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Charming Sharm?: The making of a COP host


By Ashleigh Mclellan 

All eyes have been on Sharm el Sheikh this month as COP 27 descended upon the Egyptian city, but how has the popular tourist destination transformed itself into a climate champion that represents the developing world and, more importantly, has it been successful? 

COP 27 offered a welcome boost to both the local economy and public image after a difficult few years for host city Sharm el Sheikh. The event followed a 4-year UK flight ban as a result of the crash of a Metrojet Airbus in the Sinai desert shortly after take-off from Sharm el Sheikh airport in October 2015 and the global shut-down of tourism as a result of Covid-19.  

With a population of just over 53,000 people (roughly the population of Barry in Wales), it was clear that the Egyptian government had a lot of work to do to ensure the facilities and infrastructure were able to cope with the influx of delegates and to ensure the city promoted sustainability wherever possible. More than 30 environment-related projects were rolled out across the city. These included converting the hotels in the city to run on renewable energy and encouraging them to become eco-certified Green Star hotels as part of a programme introduced in Egypt and recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council in 2015. Alongside this, a 0.4-hectare central park was created and extensive upgrades were made to the local roads and bridges to improve traffic flow and facilitate the electric busses which would shuttle attendees around the city. Work is currently underway to upgrade the International Hospital in Sharm el Sheikh using eco-friendly tools with a view that it will become the first green medical facility in Africa and will encourage other developing nations to do the same. 

The measures have received a mixed response from delegates, with some criticizing the organisation of the conference, and the traffic build up on the roads due to the electric shuttle busses. The fact that Sharm el Sheikh was chosen to host COP was controversial in itself, due to Egypt’s authoritarian rule and troubling track record on human rights and on the environment. In 2019, Egypt was found to be one of the fastest-growing greenhouse gas emitters in the world and the country’s energy mix was almost entirely fossil-fuel based. Many questioned whether Egypt deserved the opportunity to posit themselves as a climate champion or whether they were in any position to lead the march towards net zero. 

What is clear, however, is that Egypt has the potential to set an example for other developing nations. COP 27 in Sharm el Sheikh has shown how quickly sustainability measures can be implemented when under close scrutiny from the rest of the world but the most interesting part will be what happens next. Egypt has enormous potential for renewable energy generation, in both wind and solar, will they continue their push towards the sustainability vision included in their national agenda in 2030 or will progress stagnate now that COP and the scrutiny of the world has passed? 

It is vital that sustainability is not simply something to pay lip service to until an event or a development is complete. It is no longer something ‘extra’ to do to make you look good in front of COP delegates, or in front of a planning committee, and only projects with a genuine belief in the environment will be successful in the long run. Sustainability requires a real and long-term commitment to protect society for the future.  

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Charming Sharm?: The making of a COP host