The baffling, frustrating and occasionally inspiring circus that is the UN climate talks is in full swing in the Red Sea tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Impenetrable as they are these talks are the only place countries can negotiate to act together on climate.
World leaders have come and gone (although President Biden is arriving tomorrow) leaving negotiators to try to make progress on the twin challenges of reducing climate emissions and agreeing funding to help less-well-off countries with the damage climate change will cause (and is already causing).
Boris Johnson came to grandstand at a side event and utter some meaningless encouragements. It reminded me of David Cameron’s posh boy “come on chaps, let’s all pull together” speech at the talks in Marrakesh in 2016.
After u-turning on whether to go or not Rishi Sunak turned up to encourage people to get on with the transition to renewables. Great but he also seems quite happy to allow to stand Liz Truss’ climate-wrecking decision to let hundreds of new oil and gas developments go ahead.
Much has been made of this being the first climate talks in Africa since the 2016 talks in Marrakesh. The talks are supposed to alternate between northern and southern countries but a number of complications have meant that the last five in a row have been in Europe, including our very own in Glasgow last year.
There should be a big focus on Africa and the rest of the developing world, but tough restrictions on activists and sky high accommodation costs mean that many people from less-wealthy countries are not able to be in Egypt for the two weeks of discussions.
Even before the talks started hundreds of people had been arrested under suspicion of supporting calls for peaceful protests. Shockingly the official app for the talks gives the Egyptian regime access to a person’s emails, photos and location.
Despite the fine words from world leaders about how seriously they all take climate change, most countries, including the UK, have not promised to step up action with tougher targets before 2030, despite all agreeing in Glasgow that they would.
Things aren’t too rosy on the financial front either. At the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, the world’s rich nations agreed to come up with $100bn a year from 2020 to help poorer countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. This target has not been met. The US for instance has contributed only two-thirds of its obligation, two years on from the deadline, and Sunak’s only contribution was to promise to meet the promise made last year…
At this year’s talks, there are difficult discussions about funding for Loss and Damage – payments for the things and livelihoods irreversibly destroyed by climate. In one form or another this discussion has been rumbling along in the background for more than 30 years. The idea was formalised in 2013, and Nicola Sturgeon gave it a good push in Glasgow last year, but this is the first time it has made it on to the formal agenda in a big way.
Negotiators have a little over a week to make significant progress on protecting and helping the most climate-vulnerable people on our planet.
A version of this blog appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on 10th November 2022