A thirsty COP27 climate summit plagued by glitches

A thirsty COP27 climate summit plagued by glitches


Wheelchair fights, scarce drinking water, $15 sandwiches and hotel price gouging at the COP27 climate summit have sparked anger and forced host country Egypt into damage control mode, attendees at the two-week gathering said.

Organizing a UN climate conference – which brings together up to 35,000 people from 195 countries each year – is a world-class logistical challenge, and veterans of the nearly 30-year process are used to minor inconveniences.

But this year’s sprawling event in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was plagued with problems, perhaps the most fundamental of which was accessibility, according to attendees.

Pratima Gurung, who works with a disability advocacy group, said she and Krishna Gahatraj of the Disability Rights Fund, who uses a wheelchair, stopped in the middle of the road “several times” while waiting for shuttle buses.

Organizers “didn’t give drivers clear instructions” on how to accommodate people with disabilities, said Gurung, who heads Nepal’s National Indigenous Disabled Women Association.

Although there are many ramps, participants with physical disabilities say they are not standard and that the UN climate summit was particularly difficult for them.

“As a disabled person, COP is inherently inaccessible to me,” said Jason Boberg of SustainedAbility, who has attended the last five summits organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

But based on the acronym, he dubbed this year’s event the “UN Framework Convention on Concrete Curbs.”

There were also accessibility issues at last year’s meeting in Glasgow, as the Israeli energy minister was initially unable to get on in her wheelchair.

– ‘The Most Confusing COP Ever’ –

Another recurring complaint in Sharm el-Sheikh is poor and scarce signage.

“This is the most confusing COP ever,” said Bianca, a three-time climate summit attendee who asked to be identified by her first name only.

The size of a small town, the COP27 area is a sprawling archipelago of pavilions, meeting rooms and halls connected by paved roads that absorb the 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) heat.

Journalists in a hangar-like media center were seen wrapped in jackets and scarves to protect themselves from the industrial-grade air conditioning.

The chronic shortage of drinking water is also problematic and ironic in view of the topic.

Sparse water dispensers sat empty for hours during the first week of the conference, which runs through November 18.

Delegates began bringing their own supplies and some are said to have ignored warnings not to drink desalinated water from bathroom faucets.

“People who are already under stress” shouldn’t “have to be looking for water all the time,” a climate COP veteran told an NGO.

Exorbitant food prices, including sandwiches costing up to $15, were particularly problematic for those on a tight budget.

“I’ve never seen such prizes at a COP,” said the NGO official, who declined to be identified.

In response to the complaints, organizers on Thursday made drinks free for the remainder of the conference and halved food prices.

Well before COP27 began on November 6, alarm bells were ringing when hotels in the tourist city suddenly tripled or quadrupled room rates, even for those with confirmed bookings.

Some delegates found that their reservations had been cancelled.

“People are stranded now, sleeping on the streets, in bus stations,” Nigerian youth activist Olumide Idowu wrote on Twitter on Monday.

At a news conference on Thursday, the COP27 Presidency’s Special Envoy, Wael Aboulmagd, told reporters that the “one case where people were asked to leave the country” “will not happen again” and that “government officials have intervened”.

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