By Bristol SU Sustainability Network
Climate change is one of the most important issues the world is currently facing – its wide ranging consequences are already being felt at both a global and local level, making it a current and time sensitive issue. Climate change is also a complex, intersectional matter, coinciding with issues of race, class, gender and inequality, to name a few. Yet it is often viewed as a future concern, as something to be dealt with later.
With the hosting of COP27 in Egypt this year, the Sustainability Network sought the opportunity to gain first-hand insight from Egyptian UoB students about the significance and implications of the climate change focused conference being hosted in their country.
Speaking to the Sustainability Network, all students shared that either they or their families have been directly affected by the impacts of climate change in Egypt.
One student shared that their parents and grandparents had observed changes to the patterns and averages of Egypt’s historical climate. This is in line with the scientific evidence that extreme weather events are getting more frequent, severe and widespread. Recurrent examples of climate change risks for Egypt include extreme temperatures driven by global warming, water scarcity, risks to food security and increased flooding and air pollution.
Unlike other countries in the region, which have the financial capacity for adaptation measures such as the widespread development of ubiquitous air conditioning, Egypt has less financial and infrastructural resilience to combat increasing temperatures. Water supply has also become a major concern due to changing rainfall patterns in what is already an arid country. This issue was linked to regional geopolitical issues, such as the contentious building of dams in nearby countries that alter water availability patterns.
'[M]any of the students believe that climate change has not been a major focus for the Egyptian government'
The climate change risk to agriculture as a livelihood, as well as for food availability, was also highlighted by the students. Negative impacts to agriculture could affect food exports such as citrus and grains, thereby impacting global food supply chains. Should Egypt’s agriculture be detrimentally impacted, the increased dependency on imported food would also impact local food security as prices would increase.
The threat of rising sea levels and storm related flooding is of major concern, with many locations having limited financial and infrastructural adaptation capacity, posing a serious risk to infrastructure and human lives. Concerns regarding climate change refugees and regional migration motivated by climatic and economic variables were also highlighted in these discussions.
Historically young people have been left out of decision-making processes yet they bear the biggest brunt of #ClimateChange. Our intergenerational co-authored blog highlights landmark achievements for children, youth, future generations & the 🌎 at #COP27. https://t.co/ebu59BTewK pic.twitter.com/WQRMweNUbL— UN Development (@UNDP) January 25, 2023
Declining air quality due to overpopulation, major car usage and general city congestion, particularly in densely populated areas, is also a major concern that impacts both health and natural weather patterns.
Despite the extreme risks faced by many communities — particularly coastal communities such as Alexandria and densely populated regions such as Cairo — many of the students believe that climate change has not been a major focus for the Egyptian government over the past few years. They explained that this could be a result of conflicting priorities, such as unemployment, healthcare, poverty and education, as well as limited financial capacity or political will to address climate change on top of these issues.
'[T]here are often financial incentives behind government investment decisions, with money often only being invested into projects that would see immediate returns'
The students also expressed concern that political instability and corruption were hampering climate change action, a concern of many LEDCs (Less Economically Developed Countries). These worries are especially pertinent given the association between climate change and social disparities, with the least financially secure and most vulnerable likely to feel the impacts of climate change first.
Some students suggested that there are often financial incentives behind government investment decisions, with money often only being invested into projects that would see immediate returns. However, others noted that significant progress has been made over recent years, including reduced plastic consumption, better waste management, investment into sustainable energy sources and biodiversity protection programs.
The students shared positive feelings about the hosting of COP27 in Egypt. The event brings Egypt and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region to the global stage, in what are typically Eurocentric discussions. This was a source of great pride to many students. Moreover, the potential benefits to tourism and potential to project Egypt as an innovative, up-and-coming and metropolitan country were seen to be positive.
"If we don’t, who will?"
The students expressed hopes for the setting of ambitious standards and legal precedents that would lead to tangible change, but there were concerns about the efficacy of previous COP conferences. Interviewees noted that the event tends to lead to very little meaningful impact – goals of previous conferences, such as 1.5 degree warning reduction targets, are not on track to be met. Some students mentioned that the conference risked becoming a blame-game, having little effect on the behaviour of large corporations that hold significant power. This COP conference is therefore viewed as a pivotal moment in the climate change battle.
Some students also expressed worries surrounding the influence that COVID-19, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and other socioeconomic current events may have on successful climate change action.
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So where to from here? Whilst climate change is a global issue that will affect different places in different ways, everyone has a role to play in reaching the common goal. A common theme amongst student responses was the importance of incremental change and international collaboration, as movements are stronger when they leverage the unique strengths of individuals and countries alike. Generally, the students interviewed encouraged action and implementation over policies and legislation, with one student encouraging the community to hold governments accountable, pointing out, ‘If we don’t, who will?’
The success of the COP27 conference will likely only be seen retrospectively over a much longer time scale, so whilst one student hoped that dramatic outcomes and immediate action would result from the discussions, another viewed a successful outcome as even one person being moved to action.
Featured Image: Friends of the Earth International / Flickr
What were your hopes for the outcomes of COP27?