Airforce One landed in Sharm el-Sheikh at 3:20pm on Friday and left at 6:20pm for Cambodia. That gave US president Joe Biden just enough time to meet Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and deliver a 30-minute speech.
The Cop27 visit is a stopover to bigger business next week when Biden meets China’s Xi Jinping in Bali ahead of the G20 summit.
Beijing suspended climate talks with Washington after house speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August. Relations between the two superpowers could make or break the outcome of Cop27.
In Egypt, Biden came to show off his $370bn climate package – for the US – and promise deeper methane cuts in the oil and gas sector.
But there was little for the rest of world. On what matters for the “implementation Cop” – cash – Biden had his hands tied.
Without congressional agreement, Biden cannot put more money on the table. But he gave some details on how his administration will parcel out its existing budget – including to boost Egypt’s clean energy plans.
Senior US officials briefed in advance that Biden would press el-Sisi on human rights issues. Critically, the release of Alaa Abdel Fattah, the Egyptian-British activist on hunger strike, who stopped drinking water six days ago.
Egyptian authorities told his mother el-Fattah had undergone “medical intervention”. That could mean he is being force-fed but the family has no proof he is still alive.
The #FreeAlaa campaign has dominated the summit. El-Fattah’s fate could overshadow any climate legacy.
His family urged Biden not to leave the country without evidence el-Fattah lives. As the wheels of Airforce One left the tarmac, there was no word.
Young activists holding a banner briefly interrupt @POTUS speech at #COP27. Unlike in past climate meetings, protests have been severely curtailed, with no large marches around #Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh pic.twitter.com/UluJ5csNFv
— Laura MillanLombraña (@LauraMillanL) November 11, 2022
Crumbs of support
Biden had to come to Cop27 with something to say about how the US will support developing countries to cope with worsening climate impacts. But political headwinds limit his options.
He has requested Congress approve $11bn in climate funding for the 2023 budget. That would make good on his annual $11.4bn climate finance pledge. But the results of the midterm elections could decide otherwise.
If Republicans win control of the House of Representatives, which is looking likely, they could gut the pledge. If the conservatives come out on top, Democrats have until the end of 2022 to pass the budget or see the commitments quashed.
Instead, Biden set out how he will spend leftover funding already appropriated by Congress. It includes a doubling of the US contribution to the Adaptation Fund from $50m to $100m and details for how it will spend $150m to help Africa prepare for climate impacts.
The dribs and drabs of funding announced today are a far cry from what developing countries have been calling for. Biden remained silent on loss and damage finance.
“President Biden is pulling nearly every lever available to him to deliver bold climate action at home. The inconvenient truth is that the United States is grossly underperforming on its international climate finance commitments,” said Ani Dasgupta, CEO of the World Resources Institute.
“Biden is throwing crumbs into lots of different pots. That might sound impressive but it’s not the help that is needed,” said Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa.
Fact check of the day
Asked by the Guardian today if she felt personally responsible for climate disasters like flooding in Pakistan, the CEO of US oil company Occidental Vicki Hollub accepted that climate disasters are “a problem” but said she was no more responsible than people who fly in planes, have iPhones or wear nice clothes.
She added: “We are being much more aggressive around emissions. We have to be… We are doing this direct air capture quicker than anyone else because we know we need to address it quickly.”
It’s true that Occidental is doing direct air capture – sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere – quicker than anyone else. Funded by United Airlines, they are building the world’s biggest direct air capture facility.
When it opens in 2024, it will remove 0.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year. It aims to scale up the operation and capture 25Mt a year by 2032.
That should cover Occidental’s emissions from its operations, which were 25Mt in 2020.
But it’s nowhere near enough to cover the emissions from customers burning its oil, of around 200Mt a year – equivalent to Bangladesh and its 166 million inhabitants.
To offset those emissions, Occidental would need to build hundreds of direct air capture plants. Removing a tonne of CO2 this way costs around $250 to $600. While casts are expected to come down, wouldn’t it be cheaper to leave that oil in the ground?
‘Hands full with gas’ – BP Egypt has its “hands full with gas” and “won’t be a vehicle” for the green energy transition in the region, British ambassador to Egypt Gareth Bayley wrote in internal emails to colleagues, obtained from the UK Foreign Office under the Freedom of Information Act by Culture Unstained.
Green hydrogen hub – Africa could capture as much as 10% of green hydrogen market, helping to create 3.7m jobs and adding $120bn to the continent’s GDP, according to a report by Masdar, the UAE’s biggest clean energy firm.
Carbon wonk beef – Leading climate modeller Joeri Rogelj has accused the Global Carbon Project of inflating the remaining carbon budget for 1.5C in its latest analysis. This presents “a more lenient and forgiving picture”, he tweeted.
Every little counts – The EU can nudge its climate goal of cutting emissions by at least 55% to 57% by 2030 after reaching an agreement on forestry and land use regulations. The deal sets a target to increase the carbon sink from land use and forestry by 15%.
Trade and slavery – The US has blocked more than 1,000 shipments of solar energy components from China over concerns about the use of forced labour, Reuters reports. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson denied claims of abuse in Xinjiang province and said the blockade would hinder the global response to climate change.
Shell backs Bitcoin – Shell will launch a bitcoin mining initiative at the bitcoin conference In Miami in May, according to Bitcoin magazine, the event organiser. At the event, Shell will claim that it is using immersion cooling fluid to make Bitcoin greener and cut mining’s carbon footprint by up to 48%.
Come together – The UK delegation’s meeting rooms are named after Beatles’ songs. So far Hey Jude, Yellow Submarine and Blackbird have been spotted.
Smart farming? – The UAE-US-led Aim for Climate initiative has announced a doubling of investment for climate smart agriculture and innovating food systems to more than $8bn. An investigation by De Smog previously revealed the initiative has close ties with climate-denying meat industry groups.
Taiwan’s cover – It hurts China’s feelings when Taiwan asserts its sovereignty, so the democracy has to get creative to take part in multilateral forums. At the Cop27 venue, try the St Kitts and Nevis pavilion for information on Taiwan’s climate plans.
Green, Saudi-style – If you want to learn how to save the planet, the Saudi Green Initiative has you covered. Bloomberg journalist Akshat Rathi took its quiz, which includes questions on how you brush your teeth and deal with excess food. Why nothing on air travel or meat eating? Too radical, apparently.