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How Egypt is shutting African climate activists out of COP27

This year’s COP27 in Egypt has prompted more advocacy than ever for inclusive and fair negotiations about climate justice, the disproportionate impact of environmental damage, and reparations to the most vulnerable communities.

However, the summit seems to be failing in ensuring the participation of indigenous activists and organisations from the most affected communities in Africa.

Campaigners at pre-COP27 conferences have urged youth activists’ involvement as young people across the African continent are innovating like never before with environmentally-friendly technologies and a drive towards action, solidarity, and accountability.

But trying to get to COP27 in Egypt has been a challenge faced by a number of activists from around the globe, including African climate activists, who were hoping that their voices would be centred at what has been dubbed the ‘African COP’.

One of the biggest challenges has been obtaining badges for activists hoping to attend, with many having their numerous requests rejected on the basis that there is limited availability, raising questions on how inclusive COP is.

Travel and accommodation costs have been another barrier to participation as activists are struggling to secure funding, creating a sense of disappointment and frustration.

Onjolo Kenya, 29, one of Kenya’s many passionate climate activists and environmentalists, was hoping to attend COP27 after gaining a badge through his network but found himself unable to afford accommodation and travel costs.

For the likes of activists like Kenya, Egypt’s failure to put in place a price cap on accommodation in Sharm el Sheikh, the pricey resort city where the conference is being held, has resulted in soaring hotel prices, making the cost of attending impossible to afford.

“We were optimistic that African voices would be centre stage at this COP, but we can’t even get our foot through the door to raise our voices,” Kenya told The New Arab.

Some have also complained about the location not being inaccessible and have been facing difficulties in obtaining a visa on time.

“There are several problematic things and one of them is the location itself as it is extremely expensive to go to Sharm El Sheikh,” said, Mohammed Kadir, a climate justice activist from Somalia who has been advocating for a change in priorities and investments from international organisations to fund missing resources and support vulnerable communities in the Horn of Africa.

“The truth tends to be better delivered from ordinary people coping with the challenges imposed by climate change and living the daily struggles, so participation from local activists is crucial but unfortunately the delay in processing a visa and the intensive paperwork requirements have been a barrier for me to participate,” Kadir told The New Arab.

“Of course, along with the out-of-reach expenses to cover accommodation and travel costs, we find ourselves unable to participate and make our voices heard,” added Kadir.

“It’s a shame that this is an African COP but the communities worst impacted are turned a blind eye on, are not getting properly represented, and the fact that it has turned into a commercial purpose is very disappointing.”

In his opinion, international organisations should have reached out to activists from the most affected countries to be directly involved in the conference and speak on behalf of their communities in COP27 to identify the challenges and concerns of local people.

Historically, protest activism has been a vital part of the essence of the climate conference, as what happens outside COP influences the discussions and decisions taking place inside and vice versa. But in the lead-up to COP27, Egyptian security forces cracked down on activists and campaigners, arresting and intimidating many.

After seeing the authoritarian measures being imposed, some activists told The New Arab that safety concerns are keeping them away from Egypt’s COP.

“It does not serve Egypt well to have all these negative headlines about arresting climate activists and especially concerns about human rights too,” said Tunisian climate activist and sociology student Kholoud Garfi.

“As a female activist, I would not feel comfortable expressing my opinion freely with growing surveillance and violations on activists,” added Garfi.

For Garfi, staying tuned in to developments taking place at COP27 through online meetings and digital participation is a better option for now, but she hopes to physically participate at next year’s COP if hosted in a country that respects and protects activist movements.

Egypt had issued a directive to all activists wanting to demonstrate at COP27 to provide personal information on location, names, and passport numbers. Human rights groups have criticised the Egyptian government for restricting climate protests at COP27 to a single, designated space, away from the conference centre.

Surveillance of COP27 attendees will also extend into the digital sphere via an app created by the Egyptian government to act as a guide to the conference facilities, but many digital rights and privacy experts have warned of the draconian nature of the surveillance measures.

Africa contributes less than 4 percent of global greenhouse emissions, the least of any other continent, but is most vulnerable to the devastating impact of climate change. Previous pledges at COP summits have not yet been met, such as a promised $100 billion a year from developed nations to help developing countries deal with the consequences and challenges of global warming.

Currently, the Horn of Africa is facing the worst drought in recorded history, which means that crops can’t grow, millions of livestock have perished, and water resources have become extremely scarce.

“We are always in a race against time and the climate crisis is a hunger crisis, especially in countries that are coupled with instability and conflict where thousands of people are pushed to the brink,” said Adel Suliman, a 26-year-old science teacher and climate activist in Sudan.

A new study by the World Health Organisation has found that the number of reported disease outbreaks and climate-related health emergencies in the greater Horn of Africa has reached the highest-ever level this century.

African activists are demanding that COP27 be more than a conference of promises, insisting it must be a conference of commitments.

The 27th UN climate conference has put ‘Loss and Damage’ payments discussions on the agenda for the first time, a historic moment for activists who have been seeking compensation and liabilities from richer countries who are historic polluters towards vulnerable countries that have already experienced the impact of the climate crisis.

For African activists like Suliman, to understand why climate action and justice are urgent, everyone must turn their attention to the catastrophic events happening in the Horn of Africa where thousands of livelihoods and lives are lost due to climate change.

Suliman, similar to other activists, had high hopes to attend the COP27 given that it is taking place in an African and Arab country. After saving up for several months and getting some financial support from his brother abroad, he booked his accommodation early in August to secure a reasonable price.

“Early in October, I received a message from the apartment owner that my booking has been cancelled with no reason given, only to find out that the property was listed at a higher price which became unaffordable to pay for at the last minute,” said Suliman.

Transparency and accountability are at the top of the list of priorities that African activists have, particularly after more than a decade of wealthy nations rejecting any kind of formal discussion about loss and damages.

“We are not asking for much, we only need them to acknowledge that they are the main contributors to the disruption in Africa, so these wealthy nations need to live up to their promises of finance,” Kenya said.

For Kenya, financial compensation needs to be invested in research, technology, and resources to address the climate crisis, and most importantly for skills development and training to empower African organisations and institutions to overcome the challenges they face and mitigate the deadly consequences.

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