IEMA's Digital Journalist Tom Pashby is attending the first week of COP27 and gives us their initial thoughts upon arriving in Sharm El-Sheikh.

COPs suffer from a bad reputation with groups all the way from radical environmental activists who say its incrementalism is at odds with the urgency of climate action, through to climate science deniers who say it’s a travelling circus of climate technocrats.

Despite the reputation, I believe that COPs play a critical role in climate action, and I am spending the first week of the conference speaking with IEMA members and others to hear and share their perspectives.

Before I even crossed the border, back in England on the way to Luton Airport, after telling my taxi driver where I was going, he raised concerns about how wars and conflict both act as obstacles to climate action, and how militaries are emitters of huge volumes of greenhouse gas emissions. He revealed he has a master’s degree in geology – highlighting how many people have huge potential, often below the surface, to drive the transition to a sustainable society.

Arriving in Sharm El-Sheikh, a city famous for tourism and holiday resorts, was an eye-opening experience. The roads are massive – I’ve seen some up to 6 or 8 lanes, many with just a few cars on them, often riding the lane boundary markers due to the space between cars. These roads were built to ferry tourists to massive hotels which look like what you might expect in Las Vegas if it was by the sea.

I actually went to the wrong hotel when I arrived and asked where the correct one is (same brand, different building). They said it was near, but when I asked if I could walk it, they said no and that I needed to get a taxi. I thought this might be overly cautious on their part, but the drive involved those massive motorways with footpaths which were interrupted by hotel and transport infrastructure. Not a fantastic advert for walking or cycling.

From my first few hours here, it looks like mainly desert, hotels, roads, and a lot of security personnel.

The security is very visible, and ‘men in suits’ has become a euphemism for undercover security, who are also everywhere. On the way to the conference centre from my hotel in a taxi, I was taking photos as we passed the airport because on the opposite side was a dramatic mountain range. The taxi driver told me I’m not allowed to take photos (this may be a myth) and pointed out the men with guns standing about in the desert, facing the desert, apparently protecting the road, the airport and the conference centre.

When I arrived, it was all very similar to other COPs I’ve been to (COP25 in Madrid and COP26 in Glasgow), but much hotter and with the climate emergency still not addressed, with the UN warning we are in danger of breaching 2.5C of warming. The private jets cruising over the conference centre and into the airport help add weight to the image that COPs are a place where dignitaries fly in, say nice words, and then go home and fail on domestic implementation of climate commitments.

On top of having a packed diary of meeting with colleagues, IEMA members, and others in the climate movement, my inbox is overflowing with press releases and public relations people pitching their clients climate stories. Government, corporates, NGOs and others are all jostling for space in the news agenda for the two weeks of the conference. Unfortunately, publications don’t have the space necessary to cover all this good work being done, and the public don’t always have the attention span, especially when many in the UK are facing a cost of living crisis and often having to choose between heating or eating.

I have barely scratched the surface of this conference. Two weeks wouldn’t be enough and I’m only here for one week. There are thousands of people here, including heads of state, ministers, policymakers, industry representatives, NGO workers and activists, as well as media. I haven’t even found the UK pavilion yet – not sure whether that says more about me or the prominence of the UK’s commitment to the COP agenda (I do have a very bad sense of direction).


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.