SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt -- A senior Human Rights Watch official slammed the Egyptian government’s human and environmental rights record, saying that the space for environmental activism in Egypt “is severely curtailed.”
Richard Pearshouse, director of environment and human rights at HRW, said environmental activists in Egypt have faced “constant harassment” by security forces including restrictions on travel, foreign funding, and research permits.
He said that such restrictions bar public debate and research on damages caused by business, agro-industry, cement factories and other businesses linked to the military.
“Those are ... the types of issues that can’t be talked about domestically and have almost no presence” at the United Nations climate conference in Egypt, he said.
Pearshouse described Egypt as a “human rights black hole,” and challenged statements from Egyptian officials that raising human rights issues at the COP27 was “a distraction” from climate change.
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Germany’s foreign minister says further climate-related aid should particularly help those who suffer the most from global warming and can’t pay for the impacts themselves.
But Annalena Baerbock told reporters Wednesday on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Egypt she wasn’t confident a new fund for ‘loss and damage’ can be agreed at this year’s meeting, adding: “I don’t know if this is the right moment now.”
She also urged concrete plans for international efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, including for specific sectors.
Some developing countries and emerging economies, such as China, have resisted these efforts, arguing their inclusion in the so-called mitigation work program being discussed at the Egypt meeting would go beyond the requirements of the 2015 Paris climate accord.
But Baerbock said failure to do so could mean the overarching goals of the Paris pact would be impossible to achieve.
“If we don’t do anything in the next ten years then we’ll reach 2030 and have missed the 1.5-degree goal by such a margin that we probably can’t return to it.”
“We know that there are countries which view this differently, maybe out of their own self interest,” she said, without elaborating.
The former Irish President has urged negotiators at the United Nations climate conference to take a “real decision” on climate financing to vulnerable countries.
Mary Robinson, who is also chair of the Elders group of global leaders who advocate for peace and justice, said the progress at the beginning of the summit by putting the issue on the official agenda needs to be met with “a landing that brings money to the most vulnerable.”
Robinson called for global financial institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to free more funds to help vulnerable nations recover and be prepared for climate change impacts.
“They actually have ways of opening up their lending much more without losing their triple-A rating,” she said.
She also called world leaders to keep alive the target of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.
Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate criticized the continued discussion and resistance from some countries to establish a loss and damage financing structure to pay compensation for poorer countries suffering the worst effects of climate change.
Nakate also called for governments around the world to phase out fossil fuels to keep to the 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) warming limit set out in the Paris agreement.
“It’s important that we not only address the issue of loss and damage, but also address the root cause of loss and damage,” she said.
Climate protestors Wednesday pushed for the 1.5-degree Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) limit on global warming to remain part of climate talks.
“Our demands to the negotiators for the next 48 hours as people from the Pacific and as frontliners in climate change is simple. We cannot have 1.5 degrees Celsius watered down,” Fijian climate activist Vivania Tatawaqa told The Associated Press. Scientists agree that limiting warming to just 1.5 degrees will save the planet from the worst effects of climate change.
Several groups protested Wednesday within the venue’s ‘Blue Zone’ where access is limited to conference participants. Earlier in the day dozens of health professionals demonstrated to highlight the impact weather events exacerbated by climate change have on health.
“We are here to advocate for the climate crisis and make sure everyone understands that it’s also a health crisis,” medical professional Poorvaprabha Patil said. “Every time you have a flood and check out the communities, you will see a rise of infectious diseases.”
The European Union climate chief said there is still “a long way to go” in the ongoing negotiations at the United Nations conference on climate change taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt this year.
Frans Timmermans said he remains “hopeful” that they can achieve “good conclusions” at the conference, which ends Friday.
Asked about the issue of compensation for vulnerable nations suffering the impacts of climate change, known as loss and damage, which is one of the main topics of this year’s summit, Timmermans said: “We’re all willing to find some substantial steps forward, but we’re not there yet.”
A senior European Union official said they were still establishing the facts about a missile that fell in NATO-member Poland, killing two people. It remains unclear who fired it, though U.S. President Joe Biden said it was “unlikely” it was fired from Russia.
EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said Wednesday that the bloc stands beside Poland which is also an EU member.
“We are in full solidarity with Poland and the Polish people. They are an important part of NATO and of the European Union,” Timmermans told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the United Nations climate conference in Egypt’s seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
“We stand as one in this, and I hope we can get clarity of what actually happened very soon,” he said.
Climate envoy John Kerry said the U.S. is “fully engaged” in talks with China at the U.N. climate summit underway in Egypt.
Kerry met with China’s top climate official Xie Zhenhua Tuesday, a hint of improving relations seen as vital for substantial progress against global warming. Beijing put talks on hold three months ago in retaliation for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan.
Asked what the outcome of the summit may be, Kerry replied: “We’ll have to see, it’s a late start.”
Speaking at an event to mark the conference’s themed day on biodiversity, Kerry confirmed he had also met with Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva Tuesday.
Kerry said he “was really encouraged by the ways in which he talked about once and for all getting it right, pulling people together in order to preserve the Amazon.”
A lawmaker with the German Green party has called for establishing a legal structure to force polluters to pay for the destruction caused by climate change in vulnerable nations.
Speaking at an event at the U.N. climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, Michael Bloss pointed to the devastating flooding in Pakistan this summer, which put one third of the country’s population underwater and caused an estimated $40 billion in damage.
The floods "are directly caused by the climate crisis,” he said, adding that the the world's biggest emitters “are responsible for losses and damages.”
Bloss criticized European governments for weakening efforts to establish a loss and damage fund which he said has “great support” in the European parliament.
The issue of compensation was once considered a taboo, because rich countries were concerned that they might find themselves paying vast sums. Intense pressure from developing countries forced the issue of “loss and damage” onto the formal agenda at the talks for the first time this year.
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