COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh: advice from Egyptian cultural practitioners

A year on from the United Nations climate talks, known as COP26, which took place in Glasgow last year, COP27 will be taking place in Egypt on 6-18 November 2022. I have spent some time over the last few months arranging calls with people involved with arts and cultural organisations based in Egypt to discuss COP27 and the roles of the arts in work on climate change in Egypt. In this blog post, I will share some of the key thoughts and advice that came up in these conversations.  

Egypt COP27 presidency 

The Egyptian government will host COP27. COPs systematically move around locations on different continents, so COP27 will formally be an ‘Africa’ COP with an accompanying focus on issues relevant to this continent. The Egyptian government’s programme for COP27 includes a focus on climate finance and delivering on the ground change that will follow on from decisions made at COP26. The official programme also includes an official ‘civil society day’ on 15 November intended for contributions from beyond the delegates of nations that are the main participants in United Nations conferences. This may include space for arts and cultural contributions. It will be the first time where culture is formally represented in the official ‘Blue Zone’ through the Resilient Hub theme ‘Arts, Culture, Heritage and Antiquities’. 

The location 

Many of the people I spoke to commented on the fact that COP27 is being held in Sharm el-Sheikh, which is situated in the largely desert-filled Sinai Peninsula at some distance from Egypt’s main population centres along the Nile. Sharm el-Sheikh is a major tourist site and recently attracted criticism for building a perimeter wall that effectively cut it off from nearby residents. As such, the location is neither especially conducive to protest nor to arts and cultural activities, although some key institutions such as the Sharm el-Sheikh Museum are planning events for COP27. As such, it is worth considering whether it is worthwhile making plans for Sharm el-Sheikh or whether to make plans elsewhere in Egypt instead, which may be relatively cut off from COP27 itself. 

Perceptions of climate change in Egypt 

Virtually everyone I spoke to emphasised that climate change is regarded by many in Egypt as a privileged, middle-class issue that is detached from everyday concerns. This perception also exists in Scotland, but to a lesser extent. However, the interviewees did highlight some key concerns. In Cairo, issues around air pollution and desertification as a result of river dams and deforestation came up most often. People based in Alexandria emphasised the risk that sea level rise poses to the city and the Nile delta more broadly, with flooding affecting shipping to the port as well as beach tourism.  

Given the cultural importance of Egypt’s long history, risks posed by climate change to ancient monuments through flooding, extreme weather, air pollution, and ocean acidification came up repeatedly. Other significant movements included campaigns around reducing pollution in the Nile (which is clearly of great ecological and cultural significance for Egypt) and banning disposable plastic. One interviewee also discussed the importance of recognising that Egypt is a majority Muslim country and considering how messages around climate change can consider elements of Islamic scripture that promote good stewardship of the land and discourage wasting resources.  

The Egyptian government 

Human Rights Watch has said that ‘Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has been experiencing one of its worst human rights crises in many decades’. The right to protest is curtailed and this will likely have implications for COP27. Many have expressed concerns that the Egyptian government wants to use COP27 as an opportunity to promote its public image on climate change while continuing to pollute. People working in the arts and culture sector emphasised to me that they could engage with climate change and provide space for discussion about the issues but needed to refrain from anything that could be construed as political. Another interviewee suggested that the Egyptian government’s policies make projects with schools difficult, contrasting with school pupils being a primary audience for climate change public engagement projects in Scotland. Some positive steps from the Egyptian government were also noted, such as the Green Museums Initiative, currently being piloted. 

Advice for Scottish collaborators 

Some of the people I spoke to were already aware of or actively working with Scottish partners on COP27, and almost all were interested in this kind of international collaboration. Many of these also emphasised, however, that funding is difficult for them to obtain in Egypt if it is not closely related enough to their core organisational aims, so projects focusing on climate change can be hard to make space in budgets for.

Another important piece of advice was about the importance of arts and cultural projects involving not just educational activities or exhibitions but also practical actions like tree planting or permanent changes. Otherwise, we risk reaffirming perceptions that this is a privileged or luxury discussion rather than something pressing and urgent.  

Want to know more? 

On Tuesday 4 October we will be holding an online mixer event for people based in Scotland and Egypt to meet each other and share experiences of arts and cultural work around COP26 and COP27. You can find out more about the event and sign up to attend here.  

For any enquiries, don’t hesitate to get in touch with lewis.coenen-rowe@creativecarbonscotland.com.

Lewis Coenen-Rowe, culture/SHIFT manager

(Top image: Aerial photos of Glasgow city centre and Sharm el-Sheikh waterfront. Text reads: ‘COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh: Advice from Egyptian cultural practitioners’.)

The post COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh: advice from Egyptian cultural practitioners appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

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