ICP joins COP 27 as a civil society observer in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt: reflections and highlights from two weeks dedicated to a global climate response

The annual Conference of Partners (COP) gathers global leaders, representatives, and delegates from 190 nations to co-create and codify international climate solutions. This year, COP was hosted in Sharm el-Sheikh, Arab Republic of Egypt, from 6 November 2022 until 20 November 2022.


After a 15-month application process, the Conference of the Parties (COP) accepted the Institute for Climate and Peace (ICP) as an observer organization to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). COP is the UNFCCC’s highest decision-making body regarding climate change. Signatory governments meet once a year to discuss and agree on how to address climate change and its effects. COP27 was a critical test of how well the international process could address the growing urgency of climate change. For greater detail, read What Is Cop27 and Why Is It Important?

The official theme of COP27 was “Together for Implementation,” and the values of ambition and humility guided the U.S. delegation’s approach to the summit. Along with upholding these themes and values, the ICP team brought four powerful messages of its own to the two weeks of discussions, events, and programming, both in-person and online.

  1. On mitigation, governments must give power to Indigenous Peoples for climate mitigation and place-based stewardship.
  2. On adaptation, scaled-up efforts should prioritize islands.
  3. On finance, programs must invest in conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
  4. On collaboration, climate solutions should be action-oriented, collaborative, and bottom-up.

The official outcomes of COP27, including establishing a historical loss and damage fund, can be read online here.

Photo: (L to R) Joaquín Paredes Araneda and Elsa Barron during ICP’s Ted-Style Talk at the COP27 Children and Youth Pavilion.

Imaginative World-Building: TED-Style Talk

Elsa Barron (analyst at ICP) and Joaquín Paredes Araneda (founder of Corporación Motum) presented a TED-Style talk about youth perspectives on environmental peacebuilding. For this event, Elsa and Joaquín acted as the representatives of a youth coalition spanning over 40 countries. The first-ever Children and Youth Pavilion — a hub for dynamic dialogues, panel discussions, creative workshops, seminars, networking, and much more — served as the setting for the Talk. At the Pavilion, participants could share expertise, develop solutions, and call on world leaders to take action.

The impacts of climate change increase the risk of violence and disproportionately affect under-resourced communities, making climate change a threat to peace and justice worldwide. However, local responses to climate change provide essential opportunities for imaginative world-building. Environmental programs and grassroots initiatives driven by community-rooted youth leadership have proven to be powerful tools for building peace and resilience. In the face of climate and ecological risk, peace must include the absence of violence and the presence of just, strong, and equitable communities. In other words, positive peace is integral.

Elsa presented three examples of environmental peacebuilding, including Tent of Nations, a sustainable farm resisting military occupation in Palestine; the Student Volunteer Army, an organization in Aotearoa, New Zealand, focused on community empowerment to action, including through a futures workshop hosted by ICP; and Confront the Climate Crisis, a policy group organized by high-school students in Indiana that has bridged across divided communities to advocate for climate action. These examples illustrate how environmental peacebuilding can be mobilized to resist oppression, better equip communities to manage disasters, counter militarism, and collaborate across contentious ideological divides.

Joaquín emphasized the importance of positive peace through the example of the Escazú Agreement. This international agreement, which brought human rights into environmental matters, is an example of how some significant indicators of positive peace — access to information, public participation, and justice — were elevated as substantial components of climate action in Latin America and the Caribbean. Furthermore, Joaquín highlighted the importance of education focused on climate change and mediation in building capacity for youth to engage in and lead environmental peacebuilding initiatives in their communities.

Elsa concluded the talk with three messages. The first was for policymakers to consider the interconnections between climate change and violence, and climate action and peacebuilding. The second was an invitation for all youth to get involved in peacebuilding and organizing toward climate resilience in their home communities. The final message was to encourage substantive engagement and leadership by youth in spaces such as COP27, where decisions related to climate and peace are being made.

