Four members of the Forum Alpbach Network (FAN) who joined the COP27 write about their impressions of a "very peculiar climate conference".
This year's 27th UN Climate Conference, the Conference of the Parties (COP27), took place from November 6th until the early morning of November 20th in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Four EFA alumni and Forum Alpbach Network members, Valeriya Izhyk, Klaudie Mrkusova, Emily Bankert, and Lukas Brunner, had the chance to attend the Conference financially supported by the Greiner AG, a leading global supplier of plastic and foam solutions.
Expectations for the COP27 were low from the beginning, despite the placement of Loss and Damage on the agenda for the first time. Before but also throughout COP, the host country, Egypt, was criticized particularly by civil society and young people for suppressing free speech, accepting severe polluters as main sponsors and imposing exorbitant prices on accommodation, transport and food. It didn’t come as a surprise that several NGOs chose to boycott it, branding COP27 as a greenwashing event.
When the FAN delegation arrived for the second week, negotiations were already delayed, yet small victories were made, as for example with the acceptance of the operationalisation of the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage. The official end had then to be postponed several times and the FAN member Lukas described the mood of the crowd waiting in front of the negotiation rooms on late Saturday evening as a strange mix of boredness and tenseness. Finally, a somewhat minimal compromise was reached in the early morning of Sunday, which, at least, saw the establishment of a Loss and Damage fund for the first time.
Coming into the Green Zone felt like entering a big international event. The Green Zone is usually where civil society and the private sector are most active as anyone can apply to get in. The way to its main area was full of artistic installations, open space for evening receptions and a #COP27 as a big 3D sign to take pictures with. Yet, arriving at the main area itself was a big disappointment. For whatever reason, most of the tents were half-empty – did the exhibitors not show up at the very last minute or did the organizer overestimate the number of interested parties? It seems that at previous COPs much of the actions and events were organized by civil society. Rumor had it that the emptiness of the space was due to the Egyptian civil society, one of the most underrepresented at COP, was limited in their possibilities to organize actions and events in this non-UN protected space.
The Green Zone was complemented by the Innovation zone, an independent space, to which anyone could apply as well. It featured some stages for panel discussions and talks but could also not keep one interested for more than a couple of hours. In short, both zones were disappointing – very little content and almost no attendance.
The Blue Zone was a different story – it was the place to be. The COP Blue zones are generally not only where negotiations happen but also where most side events take place and where countries have their pavilions. Everyone was there, in other words, if you were not in the Blue Zone, you did not experience the essence of COP27. All country pavilions and main sponsors were exhibiting there and the quasi-totality of official side events was taking place there too. The negotiation building itself was very well hidden behind many tents of different size and geographical orientation with an atmosphere of a fair. A general rule was that one would first get lost at least three times before reaching their desired destination. Signposts qualified as rare goods, with very little information. Even in the main negotiation building one could not find any big screen transmitting the happenings from the inside and observers were often not allowed to enter the room as there were not enough chairs - another rare good of COP27.
All four FAN representatives agree that the informal discussions with delegates, observers and other participants were the highlight of their participation at COP27 - like in Alpbach after all. The official encounters included CDP (a non-profit dedicated to managing environmental impacts of their clients), WWF or the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens. In a more unofficial setting our FAN delegation met with seven young African climate activists, attended an evening with official UN youth delegates from various countries as well as a Head of an Observer Delegation from India.
Among the biggest take-aways was that what matters for climate justice is what happens in the 50 weeks between COPs. Emily reflected that even if COPs might seem ineffective, they play a huge role for young people and civil society to connect and empower each other. While many European countries have a voice at G7 or G20, COPs are for many countries of the global south a main platform to make their voice heard. One of Klaudie’s main discoveries was that football players are the most influential people on this planet, more than any politicians or actors. A new initiative ‘We Play Green’ is trying to onboard the most influential footballers to bring climate action and awareness to everyone’s living room.
Overall, the FAN delegation left with mixed feelings about the outcomes but inspired and grateful for the experience. While more should have been achieved, the establishment of a Loss and Damage fund is the beginning of the developed world recognising the existence of a climate debt due to their historical emissions. Beyond official outcomes, COP27 has proven itself as a vibrant stage for informal networking, idea generation and development of partnerships across societal sectors to continue the fight for climate justice.
Lukas Brunner has a PhD in natural sciences and works as senior scientist in the group for Climate Dynamics and Modeling at the University of Vienna, Austria. He first received a scholarship for the European Forum Alpbach in 2016 and was a board member of Club Alpbach Vorarlberg from 2019 to 2021.
Emily Bankert has studied Environmental Science, Policy and Management and works currently as Trainee on Social and Ecological Transitions in DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission. She is also Climate Justice Coordinator at Generation Climate Europe, a climate coalition of youth-led networks. She joined the EFA for the first time in 2022 as part of the Club Alpbach Deutschland.
Klaudie Mrkusova has studied International Energy and works on frameworks and policies that enable and foster research and innovation in the energy sector in DG Energy at the European Commission. She is also Vice-chairwoman of Forum Alpbach Network and EFA Climate Opportunity Leader. She received her EFA scholarship in 2020 with Club Alpbach Belgium Brussels.
Valeriya Izhyk holds a Master‘s degree in European Political and Governance studies from the College of Europe and Kyiv School of Economics. She is currently focusing on the reconstruction of Ukraine at the CEE Bankwatch Network. Valeriya received her EFA scholarship in 2019 with the Kyiv Initiative Group Alpbach.
Group Picture (c) Aly Hazzaa