The significance of COP 27 has promoted two Tang Prize laureates in Sustainable Development to voice their opinions about this summit. While Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan urged delegates at COP27 to focus on climate resilience and the world’s poorest three billion, Dr. Gro Brundtland appealed to them to work out more viable solutions to the climate crisis. In addition, two of the three NGOs receiving the 2020 Tang Prize in Rule of Law also expressed their professional views on related subjects from the perspective of developing countries. Located in Lebanon, one of the Arab States, The Legal Agenda suggested that the host Egypt examine the relationship between climate change and the social, political, economic, and human rights issues that criss-cross it, and reflect on the main purpose of this summit through the lens of the Global South. Meanwhile, representatives from the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) advocated at COP27 for establishing a new loss and damage fund that incorporates principles of equality and historical responsibility. Moreover, they shared first-hand experiences as an NGO based in Bangladesh and highlighted the importance of community consensus as well as people’s participation in climate mitigation and adaptation.
BELA was invited to attend several side events and conference at COP27. In the meeting, “Community Consent as a Vehicle for Climate Mitigation and Adaptation” held at the Climate Justice Pavilion, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of BELA, rebuked the Bangladesh government for writing its environment impact assessment (EIA) report in English and citing intellectual property rights as an excuse to refuse its publication. These moves were tantamount to denying local communities the opportunity to participate in policymaking and ignoring any community consensus over this matter. As a result, the report was reduced to nothing more than a greenwashing gimmick. In another meeting titled “People’s Solution to Climate Crisis,” Rizwana informed the audience that “sixteen million farmers have conserved twenty thousand rice varieties in Bangladesh. They had their own seed banks. In times of crisis, they would share their seeds. They’ve made crops drought resistant and salinity resistant.” Therefore, we should appreciate the fact that members of local communities are people who understand their land the best, and who play a key role in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Talking at the press conference “Friends of the Earth International,” BELA’s research lawyer Bareesh Hasan Chowdhury commented on discussions that had taken place shortly before. He argued that instead of waiting until COP29, governments around the world should have the courage to make a political decision now on how to address the loss and damage associated with climate change, and set up a climate compensation fund that honors the principle of equality and obliges major emitters to assume their historical responsibility. Besides, such a fund should not become another tool for exacerbating debt injustice suffered by many developing countries. On the contrary, it should take the form of grants to help these countries solve the problems they didn’t cause.
Hosting the summit for the first time, Egypt has also been under lots of scrutiny. For years, The Legal Agenda has been harnessing the power of strategic litigation and civil society to promote the rule of law and safeguard human rights in Lebanon. It also extended its concern to situations in other parts of the Arab world, including Egypt. In an article published on its website, The Legal Agenda notes that compared with other issues, environmental policy in most Arab nations is usually seen as a relatively peripheral one. However, some people considered it reasonable to choose Egypt, rather than other African countries, as the host for COP27. For one thing, Egypt has been making consistent progress in its fight against climate change, shifting its environmental policy from only focusing on pollution to also paying attention to sustainable development. And for another, it has been making efforts to collaborate with NGOs. Furthermore, Egypt launched the National Strategy for Climate Change 2050 to integrate climate action into its constitution, carried out reforms, and built solar energy plants, making every endeavor to achieve the international goal of reducing carbon emissions.
Nonetheless, The Legal Agenda also points out that questions about the many controversies surrounding Egypt continued to be raised, domestically and overseas, such as how Egypt is able to strike a balance between its urban and environmental polices. Moreover, Egypt’s internal problems, including human rights violations as well as political and economic crises, are yet to be resolved. Its citizens’ involvement in the formulation of climate policy has been inadequate. Freedom of speech and freedom of research in Egypt remain highly curtailed. All of these facts should make us pause and ask if this summit is just a veneer for greenwashing or a real chance for Egypt to open up its society. Facing criticisms about its human rights conditions, its political and economic crises, the discrepancy in the environmental policies adopted by the Global North and South, and even debates over the so-called “green colonialism,” Egypt, as an African country hosting COP27, needs to think about the stance it wants to take on issues related to this summit, and about how it can pursue important policies without sacrificing the environment.
In 2020, the Tang Prize in Rule of Law was given to NGOs for the first time. The Legal Agenda, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, and Dejusticia: The Center for Law, Justice and Society were jointly awarded the prize for their efforts in promoting greater individual, social, and environmental justice, in milieus that often pose serious challenges to the foundations of the rule of law. To help tackle global warming in their own countries, they have successfully utilized public advocacy and strategic litigation in an innovative way to impel their governments to act effectively and reform environmental policies. In the international arena, they didn’t hesitate to partake in the global environmental justice movement, sharing their experiences and offering advice as activists working in developing countries. These three NGOs have made tremendous contributions to the quests for sustainable development, the rule of law and environmental justice worldwide.
About the Tang Prize
With the advent of globalization, mankind has been able to enjoy the convenience brought forth by the advancement of human civilization and science. Yet a multitude of challenges, such as climate change, the emergence of new infectious diseases, wealth gap, and moral degradation, have surfaced along the way. As a response, Dr. Samuel Yin established the Tang Prize in December 2012. It consists of four award categories, namely Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology, and Rule of Law. Every other year, four independent and professional selection committees, made up of many distinguished international experts and scholars, including Nobel laureates, choose from a pool of nominees who have influenced and made substantive contributions to the world, regardless of ethnicity, nationality or gender. A cash prize of NT$50 million (approx. US$1.7 million) is allocated to each category, with NT$10 million of it (approx. US$ 0.35 million) designated as a research grant to the laureate to support relevant educational projects. The hope is to encourage more people with professional knowledge and skill to address mankind’s most urgent needs in this century, and to become leading forces behind the development of human society through their outstanding research and civic engagement.