*Watch the recording of the Ted Talk here*

Photo: (L to R) Elsa Barron (United States), Hassan Mowlid Yasin (Somalia), Rosalind Skillen (Northern Ireland), and Christianne Zakour (Trinidad and Tobago) at the COP27 Climate Registry Pavilion.

Youth on Environmental Peacebuilding: Panel

ICP President and Senior Advisor Dr. Kealoha Fox opened ICP’s panel session, hosted in The Climate Registry’s Pathways to 1.5 Pavilion, in collaboration with Arizona State University’s Global Futures Lab. She emphasized the importance of place-based connection and community, sharing accounts of the meaningful encounters she had outside the COP grounds with Bedouin people who have called the Sinai peninsula home for generations. Turning from Sharm el-Sheikh to her community in Hawai‘i, Kealoha played a video of a call to action from her son, asking the attendees of COP27 to act out of love for the world around them.

After hearing from the next generation, participants were asked to measure their sense of hope and agency through an interactive mapping exercise. All session attendees felt they had the agency to enact change with varying degrees of hope, with friends from Somalia being the most hopeful.

Elsa then led a panel discussion with three young peacebuilders from different parts of the world: Rosalind Skillen from Northern Ireland, Hassan Mowlid Yasin from Somalia, and Christianne Zakour from Trinidad and Tobago. These speakers showed how local, youth-led responses to climate change can lead to imaginative world-building, or more simply, the ability to see beyond what is there now and work toward more peaceful, just, and sustainable futures.

The session concluded with a spoken word performance by award-winning Bangladeshi poet Shehzar Doja, who reminded the audience that peace comes not only by thinking but also by feeling.

*Watch the session online here.*

Photo: (L to R) Kealoha Fox, Amanda Ellis, and Aimée Christensen.

Co-Creating Climate Futures: Workshop

Kealoha and Elsa helped guide five participants in creatively envisioning the future at a second workshop hosted by the Climate Registry’s Pathways to 1.5 Pavilion with Arizona State University’s Global Futures Lab.

The ICP team used an interactive card game to spur concrete discussion about often seemingly abstract goals like justice, sustainability, and peace. This gameplay invited attendees to share meaningful insights about their visions of a future world. Participants explored the connections between environmental mindfulness and peace-building for community-led positive change.

The Human Connection to Climate Change

As we talk about how climate change affects systems, it is important to break down how the climate crisis hurts people’s health. Many factors, such as diet, economic status, sociocultural contexts, and environments, shape our health. In light of this, COP27 focused on strengthening the connection between climate and health. Specifically, COP27 did so with a more deliberative focus on food and agricultural systems than any previous COP. In fact, COP27 was the first COP to have pavilions dedicated to food and agricultural systems.

“The advantage of having a grassroots perspective in working food systems is really the ability to create hyperlocal solutions that fit and are able to respond quickly in times of need.”

– A. Momi Afelin, Environment & Natural Resources Program Manager, Sust‘āinable Moloka‘i

Transforming our food system is a fundamental driver of prosperous futures that are people-, nature-, and climate-positive. A comprehensive strategy that considers the interconnected objectives of biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation and mitigation, food security, and human well-being will be necessary to advance this transformation. A truly comprehensive approach will also look at both the local and global levels and social, cultural, and legal rights. Combinations of interventions from multiple entry points can operate synergistically to initiate and amplify positive feedback loops that shepherd us towards nature-positive and net-zero food systems.

“Policies need to be gender-responsive, engage women-led solutions, and apply finance policies to empower women.”

– Ashih Budiati, Team Leader, GCoM Asia

At the nexus of gender equity and sustainable food systems, H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn, former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, stated that solutions alone are insufficient if they exclude women, who constitute half of the population and are heavily engaged in food production and agriculture. Climate change, COVID, the cost of living, and conflict all compound the issues with our world’s food systems.

Although women endure an unjust weight of climate change effects such as deforestation, economic hardship, displacement, extreme weather, and food insecurity, and thus have more lived experience in these areas, men outnumber women on climate negotiation teamsOnly seven of the 110 world leaders present at COP27 were women. According to estimates from the United Nations, women and girls are responsible for 80% of climate change-related disasters, even though women make up only 30% of global climate negotiating bodies.

