The Annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change has largely entered the lexicon as the COP. Now in its 27th iteration, the rotation of locations
based on continents has landed 30,000 delegates in the African resort of Sharm El Sheikh at the
southern tip of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

The first week of a COP is dominated by the arrival of the various Heads of State, Heads of
Government, Kings and Queens, Sheiks, and sundry politicians. Each national delegation leader is
allowed around 5 minutes to account for their nation’s progress in implementing the 1992
Convention and its later commitments, most notably the Paris Agreement of COP21 in 2015.
Carefully pre-prepared speeches emphasise the positive developments that have occurred, and
scrupulously avoid the harsh realities of failure to reduce emissions that characterise most of the
197 countries involved.

The appearance of President Biden, and the non-appearance of Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping
provided most of the talking points of week 1. Essentially the early days of a COP are about
posturing, and once the big guns depart, the officials get down to the hard business of bargaining. It
is rather sad that at this stage we should be bargaining at all, looking for concessions in return for
tackling climate breakdown. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres put things bluntly when he said:
“The world is on the highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator”.

Sharm El Sheikh is a good example of the multiple reasons that climate change concerns tend to play
second fiddle to more immediate day to day concerns for the person in the street. Architecturally, it
is a curious blend of late 20th century Las Vegas and 21st century Egyptian buildings. Large, self-
contained, ‘resorts’, with their manicured lawns and flower beds, exist side by side with barren
desert spaces frequently populated by the skeletons of unfinished structures. Clearly, even with
30,000 people for the COP, the town is not by any means exceptionally busy. The European tourists
hoped for have largely stayed away since the terrorist attacks of 2005 which killed 88 people,
despite the recent completion of a wire fence, extending over some concrete columns, 36km long
and 6m high, completely surrounding the town. Similarly, although many of the shops and
restaurants have bilingual signs in Arabic and Russian, the latter are also largely absent this year for
obvious reasons.

COPs provide an opportunity for civil society groups to meet directly with their Heads of
Government and the relevant Ministers, and to convey to them their priorities. This is an important
conduit to counter the huge vested interest groups that have come with alternative priorities, often
bluntly opposed to tackling emissions and usually dressed up in greenwashed projects. Parsing the
language used, ‘food security’ often really means ‘feed security’ and ‘net zero’ sometimes means
hypothetical offsets or technological advances that may never materialise in time. The Taoiseach
and Minister Coveney however made the time during their visits to talk freely with the large Irish
civil society present. Their willingness to do so was widely welcomed. Indeed from tiny numbers in
earlier COPs, this civil society contingent has now swelled into a sizeable and well informed group. It
is especially characterised this year by the presence of many young people who see the path ahead
much more clearly than older heads overly conscious of the complications and obstacles involved.
A stalwart of the COP, former President Mary Robinson once again said it like it is at an inspirational
side event co-hosted by the Irish Government and herself in her capacity as Chair of the Elders.
Pointing the finger fairly and squarely at the developed nations for failing to come forward with

sufficiently ambitious proposals, she introduced her good friend Constance Okollet from Uganda
who appealed for directing funds to community level as opposed to governmental level where they
are frequently choked off. But for this writer the highlight of this meeting was the poignant story
told by Tina Steege, a young woman from the Marshall Islands. Tina told how their homeland was
steadily disappearing. Their springs had become salinized and they had to rely on rainwater alone.
But she was now having to tell her children that the places that had names, the names of familiar
fields and paths that her parents had passed on to her would be soon obliterated on that low lying
coral island. She had to tell her children that their home would be gone and that they probably
would have to find another place to save their culture. This brought the abstract concept of climate
change, one that many people in Ireland still cling to, down to the human level of cultural loss. Tina
related how it was largely at the behest of her uncle that the Paris Agreement included the objective
of avoiding warming of 1.5 o C, something now unlikely to happen without radical steps being taken.

Minister of State Colm Brophy also picked up on the tragedy now unfolding across the world. In his
case, he related the heart wrenching scenes he had witnessed on a recent visit to the Horn of Africa
and called on the G20 countries, shortly meeting in Bali to take urgent action. Curiously however,
like most Irish politicians, he never mentioned Ireland’s contribution to the problem, however small,
as a country with currently increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, many of the commitments
made at COP seem to apply to other countries and not Ireland.

Ireland signed up at COP26 in
Glasgow to support a 30% reduction in methane emissions by 2030; but this is not a feature of our
Climate Action Plan. Similarly as one of a small cohort of nations that founded the Beyond Oil and
Gas Alliance to facilitate the managed phase-out of oil and gas production, we are now intending to
construct new gas burning power stations. While excellent work is being done in enhancing Ireland’s
financial support for developing nations, especially in the field of adaptation to the current and
coming extremes, the country’s credibility is damaged by its failure to put it own house in order.
Much of the coming week will be dominated by the Loss and Damage issue. What reparations should
the developed world make to those developing countries at the sharp end of extremes?

An interesting comparison of relative capacity comes from the recent catastrophic floods that
submerged one third of Pakistan. Pakistan’s per capita emissions of greenhouse gases are around 1
tonne per person. The comparable figure for Ireland is 12. Pakistan has a per capita GDP of around
$1,250. The comparable figure for Ireland is $83,000. We cannot expect poor nations to develop
sustainably without recognising in real financial terms the burden we historically have imposed upon
them. Loss and Damage negotiations are ultimately about climate justice.