“I focus on highlighting the importance of the COP and trying to draw the attention of the parties and the international community and civil society to the existential challenge associated with climate change,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think it’s good for us to continue to focus on this topic in order to achieve our goals. This is why we are here.”
Numerous foreign leaders, including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, President Emmanuel Macron of France and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, raised the matter with Egypt during their visit this week.
Shoukry suggested that such concerns could divert from some countries failing to meet their climate commitments.
“Other issues not directly related to climate can distract and potentially enlighten and justify perhaps those who would rather focus on other issues to avoid having to deal with what to do, how to fulfill their obligations and responsibilities,” he said.
Responding to reports of delegates struggling to get food and water during the event, Shoukry said drinks would be free for those attending the conference in the future and the cost of food would be cut in half.
He acknowledged there had been “outages”, blaming them for the high number of participants and traffic delays due to VIP visits during the early days of the meeting.
“We have intervened and today all prices have been reduced by 50%, and water and the soft drinks will be provided free of charge as a matter of courtesy and through the intervention of the presidency,” Shoukry told The AP.
The talks of November 6-18 have moved from high-level calls for more climate action, which world leaders have heard early in the week, to the detailed phase of the negotiations. Diplomats are trying to forge a broad package of agreements on things like cutting emissions and aiding poor countries, which must ultimately be agreed upon.
At the beginning of the talks, an agreement was reached to put the issue of compensating poor countries suffering serious losses from climate change on the official agenda.
“This in itself is a positive development and one that we should applaud,” said Shoukry. “What happens next will depend on the degree of flexibility the parties will show.”
“As the presidency, we will certainly provide the opportunity to make as much progress as possible on the agenda item and hopefully we will have a landing zone that is satisfactory to all parties,” he said.
Egypt itself is already feeling the harsh effects of climate change, with rising sea levels threatening fertile lands in the Nile Delta.
At the same time, the country remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels for the energy needs of its growing population, which is expected to reach 160 million by the middle of the century. Hosting the annual climate talks recently helped Egypt negotiate several deals to advance renewable energy rollouts, something Shoukry said the government is determined to push forward.
“If we could switch to fully renewable energy overnight, we would,” he said. “But again, we are limited like many of the developing countries are, with the high financing costs, with the lack of investment and with other priorities in terms of the interests of our citizens.”
When asked how the vast Zohr gas field in the Mediterranean fits into Egypt’s green goals, Shoukry said it would be irresponsible for developing countries not to use the resources rich countries have been exploiting for decades.
“But we are doing this recognizing that our goal is to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and gas, provided the resources, investment and facilitation that can be provided to us are available,” he said.
In the longer term, Egypt sees itself as a producer and exporter of “green” hydrogen, made with solar and wind energy, to Europe, he added.
Like many developing countries, Egypt is also hampered by large debts that make it more difficult to borrow money for much-needed investments.
Shoukry said he hopes agreements can be reached, including at the upcoming Group of 20 meeting in Bali in Indonesia, to support a change in debt rules so that countries can more easily redirect their resources towards boosting renewable energy. and adaptation to climate change.
US President Joe Biden was due to pass the climate talks on Friday on his way to the G-20.
Shoukry said he understood the president’s stopover in Sharm el-Sheikh as “an indication of the political will to move the process forward” in tackling global warming.
“We hope it will resonate in the collective will of the negotiating groups to which the United States is a party, as well as in creating momentum for the conference so that the parties will deliver what is expected,” he said.
“I think there is a heightened awareness of the crisis we are facing because of the devastating weather patterns that have caused massive devastation this year,” Shoukry said. “Of course Pakistan immediately jumps to the fore.”
Pakistan suffered devastating floods this summer that flooded a third of the country, killing more than 1,700 people and causing an estimated $40 billion in damage. Extreme weather is worsening in many parts of the world as the climate warms.
“People are waking up to the science now,” he said. “If we don’t act faster or more effectively to tackle climate change, we will exceed the point of no return and see a dramatic deterioration of the planet.”
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