By the time this issue of the Glebe Report is out, we will be in the midst of the 27th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is mercifully abbreviated to COP 27. Scheduled from November 6 to 18, it has been referred to as “the African COP.”
The location of COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, a remote resort town in Egypt, is the most obvious reason for this moniker. But there are other more substantial reasons that have implications for both Africa and the world at large.
Climate justice advocates worldwide hope that holding COP27 in Africa will serve to highlight two things: first, the inequities between countries who contribute the most greenhouse gases (GHGs) and those who produce the least but are likely to suffer the most severe consequences of climate change; and second, the parallel between control of the power grid and suppression of social activism and environmental justice initiatives by authoritarian regimes.
Climate scientists have identified carbon dioxide (CO2) as the “primary driver” of GHG emissions. There are many different ways to measure these emissions. They can be measured as total current tonnes of CO2 output, historic output (that is, averaged over a period of time) or per capita (total of tonnes divided by the number of people in the population).
Wealthier countries tend to have higher emissions over time because they have exploited fossil fuels for longer. Long-term fossil fuel use has helped to create wealth and decrease poverty, but those results have come at a cost to climate stability and human and environmental health. And the costs are rising.
Comparing the per capita output of CO2 gives us a better understanding of how wealth and lifestyle contribute to outputs. Let’s compare the per capita output of CO2 by Canada and the four African countries that have hosted a COP: South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and now Egypt. Let’s use numbers from 2020, keeping in mind that those figures are lower due to the global economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.
So, South Africa has the highest CO2 output of the four African countries at 7.62 tonnes per person per year. Egypt is in second place at 2.09 tonnes. Morocco follows with 1.75 tonnes, and Kenya has the lowest CO2 output at a mere 0.3 tonnes per capita. The average Canadian, by contrast, is responsible for 14.2 tonnes per year – almost double the output of South Africa and almost triple the global average of approximately 5 tonnes per capita. CO2 emissions need to fall drastically to prevent even more damaging climate effects than the ones we are already witnessing.
Greenhouse gases do not respect international boundaries. They function in a global weather system that pummels the very countries that have contributed the least to climate breakdown. That is why countries from the global south are hoping at this COP to get a commitment from the wealthier countries to contribute to a fund to pay compensation for the loss of lives, species and cultures and the damages to infrastructure that result from storms, droughts and fires made more frequent and more severe by climate change.
The Bloomberg Quicktake on Loss and Damage states that nations from the global north are concerned about a misuse of funds meant to support a recovery from climate disasters. While these richer nations are certainly not immune to the misuse of funds themselves, this notion is not unfounded.
Democratic (electrical) power
In his essay “Before the COP: Sustainable power,” Egyptian journalist, filmmaker and activist Omar Robert Hamilton raises the question of “how to design a system of reparations that does not entrench authoritarian state powers.” He tantalizingly asks whether the energy transition to wind, solar and renewable power “could be the basis for a new type of political power,” one that is truly democratic.
In order to get beyond state greenwashing and achieve real sustainability, Hamilton recommends ending fossil-fuel subsidies, outlawing fossil-fuel financing and writing off “odious” debts that cripple progress toward achieving fossil-fuel independence. These strategies sound familiar to climate campaigners in Ottawa and throughout Canada.
We still have the freedom to demonstrate on these issues here. In Egypt, they do not.
Cecile Wilson has lived in the Glebe for 21 years and is interested in climate change, politics and discourse.