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Welcome back to the second week of our on-the-ground COP27 coverage from Sharm el-Sheikh, with a special edition of Moral Money in your inbox every weekday.
Yesterday was the only official day off during COP27, so I went to the beach (alongside what felt like several million other attendees). But something has been bothering me at this year’s conference, just as it did at last year’s COP26: a striking absence of poor people.
According to a World Bank report last month, 719mn people worldwide were living on less than $2.15 a day at the end of 2020. Global net income per capita was $8,806 a year — and because the distribution of that income is so skewed towards the better off, most human beings earn far less. Yet people on low incomes by global standards — let alone the extremely poor — are conspicuous by their widespread absence from proceedings.
There are a decent (if not proportionate) number of attendees here from developing countries, and it is vital that government officials, academic experts and civil society leaders from those nations should be out in greater force at future COPs.
There should also be a place for members of extremely low-income communities such as those I encountered in my earlier field research from Mongolia to Bangladesh to Ethiopia — people whose own lives are already being devastated by the effects of climate change. These people didn’t speak English, and none had travelled abroad. Not all, I assume, would want to attend a COP.
But some would. And a small share of the COP budget could be set aside to enable a good number of them to do so — helping them to secure passports, properly preparing them for the journey and covering all costs, providing full-time interpreters and strong on-ground support at all times.
Such an initiative would need to be managed with intelligence and sensitivity. These must be full-fledged and valued participants in the conference, not some sort of exhibit. It seems to me that this would be massively worthwhile. If attendees could hear directly from some whose families and livelihoods have been suffering the full force of worsening climate impacts, it would have a profound and lasting impact on their approach to these issues. That, at any rate, has been my experience.
No one can seriously deny that we could do much better here. At COP27 on Friday, I passed a panel that was discussing how to “sustainably scale African food systems”. It comprised four white men and one Egyptian man, an agri-fintech entrepreneur. African farmers, as far as I could tell, were nowhere to be seen.
In today’s edition, I focus on a group of people who are making a hugely important start on addressing these serious problems of representation — youth climate activists from the global south. And Patrick looks at Goldman Sachs’s recent “Carbonomics” report.
See you tomorrow. (Simon Mundy)
COP27 days 6 and 7 in brief:
The US Environmental Protection Agency unveiled tougher proposed rules on methane leakage on Friday, upping the ante on the oil and gas industry to tackle emissions of the greenhouse gas. The rules would include a “super-emitter response programme” requiring operators to respond to third-party reports of high-volume methane leaks. Methane traps about 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide.
Global carbon emissions are due to hit a record high this year, our colleague Leslie Hook reports. Data from the Global Carbon Project, a coalition of international climate science bodies, suggests the biggest increases came from India and the US, while China’s emissions fell for the first time since 2016.
Some countries have resisted a limit of 1.5C in COP27’s official text, US climate envoy John Kerry said at the conference on Saturday, according to Reuters. “There are very few countries, but a few, that have raised the issue of not mentioning this word or that word,” Kerry said when asked about opposition by some governments to mentioning the 1.5C target.
Youth activists at COP27: less funfair, more African voices please
Greta Thunberg grabbed headlines with her decision not to attend COP27. Asked why, she voiced concerns about “greenwashing” at the event, as well as the limited space for civil society under Egypt’s authoritarian regime. But the Swedish 19-year-old also made clear that she has had enough of being the centre of attention in this movement.
Thunberg wants to “hand over the megaphone” to voices from developing nations, where most of us humans live — and which are disproportionately exposed to the worst impacts of climate change.
As we’ve been writing, protests at this year’s COP — which is being hosted by the authoritarian government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi — have been far smaller, quieter and fewer than last year. But it’s not all bad news for the youth climate movement. For the first time, there is an official youth pavilion in the COP complex. I’d say it’s been the liveliest and most buzzing spot at the entire conference, a hive of positivity and new ideas. And — far more than at previous COPs — a striking proportion of the youth activists here are from Africa.
