Egypt, the geostrategic hotspot at the crossroads of Africa and Asia, is hosting the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP). Delegates from more than 190 countries will meet in the resort and conference destination of Sharm El-Sheikh from November 6 to 18. Since the 26th Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in 2021, the global environment for ecological transformation has become even more difficult. Nevertheless, the EU should expand its efforts to combat climate change.

Climate extremes 2022

2022 has been a year with unprecedented weather extremes: heat waves with record temperatures, tornadoes, and droughts, but also heavy rain and floods. The summer of 2022 was the hottest summer ever for Europe and China and the second hottest for North America and Asia.

The global South – particularly the less developed economies – has been most affected by climate change. In 2022, for example, Pakistan experienced the worst floods in decades. At times, a third of the country was covered by water.

The host country of the upcoming climate conference is also suffering greatly from the consequences of climate change. Egypt is under water stress: 40 percent less rainfall in East Africa and overexploitation of the Nile water is drying up the Nile lifeline. Soils are becoming saline, valuable areas for agriculture and livestock are withering and drinking water is lacking. At the same time, the Nile delta is threatened by flooding because the Mediterranean Sea water level is rising.

Responsibilities for global greenhouse gas emissions

A look at cumulative global CO2 emissions to date shows that advanced economies are responsible for the highest share of man-made emissions. Europe and North America accounted for about 60 percent of all CO2 emissions by the end of 2020. Africa and South America together emitted only around five percent of the total.

The differences between the individual regions of the world are even larger in terms of income levels. High-income countries – according to the World Bank’s latest classification, countries with a gross national income per capita of 13,205 U.S. dollars or more – are responsible for almost 57 percent of all CO2 emissions caused by the end of 2020. However, only around 1.2 billion people lived in high-income countries through 2020, which is about 15.4 percent of a global population of almost 7.8 billion.

Emerging and developing countries in a quandary

Many emerging and developing countries are in a quandary regarding urgently needed climate protection:

  • On the one hand, these countries are important for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions because of the size of their populations combined with their production technology, which is often still very harmful to the climate.
  • On the other hand, they are particularly dependent on strong economic growth using the aforementioned technology because of their rapid population increase and low material prosperity.

This dilemma is illustrated by the example of the COP27 host country: Egypt is already the most industrialized country in Africa after South Africa. In the face of social pressure, President al-Sissi is pushing for huge construction and industrial projects. The natural gas fields found in the eastern Mediterranean Sea make Egypt Africa’s second-largest gas producer and enable gas exports to Europe. This pumps money into public budgets and provides Egypt’s own economy with more electricity – but also higher CO2 emissions.

Fair distribution of climate costs

Because of their responsibility for cumulative global greenhouse gas emissions, advanced economies bear central responsibility for climate-related damages and their mitigation.

Therefore, at the 15th Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, the industrialized countries committed to providing developing countries with $100 billion annually for climate action starting in 2020. In fact, they provided only $83.3 billion in 2020.

To what extent this funding promise can be kept against the backdrop of the Corona pandemic, the Russian attack on Ukraine and the associated economic slumps this year and in the years to come remains to be seen.

Global climate protection – the role of the EU

Even if the economic framework conditions for implementing measures to achieve climate neutrality are made more difficult by energy shortages, rising inflation rates and the threat of economic downturns for Europe – we do not believe this should be a reason for slackening climate protection measures.

On the contrary, the EU’s high dependency on fossil fuels should be an additional reason to push ahead with the ecological transformation. We see three main approaches to this.

#1 Use of renewable energy through international cooperation

A core element of a climate-neutral economic structure is the expansion of renewable energies. However, this does not necessarily mean that the required infrastructure must be built entirely in Europe.

Importing renewable energy from countries with abundant solar, wind, hydro and hydrogen resources from the EU’s southern neighborhood is an important component:

  • Morocco is a pioneer in sustainable electricity production in North Africa, where German development aid has enabled the construction in Ouarzazate of one of the largest solar power plants. Morocco is also the first partner of the EU in the external dimension of the “European Green Deal.” The Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, who is responsible for this European flagship project, concluded a “Green Partnership” with the Moroccan government in October 2022 for this purpose.
  • In Tunisia, the EU is accompanying the expansion of solar energy with a support program for start-ups and small companies so that they can become more involved in the environmental protection industry.

These initial approaches show that Europe must become even more involved in financing the necessary infrastructure in the near abroad – either through its own investments or by providing loans and financial resources from national development policy.

#2 Strengthening international cohesion by delivering on financial commitments

The recent economic downturn makes it difficult for the EU to deliver on its financial promises to help developing countries combat climate change and climate damage.

Nevertheless, the EU should do its utmost to provide the necessary funds. In addition to pure financial aid, this would also be a sign that, even in tough economic times, Europe is abandoning the countries that suffer the most from climate change and are most vulnerable because of their low level of economic development. This commitment can strengthen international cohesion – a step that should not be underestimated given the current major geopolitical tensions.

#3 Promotion of a climate club

As a long-term goal, the EU should not lose sight of the aim of an international climate club. This would function as follows:

  • A group of countries agrees on a common carbon price that is as high as possible, thus forming a climate club.
  • Other countries can join this club, provided they are willing to adhere to the carbon price.
  • The club members form a free trade area and can freely exchange goods among themselves.
  • Countries that do not join the club can trade with the club members only if they pay a tariff. The import tariff increases the cost to non-members of their decision not to apply the higher carbon price.

A climate club results in more countries opting for a high carbon price. This, in turn, results in greater CO2 reductions, reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.


Even if the economic downturn triggered by the Ukraine war makes investment more difficult, the EU should do its utmost to push ahead with the ecological transformation.

In fact, the current energy crisis could become a historic turning point and lead to a push for ecological transformation. Many countries are planning significant investments in renewable energies. On the occasion of the publication of the International Energy Agency’s “World Economic Outlook” at the end of October, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol stated: “Energy markets and policies have changed as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, not just for the time being, but for decades to come.”

It is to be hoped that these plans will now be realized. If necessary investments are postponed further into the future, climate change and climate-related damage to people, nature and infrastructure will increase. This will also cause greater economic damage. Doing nothing on climate policy has much higher costs in the medium and long term than immediate climate protection.

About the authors

Christian Hanelt is a Senior Expert for the EU Neighbourhood and the Middle East, working in the Program “Europe’s Future.” His areas of expertise include the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, the Israeli-Arab conflict, the EU’s relations with the Gulf region, economic developments in the Arab world, and the causes of flight and migration.

Thieß Petersen is Senior Advisor at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, specializing in macro-economic studies and economics. His focus lies on the causes and effects of financial and economic crises as well as the chances and risks of globalization. Most recently, he worked on the effects of carbon pricing and the benefits of a potential global climate club.

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