On top of the urgent human rights issues bubbling to the surface as Egypt hosts this year’s United Nations climate summit, COP 27, participants are beginning to complain openly about massive logistical barriers—from lodging costs, to a lack of food, coffee, toilets, and soap—for anyone trying to be a part of the negotiations at the conference centre in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Every United Nations climate conference faces armchair critics who try (in good faith or bad) to weigh the potential benefits of global climate negotiations against the cost and carbon footprint of the annual gathering. Anyone who’s attended a COP knows that the conference is a mix of sheer adrenaline and pure exhaustion, a continuing blur of 12- to 18-hour work days with none of the leisure or luxury the critics might imagine.
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But so far, the Egyptian Presidency seems intent on setting a new standard for gouger’s rates, poor organization, and lack of the basic services participants depend on to be able to function onsite.
A post in Thursday’s edition of ECO, the daily COP newsletter produced by Climate Action Network-i
International, traces the first signs of trouble back to late spring, when hotel bookings were cancelled without notice and prices doubled—a potentially insurmountable barrier for participants from developing countries or civil society organizations who could barely afford the conference to begin with. Days after the COP opened, ECO writes, “people are STILL being kicked out of their hotels even now unless they pay more money than the already highly inflated rates.”
At the conference site, meanwhile, “it is evident that the organizers at COP have priorities, which is not to ensure that delegates (who have paid a fortune to attend COP, or to host a pavilion at COP) have their needs met in a timely manner.” ECO tells stories of food kiosks still under construction with no supplies available, 60- to 90-minute lineups for food and drink where “you have to be prepared to pay an exorbitant amount for very little,” and an “official fly smacker” brought in to clear an infestation at the conference centre.
Expensive conference pavilions “were still building sites” as the conference entered its third day, water dispensers and coffee machines were in short supply, audio-visual equipment essential to conference sessions and discussions was largely unavailable, and the virtual platform for anyone trying to follow the conference from away “has proved next to useless in providing live feeds of negotiations,” ECO says.
“This is particularly troubling for a COP where there is so much interest from so many who can’t be here in person. The inability to listen and engage online with the events here in Egypt is a huge opportunity missed.”
Negotiating rooms—where delegates will be working around the clock to hammer out useful outcomes from the two-week conference—“are either too small, too cold, or too noisy,” with negotiators as well as observers left to queue up outside after all the seats were taken. And Wednesday night, delegates leaving the conference centre were faced with a “running river of sewage” from inside the venue—a prospect, ECO says, that gave new meaning to “overflow areas”.
No one attends a UN climate conference because they’re looking forward to great personal amenities. But “this isn’t trivial or frivolous,” ECO writes. “The tens of thousands of people who have come to Sharm el-Sheikh have done so often at great personal expense and understanding that it is not without impact. We’re simple people who need decent Internet, food, water, toilets, and plugs to charge our devices, in order to make this climate summit a success, and secure real and impactful climate action.”
As for the “overflow area” outside the venue, “if the pictures and pleas of the delegates and observers don’t get the attention of the COP 27 Presidency, perhaps the smell will,” the newsletter adds.