In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Egypt’s Ambassador to Nigeria, Ihab Awab, outlines the several strategies being put in place by Egypt which will host the COP in November.
PT: COP27 is nicknamed Africa’s COP. What should Africa expect from Egypt, given that it is playing host, in terms of putting Africa’s interest first?
Mr Awab: It is true that the Sharm El-Sheikh Conference of State Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, otherwise known as COP27, is Africa’s COP.
It is taking place at a very significant juncture of our worlds, of course, with all the challenges facing the world now, economically, recovery efforts from the Covid19 pandemic; the implications of the conflict in Ukraine and also the very clear indications that the world is not doing enough to combat climate change. But at the same time, the whole narrative around climate change has been developed outside Africa, it is time now to use the Sharm El-Sheikh conference to bring Africa’s voice to the forefront of the discussions on what can be done in order to combat the impact of climate change on the future of our continent.
Our continent is basically the least contributor to carbon emission, not more that four per cent, and at the same time it is a continent that is developing, that is growing, a continent that has adopted and took upon itself to implement and achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2030 on sustainable development and the road is very long; the challenges to meet those goals are enormous. Some of them must be prioritised vis-a-vis other commitments in climate change, simply because since we as a continent are not the primary contributor, then we should not be taking up extra commitment on ourselves that might stifle or hinder our development aspirations. So this is basically the main tenet of how Egypt’s incoming presidency of COP27 is thinking about Africa’s stance.
Africa’s voice needs to be very clear that we are all in the same boat and it is essential for there to be joint effort to combat climate change. But at the same time, we have our development aspirations and this is something I believe the Egyptian presidency during its Pre-COP consultations within Africa and with the rest of the world has been very clear about.
The other thing about the Sharm El-Sheikh conference is that we will like to call it the implementation conference. Many of the pledges made in previous conferences regarding support to the developing countries especially in Africa, or how the transition to renewable energy for example should take place without undermining our development/growth aspirations, is yet to materialise. The aspect of financing some of the projects is a key priority for the incoming Egyptian presidency of COP27 and it is something that all African countries agree that COP27 should and must actually come out with practical actions and we at the same time do realise that the moment may be a little challenging because of the cost of the conflict in Ukraine, the incomplete recovery of the global economy after covid19. There are competing priorities for finance all over the world. If we are serious about combating climate change and also equally serious about achieving the SDGs, then this is the conference and this is the kind of discussion that needs to take place in Sharm El Sheikh.
So that is why we believe in the opportunity for Africa to speak with one voice on the issues that matter the most for the future of Africa and for the issues that challenge Africa in terms of climate and economic development.
PT: You said Africa needs to speak with one voice and Egypt by virtue of being the next COP president, has assumed a leadership position. How is Egypt mobilising and organising other African Heads of State to make sure we are speaking with one voice?
Mr Awab: The consultations at different political levels have been ongoing as well as consultation at the technical level. First of all, Africa has a group of negotiators that have been established a long time ago to participate and represent Africa’s common position at the expert technical level. This group has been mobilised and through that group, we go a step up to the African Council of Ministers of Environment, which is also the higher political level of ministers of environment which is also a very important configuration to discuss what is coming out of the expert level.
President El-Sisi of Egypt has invited other African leaders to a segment of the Sharm El-Sheikh conference called the leaders summit. He has prioritised inviting African leaders to be present at COP27 to the extent possible in big numbers and in order for the concerns of Africa to be voiced not only jointly in one meeting but also in the various bilaterals that are expected to take place around Sharm El-Sheikh.
World leaders will be there and African leaders will be there. And of course there is hope that we synchronise and synergise our messages at that highest political level so that the message does not come only in declarations that we are planning to put together but also in the messages of the various leaders and ministers among themselves and other ministers and leaders all over the world.
So this is how we try to mobilise/formulate the message. There are levels of formulating the messages, putting the priorities and the leaders will be there, hopefully in numbers, to make sure that those messages come across at the highest political level.
PT: At the Africa Adaptability Summit in Rotterdam, we saw that leaders of western countries did not show up at the meeting. How does that impact climate action
Mr Awab: As I mentioned, we do recognise the challenging moment that the world is living in. Our preparations and close coordination with the outgoing presidency -UK- is focusing on the fact that, despite the fact that there are various challenges, the world cannot afford not to act. We still have a few weeks until COP27, we are receiving indications that world leaders, especially from developed countries and industrial countries, they do recognise that we cannot walk back from the commitments we have made in previous conferences.
