Egypt is facing strong geopolitical headwinds to keep the world delivering on its climate commitments.
Hiked food and fuel prices, ballooning debt and economic downturn are threatening global climate action as the nation prepares to host the Cop27 climate summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Commitments made nearly a year ago in Glasgow risk falling victim to the fallout of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The energy crisis has triggered a rush to extract more fossil fuels and promises to increase finance to help developing countries cope with worsening climate impacts haven’t materialised.
“There is a potential backsliding on pledges,” warned Egyptian lead negotiator Mohamed Nasr. “We need to make sure that the political commitment at the highest level of the international community is still there.”
Egypt has made implementing climate pledges the rallying cry for the talks and the theme of a leaders’ level summit on 7-8 November.
With few decisions expected from the negotiations, the summit host will need to galvanise action from leaders, financial institutions and the private sector. Here’s who’s influencing the agenda on key issues.
Climate victim defender: Sherry Rehman
The catastrophic flooding that submerged Pakistan and the scant international response to the disaster have sharpened developing countries’ call for finance to help them recover from climate-induced damages.
Pakistan, which has been left with an estimated $30bn bill, will be front of the pack in demanding support. Sherry Rehman, the country’s climate minister, did the media rounds to explain the scale of the reconstruction challenge. As the nation chairs a group of 134 developing countries, known as the G77, she will be key in driving a push for a new funding stream to respond to climate damages.
Her experience as a former chair of Pakistan Red Crescent and former ambassador to the US will come in handy.
Activist diplomat: Jennifer Morgan
From heading Greenpeace International to being appointed Germany’s special envoy for international climate action, Morgan will have to adapt her style at Cop27.
At the last UN climate summit, she accused Mark Carney’s Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero of being “a scam” and took the risk of being kicked out by taking part in a spontaneous protest against UN Climate Change rules.
Yet, Morgan will play a key role in the negotiations. She has been appointed by the Cop27 presidency to facilitate negotiations and help break the deadlock on how to provide finance for climate victims to rebuild from impacts. She’s sharing the hot seat with climate scientist turned Chile’s environment minister Maisa Rojas.
Voice for justice: Vanessa Nakate
The Ugandan climate activist has given a voice to developing country campaigners demanding solidarity with vulnerable people on the climate frontlines.
She has elevated calls for wealthy nations to pay for the losses and damages caused by worsening climate change and make good on their finance promises under the viral motto ‘#ShowUsTheMoney‘.
She has shown unafraid to confront developed country ministers directly. Expect more fireworks during the summit.
Financial system wonk: Mahmoud Mohieldin
The Egyptian Cop27 high-level champion is an economist with three decades of experience working on international finance and development.
Having worked at both the IMF and the World Bank, he understands the role international finance institutions play in unlocking the financing developing countries need to cut emissions and build resilience.
As calls for reforming the global financial system gather steam, his experience will be key to make progress outside the negotiations rooms, and in the real economy.
Mohieldin is part of an experienced team of Egyptian diplomats presiding over the conference, including Cop27 president Sameh Shoukry.
Gas enthusiast: Macky Sall
There is no unified African position for how to transition the continent from dirty to clean power. Senegal’s president and current chair of the African Union has emerged as a leading voice for those arguing nations should use their fossil fuel resources to help meet energy and development needs.
Senegal is developing its offshore gas resources and Sall is hoping for German support. This has made for delicate discussions with wealthy nations over a possible deal to accelerate the country’s transition to clean energy, on a similar model to one struck with South Africa.
Also of Senegal, Madeleine Diouf Sarr, the first woman to chair a group of 46 least developed countries, is one to watch. An experienced and respected negotiator, she will push the priorities of the world’s poorest nations.
Clean power hustler: William Ruto
Kenya’s newly elected president is the counterpoint to a gas-fuelled energy transition in Africa. Former deputy president and one of Kenya’s richest men, Ruto won a tight election race in August.
Ruto has committed to take Kenya to 100% clean energy by 2030 while creating jobs and developing industry. Gifted with huge geothermal potential, more than 80% of Kenya’s electricity is already generated from renewable sources.
Meanwhile, the north of the country is facing its worst drought in 40 years, causing crops to fail, livestock to die and people going hungry. Ruto will be a strong voice demanding more finance to adapt and respond to climate impacts.
Debt swap champion: Gustavo Petro
The former rebel and Colombia’s first left-wing president was elected on a campaign to gradually wean the country’s economy off its oil and coal dependence and seek financing to preserve the Amazon.
Petro is championing calls for debt forgiveness in exchange for conserving and restoring the Amazon, using debt-for-nature swaps. On the continent, Belize and Argentina are backing the idea. The concept has sparked the interest of the IMF and a number of developing countries in Africa are exploring the option.
A push for carbon markets to generate revenues for avoided emissions in leaving fossil fuels in the ground and protecting the rainforest has proved more controversial among local campaigners. What Petro brings to the table will being closely watched.
Methane controller: John Kerry
The US’ special climate envoy has been drumming up support for countries to join a pledge to cut global methane emissions by 30% by 2030. It now has 125 signatories. Further announcements on how this will be delivered are expected at Cop27.
Working with Brussels, Washington is driving an initiative to cut methane emissions in the production and distribution of oil and gas. The pair is calling on exporters and importers to join them.
Kerry hopes rapid action on methane can reduce climate impacts and curtail developing nations’ snowballing needs to recover from their damages. The US has agreed to talk about funding arrangements for climate victims at Cop27 but continues to object to provide additional funding to help them rebuild. Further disagreements lie ahead.
Quiet deal-maker: Xie Zhenhua
Beijing’s zero-Covid policy means China’s climate envoy has travelled little this year. The world’s largest emitter has focused on domestic issues, including a slowing down of its economy. President Xi Jinping isn’t expected at Cop27.
Analysts say China is likely to side with developing countries on key issues of adaptation and finance for climate victims. It will be hard-pressed to provide debt relief to cash-strapped vulnerable nations. Developed countries will demand more ambition at home, including a halt to its coal build-out.
But it’s the geopolitics that preoccupy China-watchers. Beijing has halted discussions on climate action with the US following Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Xie has known his counterpart Kerry for a long time. How the two men engage at the summit will shape the political dynamic.