From L-R: Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President, European Commission; Mohamed Shaker El-Markabi, Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy, Egypt; and Tarek El-Molla, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Egypt. Photo by IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis

COP27: It’s like negotiating with cab drivers

A summary of the first day at the UN Climate Change Conference and the discussion that will be central in the coming weeks: who will put up the money to pay for what we are already suffering.
A summary of the first day at the UN Climate Change Conference and the discussion that will be central in the coming weeks: who will put up the money to pay for what we are already suffering.

Hello, I greet you from Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt: 11,460 kilometers away, three plane stops and five hours difference with Paraguay. In fact, I am writing this while you are sleeping.

The 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), better known as COP27, began here yesterday, Sunday, November 6. More than 190 countries are participating in different capacities, and according to official data, a total of 38 thousand attendees. If all this seems a bit cryptic to you, take a look at this glossary we prepared. It is a giant event that will last two weeks, and I will be here every day thanks to a grant from the Climate Tracker organization.

Before I tell you what happened yesterday, let me enlighten you a bit about the host city of this meeting, Sharm el-Sheikh. If when you read Egypt you thought of pyramids and historical sites, I am sorry to tell you that there is not much of that here. Sharm is about an hour’s flight from Cairo, and imagine it’s like a long waterfront along the Red Sea. Along that waterfront, it is full of hotels and resorts with Italians and Russians. Although in theory we are in autumn, the desert sun in the morning reminded me of Av. Eusebio Ayala in December.

I arrived here on Saturday at 3 am and went through the universal tradition of being ripped off on price by cab drivers at an airport. There were 3 of us in the cab. Each one had to pay 10 dollars.

But in addition to this universal custom, there is a specific situation with Egyptian cab drivers. Although to get to the convention the government provided nice buses that run all along the waterfront, it is often necessary to take a cab or walk half an hour to get to the main avenue. There is no additional public transportation. And every time you take a cab you must negotiate the price beforehand with the driver, who will always initiate the exchange by asking for an exorbitant price. The conversation will go on for the next two to three minutes in a mixture of English and Arabic, where the driver or the customer may threaten to abandon the negotiation, until finally agreeing on a price that is sometimes as much as half of what the cab driver asked for.

This is how it will be every time you take a cab, and one can take three or four every day. After that heated discussion – especially if it takes place in the sun – cab drivers are the nicest people in the world. They give advice on where to get cheap food, music and ask, in our case, whether or not we are in the World Cup in Qatar.

I tell you this about the cab drivers because it is a very close illustration of what is going to happen during COP27, where the discussion will be almost exclusively about who is putting up the money to avoid the end of the world. Yesterday the official agenda was approved, after two days of negotiations that lasted into the night. This agenda is the road map for what will be discussed at the Conference.

It was the first great victory: for the first time, countries like Paraguay succeeded in having a discussion on how to manage the losses and damages already caused by climate change – such as increasingly frequent and intense droughts and floods. The guidance document for the Paraguayan delegation to COP27 indicates that the country considers it important to “begin to define mechanisms for technical and financial support on damages and losses”. It also announces that it is making “institutional arrangements” to register our damages and losses, such as those that occurred during the 2021 drought.

Today, Monday will be the day when some presidents will speak, such as the president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro. Or authorities such as the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, who said that “we are on the road to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”. For Guterres, a “global solidarity pact” is needed to avoid a “collective suicide” and rebuild trust between countries of the North and the South.

To take his foot off the accelerator, it will be necessary to negotiate, especially with the United States, which is the most notorious actor among those who reject the idea of loss and damage by developed countries. The ambition of countries such as Paraguay is that the money in this regard “does not come from existing funds”, i.e., that it is not taken from the already insufficient funds for mitigation or adaptation. The real story will be whether this hand in hand with the US, the UK and the European Union ends up being like the Sharm El Sheikh cab drivers: a compromise that does not mean being swindled.

This article was originally published in El Surtidor and is part of the special #COP27Latam.