Significant and extensive connections exist between gender-based violence (GBV), climate change, and mental health. It is without question that climate change and severe weather conditions impact women’s health and well-being; these effects are exacerbated by pre-existing structural socio-economic inequality. The COP27 Health Pavilion panel, JUSTICE: Climate Just Solutions for Emergent Gender-Based Violence and Mental Health Crisis Due to Climate Change, presented solutions for building future resiliency surrounding women and girls’ health and safety:

  • Raise awareness of the emerging GBV and mental health crisis that women and girls are experiencing as a result of climate change through research based on solid evidence, advocacy, education, workshops, and media.
  • Provide safe spaces for women and girls, or give them access to existing safe spaces by creating networks and community-based support structures.
  • And create and contribute to the development of policy and practice by continuing to strengthen the scientific evidence base.

“Climate change is not only a critical environmental issue, it is also a major health issue and indeed a health crisis. Perhaps the greatest of all.”

– Anthony Gooch, Director of Public Affairs and Communications, OECD

The health and well-being of all are affected by climate change. The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will be responsible for at least 250,000 more fatalities annually. The likelihood of exposure to heat waves and other extreme weather conditions is rising quickly, with vulnerable populations being the most adversely affected. Reginald D. Williams II, Vice President of International Health Policy and Practice Innovations at The Commonwealth Fund, outlined three crucial implementation mechanisms needed within the healthcare system during the COP27 Climate and Health Nexus panel:

  1. Create standardized performance indicators for the health system at the state and federal levels, such as facility usage, that indicate methods to be more resilient and address the greening of hospital operations.
  2. Implement policies and remove barriers to encourage healthcare systems to cut emissions.
  3. Develop strategies for health systems that outline what they should do to address climate challenges.

Food Systems, Fashion, & Unquantifiable Loss and Damage

Sectors such as food and agriculture, the fashion and garment industry, and non-economic and unquantifiable loss and damage are a few topics historically sidelined in climate negotiations. Still, they are beginning to gain momentum in climate dialogue.

The growing traction of these often ignored topics was exemplified in some of COP27’s most prominent themes: loss and damage, climate finance, and just transitions.

During the panel Food4Climate Pavilion’s Climate change, conflict & covid: a turning point for transitions to sustainable food & farming, H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn — AGRA board member and Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia — stressed the importance of “Getting the food debate at the forefront of our leaders’ minds” and pointed out that not one world leader mentioned food or agriculture at the beginning of COP27.

The sidelining of food and agriculture is further evidenced by the lack of finances allocated toward this theme. Lasse Bruun, CEO of 50by40, states, “Food systems only receive $9.3 billion in terms of mitigation work, that’s less than 3% of the global budget for mitigating climate change which is completely disproportionate to the importance and emissions issues with food systems.”

The fashion and garment industry has been similarly overlooked in the loudest discourse. During the panel, Climate Education Hub’s Reimagining Fashion: Women Leadership Advancing Climate ActionKathleen Rogers — President of Earth Day –, pointed out that her panel was “one of maybe two events at the entire COP focused on fashion,” despite the industry’s significant role in the climate crisis. Kerry Bannigan, Founder and Executive Director of the Fashion Impact Fund, highlighted this point by reminding attendees that “The fashion industry is responsible for vast negative social and environmental impacts including water pollution, textile waste, exploited labor, poverty, gender inequality, and climate change.” To further drive home the point, she also shared that the industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, nearly 20% of wastewater, and 30% of microplastics released into the world’s oceans (from synthetic textiles).

“They say, on the climate clock, $33 billion in order to compensate for the loss and damages of the world and especially the developing world. I say the number is by far bigger than this because some things are non-economic losses. Some of the things are unquantifiable. We cannot quantify mental health. We cannot quantify gender-based violence.”

