Despite protests around human rights abuses and infrastructure issues, the COP 27 summit looks set to go ahead in Sharm El Sheik in Egypt. Around ninety heads of state will be in attendance, but there will be one empty chair, the one provided for the UK Prime Minister.  

The British Prime Minister

Elected or not, Rishi Sunak is the current British Prime Minister until a General Election is called. He has the rights and responsibilities of the British people resting on his shoulders, but instead of reading the public mood and attending COP 27, he has chosen other priorities.

UN Climate Change Conference

Some people still hold that COP 26 was ineffective and a failure. Critics stated that it didn’t go far enough on climate action, allowing some of the world’s wealthiest nations and highest polluters to avoid committing to the climate targets. But in other ways, it was successful by becoming an annual event.

The UN Climate Change Conference has run since 1995, but world leaders have only come together to discuss the issues every five years, that was until COP 26 in Glasgow. At COP 26, some leaders used cheap caravan holidays in Scotland to attend the conference for updates.

Egypt 2022 is the time and location for the next summit, where world leaders and the majority of climate experts will again gather to discuss the current challenges and create a pathway to the future. Unfortunately, some leaders are starting to view it as an optional task.

International Expectations

COP 27 promises to make progress on the previous year and hold international players to account. The work ahead is immense, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Pakistan is flooded, the Philippines are hammered, and Europe had one of the hottest summers.

Some of the topics to be discussed at the latest COP summit include innovation and clean technologies, the role of water and agriculture in preventing climate change, and the role of science in biodiversity loss, energy transition, and decarbonisation efforts around the world.

There is a lot on the table, which is why it is so surprising Rishi Sunak has deprioritised it from his agenda. The reason given was the current economic crisis in the UK but isn’t that just another example of the short-term thinking that brought about the climate disasters we face?

A Controversial Choice

On the subject of voices, there is further controversy over the COP 27 venue. Everyone agrees — except perhaps the incumbent UK Prime Minister — that everyone’s voice should be heard when it comes to climate action, which is why the COP summit rotates around relevant regions.

The hosting duties are separated between five UN regional groups; these include the Africa Group resulting in Egypt as the current venue. However, it’s a controversial choice. Egypt not only lacks adequate infrastructure but also has a questionable human rights record.

Egypt’s current president, Abdel Fattah el Sisi, seized power in 2013 and has cracked down on dissent ever since. It’s estimated there are currently around 65,000 political prisoners being held in Egyptian prisons for protesting against the current government and human rights abuses.

Several prominent politicians, environmentalists, and climate activists have expressed their outrage at the COP summit venue. Caroline Lucas, Naomi Klein, and others stated in an open letter earlier in the year that a successful climate summit would not be possible in this location.

Who Plans to Attend

Despite the protest, COP 27 has proceeded as planned, and the majority of world leaders and interested parties intend to show up. According to official figures, there are expected to be around ninety heads of state in attendance, including the US President and special envoys.

As it stands, Rishi Sunak, the representative of the UK economy and current political figurehead won’t be in attendance. Of course, there is still time for a U-turn on this issue, and there is still time for him to turn up and take his rightful place at the table, but his lack of enthusiasm already speaks volumes and is a red flag for younger Britains to use their future votes more intelligently.

It is not only world leaders that will be descending on Sharm El-Sheikh this autumn for the crucial summit. There will also be tens of thousands of negotiators, press associates, and activist organisations ready to get involved with the latest round of talks on the issue of climate change.

The Importance of COP

It might be late, but the question of whether climate action is too late is yet to be answered. What’s clear is that the majority of global leaders are taking the situation seriously by signing up for the Paris Agreement in 2015 and committing to attend the annual conference on the subject.

COP might raise questions and present failures every time, but it’s all part of the process of taking action on the biggest threat the planet faces. COP gives the world a chance to come together and take stock of the latest trends, science, and technologies to meet the targets.

Some activists might argue that COP 26 failed overall, but in some areas, it also succeeded. There were new pledges for coal usage, deforestation, and methane emissions, and COP 27 is likely to hold them to account and further advance the cause. But real commitment is needed.

A Future Concern?

Professor Huq is someone who has attended every COP summit from the very beginning. Through 26 COPs, he has watched world leaders debate the issues and establish frameworks and strategies. This is important, he says, but it’s more important for countries to take action.

The world is an unpredictable place. The recent outbreak of war in Ukraine has put the issue of climate change on the backburner again and caused many nations to backslide on their fossil fuel commitments. But unpredictability is only another reason to support annual COP events.

Climate change is no longer a future concern, it is affecting people and communities in the here and now. That’s why it is so surprising that the UK leader is currently snubbing the conference in favour of other priorities. As if Britain wasn’t insular enough, it aims to distance itself even more.