Naomi Klein: “Unless political freedoms are defended, there will be no meaningful climate action”

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Photo: Alaa Abd El Fattah and his sister Sanaa Seif.

Canadian author Naomi Klein writes:

Beginning on 6 November, the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt will play host to this year’s United Nations climate summit, Cop27.

Tens of thousands of delegates – world leaders, ministers, envoys, appointed bureaucrats, as well as climate activists, NGO observers and journalists – will descend on the city…

While [political prisoner] Alaa Abd El-Fattah [is on hunger strike], it’s not at all clear that the world heading to Egypt for the climate summit is thinking much about him.

Or about the estimated 60,000 other political prisoners behind bars in Egypt, where barbaric forms of torture reportedly take place…

Or about the Egyptian human rights and environmental activists, as well as critical journalists and academics, who have been harassed, spied on and barred from travel…

[The costs of climate summits include] the carbon spewed into the atmosphere as delegates travel there, the price of two weeks in hotels (steep for grassroots organisations), and the public relations bonanza enjoyed by the host government, which invariably positions itself as an eco-champion, never mind evidence to the contrary.

[The benefits include] for those two weeks, the climate crisis makes global news, often providing media platforms for powerful voices on the frontlines, from the Brazilian Amazon to Tuvalu.

[The additional cost of this summit in Egypt is greenwashing the police state led by General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who seized power in a military coup in 2013.]

Since taking power less than a decade ago, it has built more than two dozen new prisons.

The Egyptian communities and organisations most affected by environmental pollution and rising temperatures will be nowhere to be found in Sharm el-Sheikh.

What, for the regime, is [acceptable to discuss]? “Trash collection, recycling, renewable energy, food security, and climate finance”.

What topics are unwelcome? “Those that point out the government’s failure to protect people’s rights against damage caused by corporate interests, including issues relating to water security, industrial pollution, and environmental harm from real estate, tourism development, and agribusiness.”

Also unwelcome: “The environmental impact[s] of Egypt’s vast and opaque military business activity … are particularly sensitive, as are ‘national’ infrastructure projects such as a new administrative capital, many of which are associated with the president’s office or the military.”

And definitely don’t talk about Coca-Cola’s plastic pollution and water use – because Coke is one of the summit’s proud official sponsors.

Though reluctant to give up on the process, most serious climate activists readily concede that these summits produce little by way of science-based climate action. Year after year since they began, emissions keep going up.

For months, Egyptians in exile in Europe and the US have been pleading with NGOs to put their country’s political prisoners on the agenda of negotiations leading up to the summit. But that was never prioritised.

Egypt’s summit will probably achieve as little by way of real climate action as all the others before.

But that does not mean it won’t achieve anything: when it comes to propping up a torture regime, showering it with cash and image-cleansing photo ops, Cop27 is already a lavish gift.

There may still be time to change that script, and for the summit to become a searchlight that illuminates the connections between surging authoritarianism and climate chaos around the world… There is still time to make the case that climate justice is impossible without political freedoms.

It isn’t hard – but it does take courage. The message activists should bring to the climate summit, whether they travel to Egypt or engage from afar, is simple: unless political freedoms are defended, there will be no meaningful climate action. Not in Egypt, nor anywhere else. These issues are intertwined, as are our fates.

To read Klein’s feature length article, please go to Greenwashing a police state: the truth behind Egypt’s Cop27 masquerade.


Peace Brigades International will be convening a webinar during COP27 with frontline environmental defenders from Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Kenya and Nicaragua.

More than 1,200 land and environmental defenders have been killed since the COP21 climate summit in Paris in December 2015.

Indigenous Lenca environmental defender Berta Caceres was assassinated in March 2016. PBI was present at a commemoration at her grave in La Esperanza, Honduras on what would have been her 50th birthday in March 2021.

The UN Human Rights Council has affirmed that environmental human rights defenders “must be ensured a safe and enabling environment to undertake their work” given “their important role in supporting States to fulfil their obligations under the Paris Agreement.”

And yet the threats, attacks, criminalization, judicialization and killings continue.

To register for this webinar, click here.


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