Most recently, there was an IPCC report that said the world is in a very serious situation when it comes to emission and there was a lot of doubt on whether we will be able to reach the target of reducing emission and also temperature.
That came as a wake up call to all of us, that while we are experiencing these challenges, there is no turning back. So we do hope and we are confident that world leaders will still show up but not showing up only, which is a sign of commitment itself, but hopefully they are also showing up with readiness to make commitments and pledges for the implementation of previous commitments that were made.
There are diplomatic efforts ongoing to make sure we are able to get the best outcome in these circumstances.
PT: Are there specific roles other big players in Africa can play at COP27?
Mr Awab: Absolutely. And this is a very good segue to highlight the important role of Nigeria. Nigeria has been very vocal about the tenet of the African position and interest especially in the particular area of just energy transition. There is no development without energy and there is no development without access to energy and it is one of the 17 SDGs.
Nigeria has been very vocal about it; President Buhari is a major champion of how Africa should mobilise itself to maintain its fair share of energy access and how access to energy and combating climate change should not necessarily be two contradictory goals for humanity.
Nigeria plays a major role within Africa, thanks to President Buhari’s very vocal and very clear position but also Vice President Osinbajo who has been very vocal; his writings in major publications, his most recent visit to the US and his presentation in Washington.
He is one of the champions to one of the most important African positions and aspirations which is just energy transition and this is shared widely across Africa and it is very important that countries such as Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Senegal, Morocco, Algeria and many of the big economies in Africa are able to really mobilise within their respective subregions but also to be able to speak with one and to be very vocal about the priorities of Arica and that is why we work very closely with Nigeria and there is a very good synergy on many of the main priorities before Sharm El Sheikh.
PT: Could you quickly outline some of these priorities aside from just the energy transition which of course is very important. What other priorities are we looking at Africa speaking to with one voice?
Mr Awab: The question of adaptation, how developing countries could adapt to the transition to green economies, green energy, and renewable energy.
This is a very important aspect. We do recognise as Africa that this is a goal that we need to achieve. But at the same time, we know that this is going to cost… the international community has the responsibility to aid Africa in its transition to this kind of energy which is still not very affordable to all the economies. So the technology needs to be available and there is a lot of effort, commitment and political will that needs to be demonstrated by the international community in that particular direction.
It is not only the adaptation of energy, it is how our economies can be transformed into a green economy. It is not a button that you are going to push and you all of a sudden transform social and economic traditions and realities. We are talking about clean cooking in Africa; how are we going to make a transformation to clean energy for the regular household in the villages and small towns of Africa.
These are breaks for the future of the continent, the developing world and the global economy itself. If the majority of the population of the world that lives in the developing world is unable to make that transformation, then our goal towards combating climate change but also towards ending poverty will not be attained. So we are very clear that ending poverty and attaining the goals for preserving our earth and combating climate change should not be in contradiction.
PT: What specific demands should we look out for at the negotiation table at COP27?
Mr Awab: As I mentioned, it is not only government to government that will be solving our problems. The role of the private sector and business to business investment in that transformation is going to be key. If the larger title is financing, and the issue of financing is key because developing countries cannot do it alone and also I need to remind that developing countries are not the largest emitters especially African countries.
We are talking about financing that will have to come from governments, international financial institutions, investment funds, but also private sector and companies that are able to transfer the technologies needed at a cost effective rate. This is the main asks that will be presented at Sharm El-Sheikh that cuts across the various aspects of the agenda of the conference from adaptation to mitigation to compensation to risks and all of the agenda items.
PT: What role can the media play in spotlighting, highlighting and sending out the African message?
Mr Awab: I think there is a very important role for the media. By virtue of the several participations expected at COP27, it is not just about what the government says or agrees to. This is about how all levels of our society is able to achieve together and this is where the media’s role is key; synthesising societies; synthesising business; putting forward the accountability dimension of what we can achieve, whether in Sharm El Sheikh or in the follow conferences. I think this is where the media can be able to highlight the ending poverty, combating climate change and how they should not be in conflict and what that really means for human commitments.
Beyond governments in the developed countries, there are people in those countries who really care about the future of our earth and the more the media is able to present the kind of challenges we are facing in order to be part of our common drive. This is a major role the media can play.
This is the first of the two-part interview. In the second part, the ambassador talks about the 2013 unrest in Egypt, fighting terrorists, trade between Nigeria and Egypt and other matters. Watch out for the second part.