Minutes after the opening ceremony of the annual UN climate change conference, a speaker greeted the audience of world leaders as they poured into the plenary session, saying: “We welcome you to COP27, which will meet for the first time in Sharm el-Sheikh, the first green city.”
This honorary title has already formed the route delegations present are talking about the conference, in part by, bizarrely, inciting flashy photo shoots of some of the world’s most powerful people posing with bicycles. Notably absent was climate activist Greta Thunberg, who last week called COP27 an opportunity for leaders to engage in “greenwashing, lying and cheating.” And let alone the dubious title of “first” green city, when the Egyptian government granted the designation to another city just a few months ago.
The whole spectacle raises the question: what exactly is a green city?
According to Egypt’s Ministry of the Environment, Sharm would be transformed into “an eco-friendly tourist city at a cost of nearly $7 million” by switching all of the city’s transportation to an all-electric model and powering Sharm’s hotels with solar power. . But experts were wary of being too impressed with the designation, which they say leaves a lot to be desired.
“The most worrying thing to me is that this isn’t a green city, it’s a green enclave,” Mohammed Rafi Arefin, a geography and climate researcher at the University of British Columbia, told The Daily Beast. Boosting Sharm’s status as an isolated public relations stunt, Egypt has drawn attention to its eco-friendly practices in the seaside resort, such as the construction of a solar power plant in Sharm capable of producing more than 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. (or the energy of about 500 houses). one year according to the EPA’s greenhouse gas calculator).
Amine Niam / EyeEm via Getty
But all the while, the Egyptian government has quietly gone on to destroy and pave public green spaces in much larger cities across the country — not to mention bulldozing a UNESCO heritage site an hour’s drive from the conference. That these construction projects target trees and parks may not be due solely to carelessness or ignorance, but rather to a concerted effort to destroy democratic practices. “The important thing here is that these green public spaces are not only good for the environment, they are also locations that can be used for public organization and dissent,” Arefin added.
If we dig deeper into the recent changes to Sharm, there’s even more reason to be skeptical. Switching from public and private transport to fully electric vehicles is undoubtedly better than doing nothing to curb the emissions of a major cause of pollution. But Egypt still relies on non-renewable resources like oil and gas to generate about 80 percent of its electricity. Is food production and procurement outside of transport and hotel management practiced sustainably? How are city officials dealing with Egypt’s growing problem of water scarcity – a threat that could see the country run out of water by 2025? Posing difficult questions may bring us closer to understanding Egypt’s motives for calling Sharm a “green city.”
Tourists stroll and Segway along the main street of Nama Bay in Sharm El-Sheikh.
David Degner/Getty Images
“I think the designation of ‘green city’ is often used by governments around the world to go green,” Arefin said. Policy makers will make incremental technical changes to a city’s functioning to cut some emissions and qualify for a title that looks good on paper, ignoring the structural and economic transformations needed to mitigate the disastrous and deadly effects of climate change. to soften it, he added.
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Crucially, the question is whether a tourist destination like Sharm can ever truly be a ‘green city’. After all, a city that promotes travel from Asia, Europe and the US is at least partially responsible for the carbon emissions of their air travel before and after their stay. In that sense, an ‘environmentally friendly tourist town’ is a lot like COP27 itself: a waddling turducken of hypocrisy, lying to us in the face and expecting us to take it seriously.
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