– Nisreen Elsaim, UN Secretary General Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change

Loss and damage was another prominent theme at this year’s COP. A formal mechanism to address loss and damage was established almost a decade ago, but until COP27, concrete action on the topic had not taken place. Mary Robinson, Chair for The Elders and former President of Ireland, teed-up non-economic loss and damage by explaining, “It’s important to consider the social and non-economic losses and damages too, felt very keenly by women and girls… The hidden losses and damages for women affected by climate change can undermine the foundational aspects of their well-being, safety, mental health, traditions, cultures, and identities.”

While phasing out fossil fuels, enabling just energy transitions, and climate finance are all critical to mitigating climate change, other vital global sectors should be considered. Working holistically and attending to the importance of sustainably transitioning our food and agriculture systems, changing how our clothes are produced, and acknowledging and mitigating the unquantifiable loss and damages felt by people on the frontlines of the climate crisis is a moral imperative.

Photo: (L to R) Indigenous Pacific women at COP27, Vehia Wheeler (Tahiti), Sheila Babauta (Saipan), and Kealoha Fox (Hawai‘i).

Pacific-Asia Region: Governance, Leadership, and Implementation at COP27

Through collective action, Indigenous Peoples, gender and women’s advocacy groups, and frontline communities demonstrated that climate and environmental justice are inextricably linked.

On 15 November, a coalition of civil society organizations and Pacific-Asia region Indigenous voices joined at the UN Climate Conference to caution that COP27 may be declared a ‘failure’ in its final days. They did so to ensure that the conference’s concluding resolution text included commitments to phase out all fossil fuels to maintain the imperative goal of not allowing the Earth’s temperature to rise by 1.5°C. Despite these efforts, the final UNFCCC text did not include essential language on a swift, just, and equitable phase-out of all fossil fuels.

Historically, Pacific island nations have had to fund their recovery and response to losses fueled by climate change. After decades of concerted advocacy at COP, Pacific and Caribbean island nations and others saw the agreement to establish a loss and damage fund to operationalize a mechanism to developing nations who have contributed least to the causes of climate change and yet are some of the most impacted by its effects. However, the continued use of fossil fuels risks undermining this milestone by exacerbating climate change and contributing significantly to future losses and damages even more devastating than those we witness today.

Pushing the levers to act on action once again, the South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu raised several calls to action at COP27, including a plea for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would prevent any further production of fossil fuels and phase out existing fossil fuel production through a just transition model. Although burning the world’s fossil fuel reserves will result in seven times higher emissions than what is sustainable to keep temperatures below 1.5°C, many countries and self-declared climate leaders have authorized new coal, oil, and gas ventures. Tuvalu’s support of the Treaty enhances the current momentum in favor of the proposal, which has recently received endorsement from the WHO and the European Parliament. The declaration by Tuvalu highlights the Pacific region’s decades-long contribution to international climate policy.

Notable efforts were also made by the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, which, though responsible for merely 0.0016 % of global emissions, is subject to the full force of climate change. Vanuatu joined in advancing a Climate Damage Tax on oil, coal, and gas producers. Vanuatu’s Climate Change Minister, Ralph Regenvanu, stated that the substantial profits generated by this tax could be used by appropriate UN bodies — such as the Green Climate Fund or similar financial mechanisms — to respond to the suffering caused by extreme climate impacts on developing nations, including assistance for communities forced to evacuate their homes.

The warming seas are starting to swallow our lands — inch by inch. But the world’s addiction to oil, gas and coal can’t sink our dreams under the waves.

– Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu

Small island priorities and objectives were reinforced across many platforms, from Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s COP27 remarks to the dynamic panels and engagement at the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion. Some COP27 highlights in this arena were:

  • Aotearoa/New Zealand’s commitment of NZ$20 million to climate funding alleviating loss and damage in developing nations and intensifying international sanctions to establish the loss and damage finance facility.
  • The Alliance for Small Island States (AOSIS) advocated for establishing a fund to aid developing nations in financing the cost of their ex-post response to mitigating loss and damage associated with climate change’s detrimental effects.
  • And the island nation of Samoa, serving for two years (commencing in January 2023) as a Chairman of AOSIS, with Palau assuming the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) Group Chairmanship following Samoa’s two-year term.

