Egypt: Burst sewage pipe adds to infrastructure woes at COP27

Sewage pipe in Egypt bursts after COP27 attendees complain about lack of basic necessities. First there was no water. Then there was too much of the wrong kind.

Participants of this year’s U.N. climate conference in Egypt Attendees of this year’s U.N. climate conference in Egypt said food and drinking water were unavailable.

COP27 participants this year also found themselves stepping over streams of foul-smelling fluid Wednesday after a pipe or tank holding liquid waste appeared to have burst near one of the venue’s main thoroughfares.

The incident was the latest of several infrastructure and planning problems that have emerged this week during the conference, which runs through Nov. 18.

Participants have complained that basic necessities such as drinking water and food are not available or require lengthy queuing under the simmering Sinai sun.

Floors sometimes buckle and toilet paper in the various venues has frequently run out.

The problems raise broader issues about planning for an event meant to help solve climate change and promote green living.

Giant AC units blow cold air into vast tent-like buildings with little insulation and doors wide open. Empty rooms are brightly lit into the night. Solar panels, wind turbines or electric vehicles are hard to find.

The event’s Egyptian hosts didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Questions around sustainability have dogged U.N. climate meetings for years. For example, during the meeting in Katowice, Poland, in 2018, hot air had to be pumped into the prefabricated buildings to keep participants warm in sub-zero temperatures.

Last year in Glasgow, Scotland, the plastic wrapping of sandwiches and drinks being stored in open refrigerated units raised eyebrows.

Responding to criticism, many recent hosts have highlighted their efforts to keep the talks green, with vegan food, recycling containers and various “carbon offsets” for unavoidable emissions caused by the conference.

This year’s meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort by the Red Sea, drew 33,449 participants at the last count, many of whom arrived by plane.

According to Ishaan Tharoor, a prominent WP columnist, “Not since the 2013 coup that brought its current leader to power has Egypt been this much in the global spotlight.”

“Egyptian authorities are hosting the U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The major annual summit convenes governmental delegations from most of the world’s countries, as well as leaders from nongovernmental organizations, civil society and major businesses.”

However, a gloomy pall has been hung over the conference from the onset. Climate activists like Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg have already turned their back on COP27, insisting it’s an exercise in “greenwashing” by laggard governments and cynical corporations.

Few governments have followed through on ambitious pledges to accelerate their cuts to emissions. Some wealthy nations have failed to fund a planned vehicle of financial aid for developing countries, many of which are experiencing the front-line effects of a warming planet with limited capacity to mitigate against them.

And in a year of economic instability and energy price volatility, many countries have sunk public funds into the cultivation and acquisition of carbon-emitting fossil fuels.

“Some of the splashiest COP26 pledges have been derailed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and upheavals in the global economy,” wrote Sarah Kaplan.

“Catastrophic climate disasters hampered countries’ abilities to invest in renewable energy and resilient infrastructure, even as they exposed the urgency of preparing for a warmer world.”

For Sisi, though, the summit’s legacy may have nothing to do with climate action.

Egypt’s autocratic government was powerless to prevent political activists from taking center stage in Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday and highlighting the plight of Alaa Abdel Fattah, a 40-year-old British Egyptian activist on hunger strike

On Tuesday, U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk urged Egypt to release Abdel Fattah from prison and give him medical attention.

“I call on the Egyptian authorities to fulfill their human rights obligations and immediately release all those arbitrarily detained, including those in pretrial detention, as well as those unfairly convicted,” he said. “No one should be detained for exercising their basic human rights.”

Sisi’s regime has largely enjoyed the support of the West, which did little to push against the coup he led in 2013 against a democratically elected, politically Islamist government.

This week, Sisi has already met with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — all three of whom are said to have pressed the Egyptian leader on the urgent need to release Abdel Fattah.

But they put forward no clear threat of repercussions should Cairo resist their appeals. President Biden is expected to also lobby Sisi on human rights when they meet Friday.

For now, the small space afforded to dissenters in Sharm el-Sheikh is proving costly to Egypt’s regime.

On Tuesday, Egyptian lawmaker Amr Darwish interrupted a news conference featuring Sanaa Seif, Abdel Fattah’s sister, with an outburst from the crowd. “You are here summoning foreign countries to pressure Egypt,” Darwish said in Arabic, berating Seif in front of dozens of international journalists. “You are here to call for a presidential pardon for a criminal inmate.”

Darwish was escorted out by blue-shirted U.N. security personnel. “His disruption may have been an attempt to defend the government’s jailing of Abdel Fattah,” wrote Siobhán O’Grady and Sarah Kaplan. “Instead, human rights advocates said it perfectly exemplified to a crowd of foreign observers a side of Egypt that officials here have tried to conceal from COP27 delegates.”

“This kind of intimidation and harassment is the least we have to experience. The only reason we actually had the press conference at all is because it happened in the area under U.N. control,” Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told my colleagues.

“A press conference for Sanaa Seif would have been unimaginable in Cairo or anywhere else had it not been for COP27 taking place in Egypt.”

That message was echoed by climate campaigners. “There is such an intrinsic connection between human rights and climate justice,” Jean Su, a board chair for Climate Action Network International, told The Post.

“The credibility of COP27 and its outcomes will be at stake if Egypt fails to respond to the call for the release of Alaa and other prisoners of conscience.”

Allison McManus, research director at the Freedom Initiative, a human rights organization focused on the Middle East and North Africa, urged the Biden administration to hammer home the message about freeing Abdel Fattah and not otherwise enable the “greenwashing” of Egypt’s image at the climate summit.

“There is something truly perverse in Sisi’s assumption that the world would ignore Alaa’s plight because we were so impressed with Egypt’s ability to hold an international conference,” McManus said in an email statement. “As we are seeing, he grossly miscalculated: this COP will be remembered as Alaa’s COP.”