COP27, the annual UN Climate Conference, came to an end on November 18, 2022. It was this year held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The event has been heavily criticized over its failure to address animal agriculture’s impact on the environment. The UN has also sparked controversy for its decision to hold the event in a country with a terrible human rights record. Bernat Añaños Martinez, food activist and co-founder of plant-based meat brand Heura, attended the event. Here, he details his experience.
I just got back from COP27. I went there to represent my plant-based meat brand Heura, and to make sure that we were part of different discussions and panels to assure that the food system – and the need to move to a just and sustainable one – was a central part of the debate.
It was an intense experience. When I arrived, I could not believe that the whole event smelled like beef. All restaurants were serving barbecues inside the conference, and very few vegan options were being cooked and served. But this wasn’t the most surprising fact.
Unfortunately, there was something that was even beyond that.
Just after my arrival, I met this young activist. We started to talk, and she told me something that shocked me. “We are scared to share our thoughts and protest at this event,” she told me.
And I thought, how is this possible? How, at a climate emergency summit organized by the United Nations, are human rights not guaranteed?
The climate emergency is a humanitarian crisis
I said it in the panels, I say it here, and I will continue saying it. The climate crisis is a humanitarian crisis. This is not a division, this is not two different topics.
It is obvious that the activists at COP27, COP28, and COP29 shouldn’t be scared of protesting and sharing their opinions. Human rights activists should not be imprisoned, which is something that is happening now, and has happened in the past. There were very few protests because people felt threatened.
The LGBTQ+ plus community should not feel scared of just existing while there. And women should not feel misogyny or fear during the event. COP is a place where all the institutions, all the NGOs, companies, and everyone else comes together with the activists to push the solution for something that concerns us all in this space.
The least we should expect is that the United Nations and the governments where the event is held work on guaranteeing this. Because we need these basic rights before we can work on the crisis.
Throughout the whole week I was there, I heard that so many activists – young, older, from different countries – were frightened. And one sentence that I listened to most was: “I’ll share my thoughts when I go back to my own country,” or “if you want to talk with other activists while here download this app that is not being tracked”.
For the next COPs, wherever they are held, the United Nations must guarantee not just these human rights during the event, but in the future as well.
Human rights in Egypt
In Egypt, the right to freedom of expression has been historically repressed.
According to Amnesty International, authorities continue to clamp down on critical voices, both offline and online. Peaceful protestors have also been arbitrarily detained.
Women also face discrimination in law and practice. Female social media influencers have been prosecuted for how they acted, dressed, and earned money on social media apps.
Same-sex relationships aren’t explicitly banned in Egypt, but the country has prosecuted LGBTQ+ people using laws designed to protect against public “debauchery.”
In July 2022, the UN was urged by a White House advisor and his partner to move the COP27 event due to the country’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people. They cited fears that they and other activists could be a target for security forces.
The couple said condemned the choice of Egypt to host due to “LGBTQ+ torture, woman slaughter and civil rights suppression.”