Climate change affects all nations, economies, and peoples in the Pacific-Asia region. As a result, the region bears a significant responsibility to limit its growing susceptibility to climate change by swiftly transitioning to net-zero pathways and boosting investment in resilience. Climate justice must be addressed from a range of perspectives, including access to concessional financing and debt relief policies that recognize the linkage between growing debt levels and the implications of climate change. The region’s development goals and policies must align with climate neutrality pledges, leveraging regional collaboration to facilitate mutual implementation. Moreover, the assessment of societal well-being should be revisited with a complete account of environmental factors and their interrelation with economic and social dimensions of development.

Imperfections and Injustices: A Retrospective on COP27 in Egypt

Like previous conferences, COP27 convened with its own environmental footprint, internal factions, classism, political realities, price tag, and government posturing. Regularly reported by journalists from COP24, COP25, and COP26, hundreds of private jets transport elite attendees to the events each year, and corporate logos dress stages and pavilions openly. Author, activist, and environmentalist Naomi Klein created conversations that called for the climate community to “try something new” before the convening began. “Now is the time to decide not to do this all over again next year, when the summit will be in the UAE,” she argued. Democracy Now! referred to COP27 as Egypt’s carceral climate summit, referring to the militarized and police state of the Arab Republic selected as host.

As a climate justice CSO, ICP reflects on the conditions we indirectly promote and directly engage with through deep humility and purpose-seeking. We challenge ourselves — and facilitate inquiry between each other — to question the following:

  • What is our purpose here?
  • Do we contribute value?
  • Is there a better representative that should take my/our spot?
  • How do we authentically show up with humility to this place for this agenda?
  • What guardrails should we establish for our Institute and its representatives to be good observers?

Critically, we considered the roles we wanted to represent at COP27 as service leaders, translators, and practitioners from our communities, families, and disciplines. We were adamant that our lessons learned should help establish feedback loops (like this read-out and our social media presence) to decode our positionality as an “observer” outside of the walled complexes surrounding this resort city on the Al-Baḥr Al-Aḥmar (Red Sea). Consequently, our intention to attend COP27 never rested on professional development, speaking engagements, or networking.

There was no greater emphasis ahead of COP27 than our awareness of security and personal safety. We stayed vigilant, knowing that there was a six-meter-high concrete barrier surrounding the city. Egyptian security forces arrested activists days before the opening, and warnings were issued to national delegations about surveillance and spying on attendees. On one field visit outside the military perimeter, a driver said, “Sharm el-Sheikh is not Egypt,” about the controls enforced on locals from Cairo to the Marine Protected Area of Ras Mohammed National Park. Inside the venue, security guards kept a close watch on the badge holders. Even the pristine new infrastructure, explicitly built in preparation for COP27, created an arena with a fishbowl effect. Extravagant resorts, offering almost anything a traveler could need and desire, seemed to have dominated the area within gentrified walls. However, these beautifully constructed accommodations starkly contrasted the abandoned buildings peppering the long, empty roads around town and the plummeting pounds being exchanged.

The differing conditions within the city reveal a truth about Sharm-el-Sheikh’s COP27: visitors are receiving a neatly curated version of Egypt labeled as the “next green city,” with more resources needed for the well-being of its community members on the frontlines. Based on our experience, COP27 faced another issue — the lack of local representation and involvement. Local workers described how schools were shut down in anticipation of the event, and government signs were posted saying pregnant women and children were not permitted to enter the city. Egyptians we spoke with described a rigid system of seasonal migrant workers from other parts of the country looking for the short-term job opportunities COP27 could bring, such as in hotels, transportation, waste management, and food service, without long-term stability.

Further, Egypt could not remove itself from the ongoing humanitarian issues faced on its soil. An incarceration crisis plagues the people of Egypt. Alaa Abd el-Fattah, a British-Egyptian pro-democracy activist and one of Egypt’s estimated 600,000 political prisoners, was charged with spreading false news and has been subjected to unimaginable cruelty while serving a five-year prison sentence.

