Cop conferences are a big game of let’s pretend and 27 won’t be any different | The Secret Negotiator


The Cop is a strange beast – an annual event that everyone claims to hate but no one wants to miss. This year’s Cop is even weirder: it’s in a famous Red Sea seaside resort renowned for its warm blue seas and coral reefs, but the diving centres are closed for security reasons and in any case few of us will have time to so much as dip a toe in the sea.

We will spend all our hours inside a conference centre with little daylight, and only see the sun as we try to dash in our formal clothes from air-conditioned hotel to air-conditioned conference hall without getting covered in sweat.

With only a couple of days to go, we prepare once again to bid farewell to our longsuffering families and endure the taunts from all and sundry about our ballooning carbon footprints. (Yes, haha, we know it’s very ironic to fly around the world as we try to tackle climate change. Thanks for the constant reminders.)

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We have all prepared our “party lines” – the specific forms of words and outcomes that we seek by the end of Cop27. We have planned our first big coordination meetings, where the big groups like the G77 (all the developing countries, including, ironically enough, some Arab states which are richer than the “rich” countries) meet together to thrash out negotiating strategies and decide who is following which specific negotiating tracks.

The fact that the meeting is held in Egypt, a full dictatorship where domestic climate activists have already been locked up, adds a special twist. Apparently a location has been set aside in the desert, far away from Sharm el-Sheikh, where climate activists (though not including Greta, who has declined this year to show up) can march around in circles with their banners under the hot sun, a safe distance from any actual negotiators or media.

We are taking bets about whether any high-level delegates given speaking slots will dare mention the plight of Egyptian political prisoner Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who has said he will stay on hunger strike throughout Cop27. That will certainly give us something to think about as we queue at the canteens.

The fact that Cop27 is being held in a non-democratic country highlights another of the awkward realities of the climate negotiations, namely that many of the developing nations – including those who bleat on about how much they are suffering from climate-induced “loss and damage” – are in fact hideously authoritarian states whose citizens step out of line at their peril. Somehow the moral issues of climate justice feel a little different when you look at it that way.

But none of us will talk about any of this. Cops are a big game of let’s pretend: let’s pretend Egypt is a free country, let’s pretend that we can still meet the 1.5C target for temperature rise, and let’s pretend that this Cop will be different from all the others.

I don’t mean to be cynical: if the Cops didn’t exist we would have to invent them. They do serve a purpose, but just not as big a purpose as you might think.

  • The Secret Negotiators are representatives of developing countries involved in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations, and who will be attending the Cop27 climate conference.

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Cop conferences are a big game of let’s pretend and 27 won’t be any different | The Secret Negotiator

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