Activists protest at mostly quiet climate summit

Demonstrators protest Friday against pipelines in East Africa at the U.N. Climate Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (AP/Nariman El-Mofty)

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt -- After days with almost no demonstrations, there were several small protests at this year's U.N. climate conference Friday calling for the developed world to fight global warming more fairly and effectively.

Demonstrators called for rich nations to compensate developing countries for climate change, demanded that a pipeline project in Congo be scrapped and complained about a lack of political will to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the main cause of climate change.

"I am standing shoulder to shoulder with my sisters and my brothers from Mother Africa," said Imam Saffet Catovic of the Islamic Society of North America. "It's time for the global north to pay for their responsibility."

Lucky Abeng, a Nigerian activist from the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, said the group would continue to pressure world leaders to do more and "will not be intimidated."

Often a large presence at climate negotiations, protests had been mostly muted this year, a sharp contrast to previous climate conferences that featured large demonstrations. Activists blamed the high costs of travel and accommodation in this resort town.

There were also concerns that the Egyptian government could crack down, despite promising to allow protests in a designated venue. Street protests are virtually banned in Egypt and activists increasingly doubt demonstrations' usefulness.

Sharm el-Sheikh has been for decades the government's favorite spot for conferences and high-level summits because it is so easy to control.

The city is isolated in the desert near the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. It's a six-hour drive from the capital, Cairo, and drivers must pass through a closely guarded tunnel under the Suez Canal, then numerous checkpoints along the highway.

Friday's protests, like others in recent days, took place inside and around the main conference center. Other Conference of Party meetings have seen raucous protests around various parts of host cities.

"We need countries like the United States to be a climate leader, to stand with the people, to stand with the planet, to stand with the coming generations," said Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from Uganda and a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. "So my message to President Biden: will you show us the money? Will you stand with the most vulnerable communities?"

In one protest, dozens of medical workers from various countries laid down to perform what they called a "die-in," and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation to show the urgency of addressing climate-change impacts. The activists called for a treaty to phase out fossil fuel.

"That's the first stage on this emergency. And in the longer run, the long-term therapy is climate justice and systemic change," said Bea Franziska Albermann, a Swiss physician and climate activist.

Some activists briefly interrupted President Joe Biden's speech at the COP27 with shouts. They raised an orange banner Friday with a slogan that read: "People vs. Fuels" and the protest ended peacefully.

"The main oil producers are here in this summit," said Philbert Aganyo of Kenya, protesting a large pipeline in the Congo. "Why are we inviting polluters to conversations of an issue they caused?"

"We are aware that a just energy transition won't happen overnight and that is why we are appealing for a systematic scale-down of the use of fossil fuels," he said.

The pipeline, owned by Total Energies, China National Offshore Oil Corporation and the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments, runs from the Hoima district in Uganda to Tanga Port in Tanzania. It has been criticized by international environmental groups and communities along the proposed route.

The pipeline represents [897 miles] of pollution, pain and misery," said Philbert Aganyo, from Green Faith in Kenya.

There have also been calls for drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which continue to rise. Beyond leaders and negotiators, the summit includes scientists, academics, journalists and representatives from companies ranging from those developing low-carbon projects to traditional oil and gas firms.

Global Witness, Corporate Accountability and Corporate Europe Observatory reported that they have counted 636 people linked to fossil fuel companies on the meeting's provisional list of participants, an increase of more than 25% compared to the 503 fossil fuel lobbyists counted at last year's climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland.

"Tobacco lobbyists wouldn't be welcome at health conferences, arms dealers can't promote their trade at peace conventions," the groups stated. "Those perpetuating the world's fossil-fuel addiction should not be allowed through the doors of a climate conference."

Friday was a day for climate protests worldwide since Swedish activist Greta Thunberg launched the Fridays for Future movement in 2018. There were climate demonstrations Friday in several countries, including South Africa, Italy and Sweden.

Like most Fridays, Greta Thunberg rode a bike outside her country's parliament. Thunberg didn't plan to attend this year's conference but said activists' presence was important.

"If we don't have the public pressure from the outside that we need, the COPS, as they are now, are not going to lead to anything big," she said.

Information for this article was contributed by Charlene Pele of The Associated Press.