Despite rebuking greenwashing, there was familiar marketing plastered on products and posters inside COP27’s blue, green, and innovation zones. Most notably, Coca-Cola’s — infamously known for being the world’s biggest plastic pollution contributor — sponsorship of the event garnered outrage. Additionally, this year’s COP saw a 25% increase in fossil fuel lobbyists, with more than 600 oil and gas industry representatives at COP27. In an endeavor to limit global temperature increases under 1.5°C of warming, civil society groups are concerned that the growing influence of fossil fuel lobbyists might stall deliberations at a critical point in climate talks.

Speech suppression, fossil fuel lobbyists, greenwashing, and the lack of local community involvement encompass the broader issues of this year’s COP. ICP was founded to strengthen community and climate resilience by working to address injustices. While COP27 made great strides for climate funding and enriched the discussion on climate change, acknowledging deficiency is pivotal for building positive peace when convened.

Together for Implementation means…

Across all of the COP27 opportunities, ICP was fortunate to attend the high-level summit for heads of state and government, which emphasized national statements from Heads of State and Government, Vice Presidents, Deputy Prime Ministers, and heads of delegation.

Due to the underrepresentation of civil society, particularly those in the Pacific-Asia region, ICP is keenly aware that peace is at risk in frontline communities experiencing climate shocks and stressors of complicated solutions. By positioning ourselves as civil society observers, ICP’s team gained insight into effective approaches for cooperative implementation throughout the Pacific-Asia region.

Some of our key takeaways from COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, follow:

  • International cooperation, particularly in light of the need for stronger commitments to hold global temperature rise to the 1.5°C degree limit.
  • Practical and progressive solutions for climate finance that take network expansion’s impact on achieving climate resilience and national adaptation goals in the Pacific into account.
  • Transformational approaches to achieving our critical climate goals, such as expanding green jobs to promote economic development and human autonomy for nations and their citizens.
  • Empowerment of women and youth to drive creative new markets, promote connectivity across territories, advance regenerative economies and communities, and implement community-rooted climate adaptation projects.
  • A commitment to climate justice and peacebuilding. Climate solutions that divide communities, exacerbate inequities, or diminish local and Indigenous sovereignty exacerbate injustice and long-term risk. A critical and inclusive approach to designing just solutions ensures a positive path forward.
  • Future COP convenings should authentically and responsibly address its real and implicit footprint. Greenhouse gas emissions by delegations, corporate sponsorships, and greenwashing at events, waste in the zones and pavilions, erasure of local community groups from the host area.

Working with communities together for climate justice is at the core of our work at ICP and is essential for sustaining peace during this climate emergency. The fastest approach to promoting climate action is to honor and elevate the wisdom of communities, both past and present. Learning and sharing, Indigenous wisdom, lived experience, and generational knowledge must be prioritized in climate solutions. Sustainable climate solutions can be realized only by valuing the views of individuals of every age, social standing, and ideology, especially within historically marginalized groups. It is critical to note that transformative policy responses must be developed in collaboration with communities.

Critical Questions for Reflection from COP27

  1. What is your role on a local or global level to accelerate a just and equitable transition?
  2. How are you committing to the long-term transition to a net-zero energy system as a citizen, specialized agency, organization, or corporation?
  3. What lessons have been learned from the ensuing energy and climate crises and in advance of COP28?
  4. What one commitment are you making for the upcoming year?
  5. Will the next three COP become expanding trade shows or an inclusive space for holistic negotiations committed to just climate actions?

. . .

The Institute for Climate and Peace (ICP) is a climate justice organization that understands the science and advances positive peace to build equity and climate resilience for communities most affected by climate change. Our mission is to advance effective and inclusive processes to build peaceful and climate-resilient futures for the well-being of all. We are re-envisioning how we relate to ourselves, each other, and our environment by investing deeply in transformative peace strategies that support the visions of communities on the frontlines of climate change. Find out more about us and our latest activities by staying connected.

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UAE hired lobbyists to burnish green credentials ahead of COP28, Middle East Eye (2022).

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