From left: U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, President of France Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commision Ursula von der Layen, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholf meet on the sidelines of the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) events, Nov. 7, 2022. Photo courtesy of U.S. Mission Egypt
By Lana Surface
COP27—more formally known as the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—saw more than 195 countries descend on Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, Nov. 6-19, 2022, to rally the world toward demonstrable action in addressing shared climate challenges.
For the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate (SPEC) and the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), COP27 was a moment to reassert U.S. leadership in the fight to counter global climate change. Work began months in advance to strengthen partnerships, urge all parties to implement and strengthen their climate commitments, and ensure the world would come to COP27 ready to take major steps to increase global climate ambition. For the United States, implementing and strengthening climate commitments was a whole-of-government effort. SPEC and OES worked with colleagues across the interagency to ensure the U.S. came to Egypt ready to demonstrate the nation’s enormous progress on climate goals.
For the U.S. Mission in Egypt, COP27 meant countless countdown meetings, painstaking logistics and planning, and of course, critical opportunities to advance U.S. strategic priorities in Egypt. With Sharm el Sheikh located more than 300 miles from Cairo—at the southern tip of the security-restricted Sinai Peninsula—it was an all-hands-on-deck effort to establish remote embassy capacity that could support nearly 1,000 U.S. government visitors across 40 agencies during the two-week climate conference. President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, U.S. senators, the Secretaries of State, Energy, and Agriculture, and the administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency and USAID were among the many high-level visitors Embassy Cairo had to accommodate.
The Mission’s work began long before the United Nations set up shop in Sharm el Sheikh. Embassy Cairo developed its own Road to COP27 agenda—spanning public diplomacy, economic assistance, private sector, and diplomatic engagements—to maximize Egypt’s climate action and U.S. investment in the country’s green business sector. Over the past year, these initiatives aimed to foster partnerships on some of the most significant climate issues impacting Egypt’s environment, economy, and citizens.
Egypt’s coral reef tourism industry is one of the largest in the world, but climate change is threatening this resource. Scientists estimate that if temperatures rise 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Earth will lose 70% to 90% of all coral reefs. That’s why the Mission, through USAID, has worked for decades with the Government of Egypt (GOE), local organizations, and private businesses to develop and implement long-term strategies to protect Red Sea coastal ecosystems while allowing tourism to prosper. Initiatives include the establishment of Wadi el Gemal National Park—a protected marine sanctuary and land preserve on the south Red Sea that is roughly the size of Connecticut—and a system of buoys for tourist boats to moor to rather than using anchors that damage corals, creating one of the largest buoy mooring systems in the world.
At COP27, this led to the announcement of the Red Sea Initiative—a major program aimed at conserving the Red Sea’s coastal ecosystem, while promoting high-value, low-environmental impact ecotourism. Through an initial USAID contribution of $15 million, with a plan to attract up to $50 million in total funding from other investors and donors, the Red Sea Initiative will empower local communities and establish a blended finance mechanism to support businesses in building resilience against climate change, reducing emissions, and creating jobs.
Further, the United States, Germany, and Egypt also announced more than $250 million in resources to unlock $10 billion in commercial investment that will support Egypt’s transition to a clean energy economy. In response to this direct investment in its clean energy sector, Egypt committed to enhance its nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement goals.
Mission Egypt maximized opportunities to engage Egyptian youth leaders in climate-related fields leading up to COP27 and beyond.
Embassy Cairo’s public affairs section (PAS) created education and teacher training programs on climate change and sustainability. PAS funded a “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” campaign at the new Boeing STEM Center at Amideast’s offices in Cairo, encouraging Egyptian youth to “think green” on issues like water consumption, pollution, waste recycling, and climate change. The embassy’s regional English language office worked with the Egyptian Ministry of Environment to train its employees in technical English ahead of COP27. PAS and the Department of State’s Foreign Press Center sent Egyptian journalists on a “Climate Changemakers” media tour to the United States to cover how American youth and civil society use local resources to advance climate issues in their communities. PAS also partnered with the not-for-profit Factum Foundation to offer school children in Upper Egypt the opportunity to virtually explore the tomb of Tutankhamun and better understand the nexus between climate action and cultural heritage protection.
Through the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), eight officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Petroleum, Environment and Electricity as well as the National Research Centre participated in a Combating Climate Change Through Reducing Methane Emissions program to help the Egyptian government meet its goals under the Global Methane Pledge (GMP) launched at COP26. Two additional IVLP exchanges will happen in 2023 on Renewable Energy Development and Environmental Awareness.
The National Science Foundation (NSF), in partnership with Embassy Cairo’s economic section, arranged for Dr. Anjuli Bamzai, senior science advisor on global climate change at the NSF, to work with the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture’s climate change information center. In addition to Dr. Bamzai’s work on drought early warning systems, she curated a six-part virtual series for the Embassy’s American center featuring American experts on water security, ecological and cultural protection, and space research.
USAID also announced the Egyptian Pioneers program, which will provide scholarships to 700 Egyptian youth and continued education for GOE officials, with an emphasis on sectors that can advance Egypt’s climate goals. This builds on what is already the U.S. government’s largest scholarship program in the world, with USAID currently providing scholarships to more than 600 Egyptian students earning university degrees in climate-related fields.
COP27 also was an opportunity to maximize U.S.-Egypt partnerships in the private and public sectors. During multiple visits to Egypt, John Kerry met with private sector leaders through the American Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber’s U.S.–Egypt Business Council to stress that real impact in the climate crisis is not possible without the private sector. These meetings led to a U.S.-Egypt GreenTech Business Delegation Visit in May—the first of its kind in Egypt—which provided American companies an opportunity to learn about projects in clean energy, green hydrogen, water desalination, transportation, and climate adaptation. The visit was an important step towards unleashing private investment in green technologies.
Building on the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and United States Dairy Association launch of the Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM) with the United Arab Emirates at COP26, the United States and partners committed to increased research and investment in sustainability across the region. In Egypt, AIM launched partnerships with PepsiCo and the aquaculture research nonprofit World Fish. FAS hosted an event with PepsiCo to highlight AIM’s goals, progress since its launch, and plans for COP27 and beyond.
At COP27, USAID further announced $8 million in new climate and energy research funding through the U.S.-Egypt Science and Technology Fund and USAID’s Center of Excellence for Energy.
The work to implement and strengthen the commitments made in Sharm ElSheikh now begins. For Mission Egypt, the past year strengthened the U.S.-Egypt bilateral relationship in both the public and private sectors through engagement on COP27 preparations. The Department now looks toward continued climate collaboration and action ahead of COP28 in Abu Dhabi and beyond.
Lana Surface is a vice consul at Embassy Cairo.