COP27, or what was titled as Africa’s COP, was held in Sharm el-Sheikh in November 2022. The event was of tremendous importance to the continent: it took place at a time when Tunisia and Libya, both Arab and African countries, are facing multiple and interlinking socio-environmental crises. Increasing water scarcity, energy and food insecurity, climate migration, and unsustainable waste management practices are all placing severe pressures on the livelihoods of ordinary Tunisians and Libyans in light of the current political and economic uncertainties in these two neighboring countries.
Besides their proximity, Tunisia and Libya make for an illuminating comparison due to their shared Arab and African history and differing socio-political experiences since the 2011 Arab uprisings. The Conference of Parties (COP) is a crucial event to reflect on governments’ commitments toward making tangible progress and direct action to reduce the impacts of climate change, and ensuring transition to a low-carbon economy. Thus, it is important to revisit the experiences of Libya and Tunisia at COP27 to better understand performance, setbacks, and possible opportunities to consider for upcoming COPs.
Libya’s representation at COP27: the imperceptible participation
Libya, a country facing severe levels of political and economic instabilities, has been living out the impacts of climate change for years. The impacts are significantly changing people’s lives and daily activities. For example, water stress has been sharply increasing making the country among the top 33 water stressed countries while, in parallel, the quality of water is decreasing. It is noteworthy that groundwater aquifers in Libya are overexploited due to high dependence. Moreover, precipitation has been notably decreasing, given rising temperatures and desertification, consequently resulting in longer summers and higher frequency of sandstorms. This lack of water resources poses direct threats on the country’s agricultural viability and its economy. According to the fragility risk brief on Libya, the country has received less attention from international and national actors on climate change unlike other conflict-affected countries. As Libya’s priorities have been primarily concentrated around security issues, environmental challenges have been neglected as a result.
Due to Libya’s increased instability and recurring conflicts since 2014, the country was left behind in terms of active participation or meaningful presence in previous COPs. Additionally, the government has barely allocated any significant budget for the environment and climate change in the country. Although Libya signed the Paris Agreement in 2016, it has not yet ratified the convention. However, the government announced on World Environment Day in 2021 that the Paris Agreement was to be signed and approved by the House of Representatives. It was reported to have been ratified in August 2021, but the ratification status is still unavailable on UNFCCC parties’ status. In addition, Libya has not submitted its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and has no mitigation or adaptation plans to this day.
COP27 faced enormous anticipation, but many cautiously hoped to see a positive shift from previous COPs, especially since last year’s COP was dubbed the “implementation” COP. Many experts, scientists, and researchers on environmental issues called for improved climate action, importance of climate justice, the elimination of greenwashing, and the phasing out of fossil fuels for better options.
Mohamed Maray, Executive Director of Libya Youth Council of Climate Change, was a delegate at COP27 and shared his feedback on Libya’s participation in the conference. According to the UN data, Libya was among the countries with the lowest number of delegates at COP27 with only 32 delegates. According to Mohamed Maray, there were only three delegates from Libya who attended COP27—since the majority left with the presidential council shortly after the conference started. It was therefore challenging for the Libyan delegates to keep up with the negotiations that took place during the conference period. Eighty five percent of the Libyan delegation came from the Presidential Council with no technical team, Maray explained. The remaining small percentage of Libya’s representatives consisted of the minister of environment, an academic professor, Libya’s focal point to the UNFCCC, a senior advisor to the head of Libya’s National Oil Company, a civil society representative, and Mohamed Maray.
Maray was the only Libyan youth delegate and governmental employee who followed the negotiations. It is important to note that non-governmental participants were not funded by the government. During the negotiations, Libya was part of three working groups: The G77 + China, Arab League, and African working groups. Libyan country representatives worked closely with the most active member states in the Arab League group and supported the African group adaptation agenda. From Maray’s perspective, ‘’Libya failed even with the minimum efforts needed to take action on the ground.’’ Libya’s low representation, lack of coordination, limited funding—especially for the ministry of environment—and the weak communication between governmental and non-governmental participants all contributed to making no tangible progress or clear influence during COP27.
Hopefully, on the road toward COP28, there would be more opportunities to train more young delegates from Libya to take the lead in the negotiations, building on the footsteps of the Tunisian experience as a successful model. Tunisia had 15 young climate negotiators in its delegation. Prior to COP, Tunisia’s youth climate negotiators received training in regard to climate policy and negotiations with active participation in discussions and workshops to better prepare them for the conference.
