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Egypt silenced climate experts’ voices before hosting Cop27, Human Rights Watch says

The Egyptian regime has successfully silenced the country’s independent environmentalists in the run-up to hosting this year’s UN climate talks, as part of a wider strategy to repress human rights that also threatens to derail meaningful global climate action, according to a leading advocate.

In an interview with the Guardian, Richard Pearshouse, environment director at Human Rights Watch, said failing to address abuses by Egypt and other authoritarian regimes will obstruct the rollout of ambitious climate policies needed to transition away from fossil fuels and curtail global heating.

“It will be a fundamental mistake if diplomats go to Cop27 thinking they need to go softly softly on human rights in order to make progress in the climate talks. We will not get the urgent climate action needed without civil society pressure, the situation in Egypt shows us that.

“Human rights versus climate action is a false debate, it’s not either or. We need people in the streets, independent environmentalists and human rights activists, strategic litigation and independent courts to generate change,” said Pearshouse.

Cop27 takes place in November in Sharm El Sheikh, an upmarket resort city between the desert of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea. It’s a place where some of Egypt’s most pressing climate and environmental problems – rising sea level, water scarcity, and over development – can be found, yet delegates are unlikely to hear from Egyptian scientists, advocates or journalists on these topics.

A recent HRW report found that these and other sensitive topics such as environmental harms caused by corporate interests (tourism, agribusiness and real estate) and military businesses (water bottling plants, cement factories and quarry mines) have become “no-go areas” for academics and environmental groups. Also off limits is industrial pollution, which contributes to thousands of premature deaths every year in Cairo – one of the world’s most polluted cities.

Those working on these issues have been arrested, forced into exile or silenced through a slew of bureaucratic restrictions that make research impossible.