That is in large part thanks to the hard work of Elizabeth Wathuti, a Kenyan campaigner who made a big impact with a moving speech at COP26 in which she implored delegates to “open your hearts” to those suffering severe climate impacts. Working with the Wangari Maathai Foundation, she helped to organise a programme to bring 34 young African climate activists to COP27, with funding from donors including The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.
“You can see,” Wathuti told me, “that these young people are here and ready to do everything in their power to make change happen.”
Young activists who I spoke to, while painfully conscious of the deep flaws in the COP process, were also keenly aware of its importance, given how hard it is for voices from developing nations to gain a hearing during most of the year.
“We have a platform here to share how the climate change is impacting the lives of the people in our communities,” said Abigael Kima from Kenya. “This platform is very, very important.”
At the same time, however, youth activists are already jaded by what they see as attempts to use them for cosmetic effect — inviting a young person to give a rousing speech, then ignoring that message when the real discussion and decision-making gets under way. The youth activists — many of whom have a clear talent for public speaking — have got used to being told, “Oh my goodness, you’re so inspiring,” said Kima. “And then you go back and see that nothing has changed.”
And while activists who can deliver powerful speeches in English are in hot demand at COPs, those who can’t often have a very different experience. I was told of one young activist from a developing Asian nation who decided not to attend this year, having been made to feel like a “second-class citizen” at last year’s COP26.
For Joshua Amponsem, a young Ghanaian activist who has been attending COPs and other climate conferences, often at great personal expense, since 2016, this sort of thing reflects a perversion of the original purpose of these conferences. What was intended to be an intensely serious annual negotiation has become a “funfair”, he says, full of slick events and branding.
Often, he says, these serve to perpetuate the sense that North Americans and Europeans have all the answers. “Why should expertise always be seen as something that has to be flown in? They can never have the expertise of someone who actually originates from the place,” Amponsem said, urging more focus on supporting local talent development.
“Africa is largely seen as a place with problems,” he added. “But it’s not a dumping ground for projects. It’s a place of talent. It’s a place of skills.” (Simon Mundy)
Quote of the day
“This is not a problem that just the oil and gas industry has” Vicki Hollub, chief executive of US company Occidental Petroleum, told a corporate leadership and net zero panel at COP27 on Friday, according to the Guardian. “Everybody that uses a product that was generated from oil and gas has a part in this and is also responsible. Your iPhone, you are responsible for that. If you flew over here, you are responsible for what you used here. The nice clothes you are wearing right now, you are responsible. If we don’t all step up and take accountability, this doesn’t happen.”
Beyond COP27: Goldman bangs the drum for natural gas
From COP27 to climate week in New York earlier this autumn, you would think that all the smart money in the energy sector has been channelled towards solar, wind and other clean technologies.
In fact, that has been the trend: global renewable power spending has overtaking oil and gas funding for the first time in history, according to investment bank Goldman Sachs’s recent “Carbonomics” report.
But while it notes that renewables are constantly moving down the cost curve, Goldman warns that total energy investment — which was $1.7tn in 2021 — needs to nearly double to $3.3tn by 2027. And in a stance that will rankle with some in the clean energy space, it argues that strong investment in natural gas will be needed to maintain stable and affordable energy supply as the energy transition moves forward.
Europe’s under-investment in gas infrastructure, Goldman argues, has left several nations with no choice but to fire up coal-power production amid gas shortages following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to Goldman’s analysts, the restriction of gas investment has been “leading to an increase in energy costs without meaningful reduction in net carbon emissions”, Goldman said.
“The under-investment in energy is not only negatively impacting energy affordability and energy security,” they argue, but it is helping to drive a short-term resurgence of coal power — dealing a blow to efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
But the passage of the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act is a hugely important development, Goldman argues. The law paves the way for new funding for carbon capture, energy storage and energy efficiency technologies. (Patrick Temple-West)
Too much money is spent looking for gold rather than for the battery metals crucial to the transition, writes FT business columnist Helen Thomas. Read this for an intelligent take on why the biggest miners of “future facing commodities” such as copper, nickel and cobalt have been investing so little in growth.
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