Luisa Neubauer, the leading figure in Germany´s Fridays for Future movement, considers the format of the COP27, this year’s UN Climate Change Conference starting on Sunday, 6 November, as “very sick”. She criticizes the fact that the summit is taking place in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm-El-Sheikh, as the opportunities for protest are very limited, and the location can be reached almost exclusively by plane. Her activist group is travelling to the summit from Berlin to Istanbul by bus and train before they take the plane to Egypt. We met them in Belgrade on their way for COP27 and did an interview.
What are your expectations for the climate conference in Egypt?
You can’t say in these climate conferences whether they will be successful or unsuccessful. No matter what this conference in Egypt will bring, and even if the best of all possible results will be achieved, it will still not be enough to meet the climate crisis. For that, it needs more the countries, the people on the ground, who organize themselves everywhere and put pressure on their governments even if it’s not a climate conference.
How do you see it that some people have lost faith to change through climate conferences?
I don’t know anyone who travels to Egypt for the climate conference and thinks, “wow, this is going to be the place where everything is going to change”. I started my own climate activism with Fridays for Future after a climate conference like that because I realized that’s not where the climate crisis will be solved. These climate conferences are a place where we must continue to try to coordinate internationally to decide. Who is responsible for ensuring that the money the global North pays to the global South is paid? And at the same time, we can’t rely for a second on the fact that things will be sorted out there. As a civil society, we must take that into our own hands.
Greta Thunberg, the Swedish founder of your movement, decided not to attend this year. She called the climate conference green-washing. How do you see that as Fridays for Future Germany?
We see governments everywhere starting to do highly engaged green PR, making their balance sheets look good and trying to present themselves as sustainable in every way. But we are witnessing in Egypt practically greenwashing to the next level. The authoritarian country of Egypt, where more than 60,000 political prisoners are currently being held, is trying to present itself as human rights-friendly and to invite civil society, knowing full well that this dictatorship has no interest whatsoever in civil society. This means we are already experiencing human rights washing down to the last detail in Egypt. And for us activists, this means calling on governments at every opportunity to keep bringing together the human rights and climate crises. There can be no climate justice where human rights are violated.
Why are you still going to the climate conference under these conditions?
Where are our alternatives? There is no alternative climate conference. There is no alternative place where the Paris climate agreement is negotiated internationally. We see those international crises, such as the climate crisis, require international negotiating spaces – there’s no getting around that, and it’s also important to look each other in the face. We will fight for human rights to be put on the agenda and for greenwashing or human-rights-washing not to get through, and then we will also try to use everything we have to stand up for the results of this conference.
Despite the annual Climate Change Conference, greenhouse gas emissions have risen since 1990. Are the conferences in the way they are currently held useful at all?
That’s a good question. We must ask ourselves; how to negotiate the climate crisis productively and not postpone it. Because that is often what happens at this climate conference, those promises are made that are not supported. The poor record of these climate conferences is an unequivocal mandate for all participants to think about. But as long as there are no other global forums, negotiations or mechanisms, it is also essential to look at where these climate conferences are taking place and then do everything possible to ensure they are as fair and transparent as possible. At the same time, access to this climate conference is now so limited, even for people from Egypt. It is so time-consuming and expensive to get to. This shows how sick and problematic the current format is.
How do you view the limited opportunities to protest in Egypt?
This is the first time we have been to a climate conference, such as Fridays for Future, over which we felt too insecure and where we could assess so little on how to deal with the situations. And with all that, we’ve heard. According to our current information, it will be a surreal and unfree experience of protest. Apparently, they’ve set aside such small areas for us to protest that are not at the conference building at all. Surveillance mechanisms are in place everywhere, and even the contact we already have with the organizers was very violent.