Climate change must be taken as seriously as Covid, Cop27 chief warns

The climate crisis will only be taken seriously when countries realise it is an existential threat like Covid, Cop27 host’s chief negotiator warns.

As international delegations arrive in Egypt from across the world, ambassador Mohamed Nasr said the climate crisis would not wait for humanity to solve its other problems, pointing to deaths in Pakistan caused by climate-fuelled extreme flooding.

The Cop27 climate summit will open its doors in Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday in a bid to make tangible progress on a host of issues from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to helping developing countries adapt to a warming planet.

Ambassador Mohamed Nasr says climate needs to be treated like Covid (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Ambassador Mohamed Nasr says climate needs to be treated like Covid (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Mr Nasr said a key goal of the critical conference was to keep climate change at the top of the international agenda at a time when countries face a litany of challenges including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and linked soaring energy and food prices.

“Everybody is saying, yes, we’re committed … but the national circumstances are making things difficult,” he said.

“Climate change is not waiting for us to fix our other problems, and let’s not forget that when Covid was an existential threat to all of us, in one year the international community could mobilise more than, I don’t know $15 trillion, not $100 billion, in one year. So this is a reality check. When parties decide, and when countries and stakeholders know that this is an existential threat … they will take it seriously.”

Another important goal of the summit will be to identify the hurdles countries face when attempting to implement rapid and significant change on the ground, he said. National climate plans need to shift from being a headline goal that countries aim to meet to showing how countries will get there, he added.

“Let’s see what is needed to deliver, this is our big goal as Cop presidency, let’s see what is needed: is it technology, is it finance, is it access?” he questioned.

Asked if Britain’s Cop26 president Alok Sharma had given him any advice ahead of handing over the reins to Egypt, Mr Nasr said Mr Sharma had told him to push for ambition, but also to be realistic, and make sure the non-political stakeholders were also engaged.

“I’m pushing for the maximum and this is what any presidency will do,” he said. “But we are also constrained by the challenges that parties are facing.”

Cop27 gets underway at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre (AFP/Getty)
Cop27 gets underway at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre (AFP/Getty)

Last year it was Covid and economies emerging from the impacts of the pandemic, this year it’s Covid, geopolitics, food, energy, finance, he added.

“It’s a myriad of challenges,” he said, adding that the international community had to make sure multilateralism was still working, and not allow politics to spill over into the climate negotiations.

In a word of caution, he added that addressing climate change required a major economic transformation that would not take place overnight.

He also said negotiations over a full stop, or over wording such as “shall” rather than “should” mattered and had on-the-ground consequences.

“You cannot expect a Cop, a single Cop or two Cops or three Cops will change the course of the international economy,” he said. “But we are on track,” he added, although he acknowledged that the speed and scale of change was not yet there.

“That’s what we want to discuss. Why aren’t we going at scale, why are we not going at speed,” he said.