COP27: Ukraine finds new allies in a Russian tourism hotspot

Sharm Alsheikh, Egypt

Ukraine’s pavilion at the COP27 UN climate conference in Egypt is built of harsh dark gray walls. It looks like a bomb shelter, a little out of place among all the brightly colored structures erected by other countries that showcase climate solutions and celebrate natural beauty.

The contrast is intentional. The Ukrainians came to Sharm el-Sheikh with a clear mission: to highlight the damage caused by Russia’s war of aggression – a war funded mostly by oil and gas revenues.

Meanwhile, Russia was largely invisible at the conference. He did not field a wing, unlike in previous years, and his delegation was largely sidelined.

This is an unusual sight in Sharm El Sheikh. The resort town on the Red Sea is a popular vacation destination for Russians wealthy enough to travel abroad — now more than ever as sanctions and visa restrictions related to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine make many other tourist destinations inaccessible to them.

Restaurant menus and signage in shops and entertainment venues are often in Russian and Arabic, making it clear that Russians – and their money – are welcome here.

Inside the COP venue, however, the reception was much less cordial. And Ukrainian activists staged several protests during the events hosted by Russia at the summit, and the protests often include anti-war messages.

In one panel that included Russia’s Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, a protester shouted, “You are criminals, war criminals. You are killing my people. You are shooting bombs on our people” before being removed from the scene.

On the other hand, Ukraine found many new allies among the climate activists at the conference by clearly linking fossil fuels to the invasion. Protests against war and other conflicts have become part of the daily demonstrations at the COP, with “fossil fuels killing” one of the activists’ main messages.

“As a Ukrainian, I can see how fossil fuels have powered the Russian war machine for a very long time,” said Oleksandra Matveychuk, a Ukrainian human rights lawyer and president of the Center for Civil Liberties, a Ukrainian group that received the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. .

Speaking at the conference via video link from Kyiv, Matveychuk said Russia has “never been punished” for its crimes in places like Chechnya or Georgia because the world depends on its oil and gas.

Climate scientist Svetlana Krakowska, head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has been trying to convey this message for months.

When Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine in late February, Krakowska and her colleagues at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were about to work on a major report. That morning, I told my colleagues in plenary, ‘Look, we are now being attacked by the Russians, we are now under a much greater threat…a threat to our lives.’ “But we understand that climate change will not stop.”

“That’s why we will do our duty, we will survive and we will resist Russian aggression, and you will continue your work here at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and you will agree to this very important summary for policymakers to enable them to act,” she said at an event at COP27.

Krakowska told CNN after the event that the invasion made her see the connection between Russian aggression and the fossil fuel industry more clearly. Climate change is caused by our addition of fossil fuels. Russia relies on income from these fossil fuels. So the message is clear. She said: Stop funding the fossil fuel war.

“It is very important for us and for many other countries that are suffering,” she added, pointing to the fact that the war in Ukraine has ripple effects in some of the countries most vulnerable to the climate crisis because of the role Ukraine plays in the global food supply.

Ukraine is one of the largest contributors to the World Food Programme, which ships food to countries experiencing famines caused or exacerbated by the climate crisis. To remind the world of its role as the global breadbasket – and to highlight the decline caused by the war – the Ukrainian pavilion puts on display samples of the different types of soil found on the sprawling farmland.

Ukrainian climate activist Ilyas Qortobi found the exhibition particularly poignant. Al-Qurtubi is from Kharkiv, a city in eastern Ukraine that has seen some of the deadliest attacks of the war.

“When I walked in, it really felt like home. I miss my country,” Al-Qurtobi, who fled the war to Germany, told CNN. Wearing a blue T-shirt and yellow jeans — the colors of the Ukrainian flag — this is the third COP summit, al-Qortobi said at first. As an official member of the Ukrainian delegation, “I have been promoted,” said Al-Qurtubi.

Like many other Ukrainians at the COP27 summit, Qortobi relied on donations to pay for the trip and works for free as a communications consultant. Al-Qurtubi used to organize climate strikes in Ukraine, and the years he spent active in Fridays for the Future were good practice for this role.

Elias Cordobi during a protest at the COP27 Climate Summit.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who addressed the conference last week, underlined the message that the activists had conveyed to the COP.

“There can be no effective climate policy without peace on the ground because in reality countries only think about how to protect themselves here and now from the threats created in particular by Russian aggression,” he told the summit.

A few days after Zelensky’s speech at the Conference of the Parties, Ukrainian forces recaptured the city of Kherson after months of Russian occupation. The strategic southern city was an agricultural center known for its watermelons, and was the only Ukrainian regional capital captured by Russian forces since the February invasion. Its liberation was a major Ukrainian victory.

When the news broke on Friday, Melon had appeared at the Ukrainian stand of COP27. She sat on her chair, draped in the Ukrainian flag.

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