Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
The Ukrainian pavilion at the COP27 UN climate conference in Egypt is made of sober, dark gray walls. It feels like a bomb shelter, a bit out of place among all the brightly colored buildings erected by other countries showcasing climate solutions and celebrating natural beauty.
The contrast is intentional. The Ukrainians came to Sharm el-Sheikh with a clear mission: to draw attention to the damage caused by Russia’s aggressive war – a war funded largely by oil and gas revenues.
Russia, meanwhile, has been largely invisible at the conference. Unlike previous years, it has not set up a pavilion and its delegation has largely been sidelined.
That is an unusual sight in Sharm. The Red Sea resort town is a popular holiday 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 spots inaccessible to them.
Restaurant menus and signs in shops and entertainment venues are often in both Russian and Arabic, making it clear that Russians – and their money – are welcome here.
But inside the COP conference venue, the reception was much less friendly. Ukrainian activists have staged several protests during Russian-hosted summit events, and protests often contain anti-war messages.
At a panel with the Russian Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology, a protester shouted: “You are criminals, war criminals. You’re killing my people. You’re dropping bombs on our people, ‘before you’re escorted out of the room.
Ukraine, on the other hand, found many new allies among climate activists at the conference by making a clear link between fossil fuels and the invasion. Protests against the war and other conflicts have become part of the daily demonstrations at COP, where “killing fossil fuels” is one of activists’ key messages.
“As a Ukrainian, I can see how fossil fuels have powered the Russian war machine for too long,” said Oleksandra Matviichuk, a Ukrainian human rights lawyer and president of the Center for Civil Liberties, a Ukrainian group that was awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. .
Speaking at the conference, Matviichuk said via video link from Kiev that 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 Svitlana Krakovska, head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has been trying to get that message across for months.
When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February, Krakovska and her IPCC colleagues were about to work on a major report. “That morning I said to my colleagues in plenary: ‘Look, we are now being attacked by Russians, we are now under much greater threat… a threat to our lives.’ But we understand that climate change will not stop.’”
Therefore, we will do our homework, we will survive and we will resist Russian aggression, and you will continue your work here at the IPCC and you will approve this very important summary for policy makers to enable them to work. ” she said at an event at the COP27 conference.
Krakovska told CNN after the event that the invasion made her see the connection between Russian aggression and the fossil fuel industry much more clearly. “The cause of climate change is our addition to fossil fuels. And Russia depends on the revenue from these fossil fuels. So the message is clear. Stop funding the war on fossil fuels,” she said.
“It is crucial for us and for many other countries that are suffering,” she added, noting that the war in Ukraine is having ripple effects in some of the countries most vulnerable to the climate crisis because of the role Ukraine is playing. in the global food supply.
Ukraine is one of the largest contributors to the World Food Program, which ships food to countries suffering famines caused or exacerbated by the climate crisis. To remind the world of its role as a global breadbasket – and to highlight the degradation caused by the war – the Ukrainian pavilion displays samples of different types of soils found on the vast farmlands.
The Ukrainian climate activist Ilyess El Kortbi found the exhibition particularly moving. El Kortbi is from Kharkiv, a city in eastern Ukraine that has seen some of the worst attacks of the war.
“When I walked in, it really felt like coming home. I miss my country,” El Kortbi, who fled to Germany before the war, told CNN. El Kortbi wore a blue shirt and yellow jeans – the colors of the Ukrainian flag – and said this was their third COP summit, first as an official member of the Ukrainian delegation. “I got an upgrade,” said El Kortbi.
Like many other Ukrainians at the COP27 summit, El Kortbi relied on donations to pay for the trip and works as a communications consultant for free. El Kortbi used to organize climate strikes in Ukraine and the years he spent as a Fridays For Future activist were good practice for this role.
The message the activists brought to the COP was underscored by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who addressed the conference last week.
“There can be no effective climate policy without peace on earth, because nations are really only thinking about how to protect themselves here and now against the threats created particularly by Russian aggression,” he said at the summit.
A few days after Zelensky’s speech at the COP, Ukrainian troops recaptured the city of Kherson after months of Russian occupation. The strategic southern city, an agricultural center known for its watermelons, was the only Ukrainian regional capital Russian troops had captured since the February invasion. The liberation was an important Ukrainian victory.
When the news broke on Friday, a watermelon appeared in the Ukrainian COP27 pavilion. It sat on its own chair, wrapped in a Ukrainian flag.