels and hostels, Aboulmagd said. Rooms will have “a very low cost to ensure there are no impediments stopping people from coming,” he said.
Climate advocates from China are also facing a bumpy journey to COP27, as the Communist Party’s Covid-zero policy means fewer and price international flights, increased government scrutiny of travel and a mandatory 10-day quarantine upon returning to the country.
“We have to resign ourselves to whatever happens at China’s border control,” said one Beijing-based environmentalist, who requested anonymity to avoid repercussions from criticizing the government. He expects “a much smaller delegation from China this year,” in part because China currently prohibits citizens from traveling abroad for “non-essential reasons,” a guideline it hasn’t explained in detail.
For Egyptian, the situation is also challenging. Sharm el-Sheikh is a resort town on the Sinai Peninsula, one almost exclusively dedicated to tourists and conferences. More than a 500-km drive from the capital, it is otherwise surrounded by barren expanses of desert, making it easier for the government to secure, but harder for campaigners to get in. Over the past few weeks, people heading to Sharm el-Sheikh have been stopped at airports and road check points, questioned and forced to turn back, said Amr Magdi, a senior HRW researcher, who, as an Egyptian living in Germany has been advised not to travel home for COP27. Thought security checks aren’t unusual in Sinai, where tourists have been killed in terrorist attacks including a 2015 airplane bombing, climate say they’ve been targeted.
“Every Egyptian citizen should be able to participate, but there are a lot of restrictions,” he said, adding that those who make it will be closely watched by security services, hindering their freedom to speak openly. “We are concerned about surveillance during the summit — security services control everything and it’s extremely tight in Egypt.”
Initially, the number of state-approved NGOs in Egypt was so small that the government released one-time accreditations for about 25 organizations so they can attend COP27, Aboulmagd said.
NGOs in Egypt are tightly regulated and those invited by the government to attend are unlikely to be critical or outspoken, said HRW’s Magdi. While there’s a margin of tolerance for environmental work, big issues like water security, industrial pollution and harm from tourism, agribusiness and large real estate developments, are off limits, according to HRW and veteran.
“This year’s climate talks could be severed without effective and free participation by the civil society,” said Magdi, “which is what is likely to happen.”
–With assistance from Coco Liu.
(Updates with quotes from Beijing environmentalist.)
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