Flemish environment minister Zuhal Demir will not physically attend the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt, citing concerns about the host country's lack of response to its dire human rights situation.
From Sunday 6 November until Friday 18 November, world leaders and ministers from across the globe, as well as civil organisations and climate activists, will travel to Sharm-el-Sheikh to advance global climate talks, discuss the impacts of climate change as well as innovation and solutions to combat it.
This year, it was Demir's turn to represent Belgium at the European negotiations on so-called burden sharing, but she announced on Friday that she struggled with the fact that the dire human rights situation in the host country, as raised by Human Rights Watch (HRW), receives so little attention, and therefore decided to cancel her trip, instead conducting digital consultations remotely.
"Climate summits are not Eurovision song festivals. They, unfortunately, seem to have become grand shows for the outside world and are sometimes more about prestige and being seen attending it," she said.
"Nowhere is this more painfully evident than in Egypt where climate scientists are gagged while politicians and corporations are given the red carpet. This is very sour. It's like the World Cup in Qatar. There it is not about the sport, in Egypt it is not about the climate," Demir explained.
Demir cited reports from HRW stressing that the human rights situation in Egypt is getting worse. Aside from the aggression shown against environmental organisations, groups and activists, Demir also pointed to the fact that marital rape is not criminalised in the country among other reasons to boycott the event.
A "whole army of people" will still be travelling to Egypt from Belgium — the total Belgian delegation list comprises more than 120 people, including six ministers — which also played a role in Demir's decision not to attend in person after all. However, many of the ministers and numerous members of parliament do not have a formal role during the conference.
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"Flanders will follow the substantive discussions from a distance. I hope that this time the climate conference can lead to realisations on the ground and commitments from those regions that still have a lot of work ahead of them," she said.
"Because one thing is certain: we will have to make a concerted effort for the climate. Not travelling to Egypt already reduces the ecological footprint," Demir concluded.