Maray stated that he has strong connections with the youth negotiators from Tunisia, some of these connections lead back to the June 2022 SB56 Bonn Climate Conference or the MENA Climate Week. Although communication between them is informal, it indicates clear dedication by youth from the region to foster collaboration and extend regional efforts to tackle climate change.
COP28 will most likely focus on enhancing the participation and role of the private sector’s financial potential, energy security, and innovative solutions. It is essential to emphasize that attending on its own is not enough to make any advancements, as active participation and readiness to use the learnings, decisions, and opportunities to make developments are central to any success.
Tunisia representation at COP27: a diversity of participants
If Libya’s participation in recent COPs has been limited to non-existent, the Tunisian experience could perhaps offer a blueprint for Libya at future COPs. Over recent summits, Tunisia has developed and refined its COP strategy, and has come to see the annual conference as an important stage on which to demonstrate the country’s commitment to green transition and emission reductions.
Like Libya, Tunisia is experiencing increases in temperature, more regular and severe droughts, less rainfall and, in its southern region, desertification. It is key that the country pursues adaptation and mitigation strategies. Encouragingly, there are also signs that ordinary Tunisians are alert to the severe dangers of climate change. The most recent Arab Barometer shows that 64 percent of Tunisians think the government should be doing more to address climate change, showing that there are high levels of awareness among the population regarding the environment and a desire to see action on climate issues.
Since the 2011 uprising, Tunisia has also positioned itself as a regional leader when it comes to climate change pledges. It ratified the Paris Agreement in 2016, and has completed its commitments to national communications and biennial update reports. In 2021, Tunisia’s most recent Updated Nationally Determined Contribution stated the country aimed to reduce emissions by 45 percent, compared to 2010 levels, by 2030.
Tunisia took a delegation of some 120 participants to COP27 in Egypt. The delegation was headed by Mohamed Zmerli, Tunisia’s national representative to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Moreover, Tunisia is a member of both the African Group and Arab Group and looks to build alliances with a broad range of states from both the Global North and South.
Tunisia placed the representation of a diversity of voices from across Tunisian civil society, politics, and business at the center of its strategy at COP. As Amal Ridane, a climate activist and member of the young negotiators group, noted to TIMEP: “Tunisia had a very complementary delegation which combined several sets of expertise, representatives across sectors, but also diversity in terms of backgrounds, ages, and approaches. I consider this to be a strong asset which enabled the coverage of several areas of expertise and negotiation items across the two weeks of COP.”
Importantly, the Tunisian delegation at COP27 included a large, vocal youth delegation that was able to make interventions around agriculture, climate empowerment, and climate finance. This not only amplified the voice of Tunisian youth on a world stage, but it also acted as an investment in the future. Youth delegates have learned important skills, built alliances, and increased their knowledge of international climate diplomacy, all of which will make Tunisia a stronger negotiator in future climate talks at COP28 and beyond.
It is worth ending on a word of caution. Adel Ben Youssef, who advised the Tunisian delegation on climate finance, noted in his reflections on the summit that the “spirit of COP needs to be revisited.” The increasing power of the oil and gas lobby, as well as the ability of large states to dominate discussions, is a worrying sign that may well continue at COP28. It is crucial that small, vulnerable states such as Tunisia and Libya develop their capacity to influence negotiations by working as part of strategic blocs. While informal, the mutual support cultivated between the Tunisian and Libyan delegation would be a significant step forward if, in 2023, these relations and collaborations were institutionalized. This would increase the visibility of both countries and might improve the negotiating position of these countries in the Arab world and Global South in general. There is a need for better preparation of youth representatives, especially in Libya, and prior to future COPs to allow for better participation experiences.
When youth are given the opportunity to actively learn and engage in climate related activities and events, whether on national or international levels, it will increase climate change awareness among young generations in the country. Thus, it would play a role in redirecting the attention of national and international communities to better integrate climate change when addressing Libya from a policy perspective to allow for real climate action.
Malak Altaeb is a Nonresident Fellow at TIMEP focusing on food security in North Africa.
Achref Chibani is a Nonresident Fellow at TIMEP focusing on climate change in the Middle East and North Africa region.