Climate activists have been pushed to the sidelines of COP27

Climate activists have been pushed to the sidelines of COP27


Ugandan youth activist Nyombi Morris arrived in Egypt for the UN climate summit COP27 with high hopes of being part of the environmental justice campaign.

But it wasn’t long before Egypt’s tight security measures dashed its dreams, as human rights groups warn the North African country has stifled protests with “dozens” of arrests.

“I was so happy when they announced COP would be in Africa,” said Morris, who founded the youth organization Earth Volunteers, which campaigns for “climate justice.”

“I thought maybe I’ll get a chance to be in the room where the negotiations are happening.”

Instead, “it will not be easy for us to continue with our plan with the questions we get at the airport,” said the 24-year-old.

In 2008, when Morris was 10, devastating flash floods hit Uganda’s eastern Butaleja District – an area where illegal extraction of riverbank sand for construction was common. Around 400 people, including Morris’ family, lost their homes.

Morris, who said the digging has “exacerbated flooding already made worse by climate change,” said they need to move to the capital, Kampala.

“I’m here to represent my mother who lost a farm who lost a home,” he said. “I’m here to demand compensation for my community.”

– “Abusive Security Measures” –

Activists wishing to demonstrate at COP27 in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh must apply for accreditation 36 hours in advance, providing information such as the names of the protest organizers and details of the planned march.

Approved demonstrations are only allowed during working hours and in a specially constructed area.

This accreditation process is risky, Morris fears.

“When they started asking about our locations, where we will be staying, our passports, our names, we were concerned,” he said.

“What if they follow one of us and (we) get arrested?”

He cited the case of Indian climate activist Ajit Rajagopal, who was arrested after setting out to march from Cairo to Sharm el-Sheikh. He was later released after an international outcry.

Human Rights Watch warned Sunday that “dozens of people” who called for protests had been arrested.

“The Egyptian government has no intention of easing its abusive security measures and allowing freedom of speech and assembly,” the watchdog said.

Rights groups say at least 138 people have been arrested ahead of a November 11 rally – planned nationwide but not in Sharm el-Sheikh – against what they denounce as repression and sharp increases in the cost of living.

– ‘Watch online’ –

Africa is home to some of the countries least responsible for geothermal emissions but hardest hit by an onslaught of extreme weather.

In addition to the security restrictions, Morris lamented that activists like himself were excluded from the talks.

“I’m watching online because our ‘observer’ badges won’t let us in,” he said.

“I’m like, ‘So why are we here?'”

He said his hopes had faded that the summit could make a difference in Africa – including demanding that wealthy nations responsible for emissions pay their levies.

“It’s not an African COP, it’s a COP of polluters – because polluters dominate,” he said.

“Didn’t you see Coca-Cola here?” he added, referring to one of this year’s official sponsors.

Campaign group Greenpeace has called Egypt’s choice of the soft drink giant “appalling” and blamed the company for much of “the world’s plastic pollution”.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators from all over the world marched at the COP26 in Glasgow last year to demand “climate justice”.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg skips COP27, criticizing it as a forum for “greenwashing” and saying “space for civil society this year is extremely limited”.

On Sunday, a handful of activists waved banners at the entrance to the summit hall, ignoring the restrictions.

“We’re trying to promote veganism to help save the planet from greenhouse gases,” said Tom Modgmah, a supporter of Vietnam’s “Supreme Master Ching Hai,” along with colleagues waving banners.

“Be vegan, make peace,” they read.

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