Interview: The world expects COP27 to be solutions focused—and it will
Elena Panova is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Egypt charged with coordinating the UN system development activities in the country. She has been heavily involved in coordinating and mobilizing the UN system at global, regional and country level to support the preparation of COP27 activities. In this interview with the Africa Renewal’s Kingsley Ighobor, she discusses the extraordinary planning that went into organising COP27; the effects of climate change in Egypt; and her hopes for COP27. These are excerpts from the interview:
COP27 is going on currently, and it’s huge for Africa. What is your experience so far?
It is indeed a huge undertaking. In the end, I think the statistics will show that it is the most attended COP so far. Most importantly, it's a very vibrant COP. You can see there are more than 140 pavilions. There are side events everywhere, and there is a lot of engagement.
Also, for the first time, we have children joining the COP; for the first time, we have a pavilion for youth and children. If I have to describe it in one word, I would say this COP is ‘vibrant.’
COP27 has already delivered on the first important step, which is very important to Africa and other developing captures: putting the issue of loss and damage on the agenda. So far, none of the previous COPs succeeded in doing this. As we speak, the negotiators are having robust discussions on decisions around this agenda item.
The expectation is to reach an agreement on a robust, time-bound process with clear milestones. This will be a breakthrough for the developing countries.
As the UN Resident Coordinator for Egypt, the COP27 host country, how has the UN assisted in putting this conference together?
We did a lot. I'm extremely pleased with the way the UN system organized and mobilised itself. For the first time since the UN reforms, at the global level, we set up a task force on COP27 co-chaired by Assistant Secretary-General Selwin Hart, the head of the UN SG’s climate action team, and me as the Resident Coordinator in Egypt.
We brought together the global and country levels. We mobilized the UN system around supporting the COP Presidency’s initiatives. There are 13 initiatives that will be launched by the Presidency, and most of them have been formulated and developed with the support of the UN system, globally and at the country level.
I really want to talk about the synthesis report that we put together at the regional level, which showcases good practices in climate action in Africa. It's a synthesis report on mitigation, adaptation and climate finance, focusing on key sectors such as transport, land degradation, agriculture, tourism, water and a few others.
In the report, we present solutions that work on the ground, and these are as a result of the UN working with its partners – government, private sector and local communities.
Before we talk about the solutions, let me first ask: What is the state of the climate crisis in Egypt?
Egypt is one of the climate-hit countries. If you look at the IPCC report in 2007 and then 2021, the Nile Delta is identified as one of the three hottest spots on earth, with fast rising sea levels. In addition, a large part of the country is in the Sahara Desert, and water scarcity is a big issue.
About 95% of the population of Egypt depends on the Nile River, which has been affected by climate change. And water management practices are not where they should be. Waste management is a big thing in many parts of the continent including in Egypt. I'm glad that the COP Presidency, for the first time, puts waste management on the COP agenda. The target is for Africa to recycle 50% of its waste by 2050.
What are some of the sustainable solutions that are being implemented?
I think when we talk about climate change the big-ticket item is energy transition to renewables. That's the sector that should deliver the most in the fight against climate change.
Egypt has a very ambitious agenda for renewable energy. The country has the largest solar plant on the continent. The target in its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) is for 42% of its energy mix to come from renewables by 2030.
The other strategic thing is that Egypt has put together a pipeline of projects under its national climate change strategy based on three pillars — energy, water and food. The pipeline projects were developed by the line ministries to help the country achieve its NDCs and presented to the private sector, multilateral development banks, bilateral partners, philanthropies and the UN system. Here at COP27, we expect big deals to be signed with some of those investors and partners.
What technical or material support is the UN giving Egypt in its transition to renewables?
We are a development system. We have our cooperation framework through which we partner with the government. In it, we have a pillar on natural resource management and climate change.
We support natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation. Most of the 26 UN agencies working in Egypt have portfolio of projects focused on different aspects of climate change mitigation, adaptation, awareness and advocacy.
The national climate change strategy was developed with the help of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and we will continue to provide technical assistance and policy advice to the country as it develops and executes its investment projects along the nexus of energy-water and food.
Finally, what would make you really happy when COP27 is over?
I really want to see strong language on loss and damage. Because this is what the world expects from COP27. I want to see progress on the other tracks: the finance track—where we stand on the $100 billion promised by industrialised countries, but also how the new goal for climate finance is shaping up.
I want to see progress on the global goal on adaptation; progress on meeting the 1.5°C emissions target with ambitious NDCs by more countries. I think this COP, with everything you see happening not just in the negotiations but everywhere else, will deliver on the solutions side.
So, if this COP manages to sustain people's hopes that the climate change agenda has not been abandoned and that it's still front and centre of sustainable development, we will have done great.
This interview was originally published by Africa Renewal, a UN digital magazine that covers Africa's economic, social, and political developments. To learn more about the Resident Coordinator and the UN team's work in Egypt, please visit: egypt.un.org.