Over 120 leaders at climate talks, Egypt positive on protest
BERLIN (AP) — More than 120 world leaders will attend this year’s U.N. climate talks and requests by environmental activists to stage a rally during the event would be responded to “positively,” host Egypt said Friday.
Veteran diplomat Wael Aboulmagd, who heads the Egyptian delegation, told reporters that his country had been working for months to set the scene for “meaningful outcomes” at the two-week meeting in the Red Sea coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheikh starting Sunday.
“We have, I think about 121 maybe, and the number is growing, heads of state and government here,” he said during an online briefing. “We hope that it will be a watershed moment.” Leaders like U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed their attendance, but Aboulmagd said other major heads of state like China’s Xi Jinping and India’s Narendra Modi will not be going.
Aboulmagd said recent scientific reports highlighted the urgency of tackling global warming.
“Everyone is now aware of the gravity of the situation, of the enormity of the challenge, and have come here hopefully to work together,” he said.
Several thorny issues will be discussed at the Nov. 6-18 talks, including further cutting greenhouse gas emissions and boosting financial aid for poor countries struggling with the impacts of climate change. It is the first such meeting held in Africa since 2016. Over 40,000 people have registered for the event.
Aboulmagd appealed to negotiators to engage constructively. “We cannot afford to waste any time,” he said. “So everyone must rise to the occasion and must move away from the adversarial winner-takes-all approach that has plagued this process for too long.”
Civil society groups have expressed concern that their presence at this year’s talks will be restricted, citing Egypt’s questionable human rights record.
But Aboulmagd said activists will get their space, with special arrangements already put in place “for those who want to organize demonstrations or protests or stand-ins.”
Asked about the possibility of holding a large rally mid-way through the talks, as has traditionally happened in previous meetings, he said “that will be taken care of.”
Organizers would need to submit the names of contact persons and the planned route must be agreed with city officials.
“Once a request to that effect comes, it will be responded to positively,” he said.
Egypt would press diplomats to live up to the lofty pledges their leaders had made, Aboulmagd said, warning that so far these had not be translated into the negotiating rooms.
“This separation between the reality in the public sphere and what actually happens in negotiating rooms cannot continue,” he said. “It is about real lives that are being lost and future lives that will be devastated” by unchecked climate change.
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