COP27 summit: Climate activists protested during Biden’s speech and were kicked out


Four American climate activists have been kicked out of the UN COP27 climate talks in Egypt after protesting during US President Joe Biden’s speech on Friday.

The group briefly interrupted Biden’s speech with what they described as an indigenous war cry, then unfurled a banner reading “People Against Fossil Fuels.” While Biden seemed mostly unfazed by the protest, pausing for a brief moment before resuming his speech, the four activists faced the fallout.

They told CNN they were barred from the room by security after the speech ended, then stripped of their summit passes and escorted off the site by UN security.

“Security said we’re endangering people’s lives because we stood up in the room with the president of the United States,” Jamie Wefald, one of the protesters, told CNN on Monday. “And I said I understand, but just to be clear, you guys knew we didn’t have weapons because we have to go through very extensive security to get into the COP in general, and they said, ‘Well, no security is 100 percent. ‘”

It is unclear whether the group broke any rules in organizing the protest, which was mostly silent and did not involve protesters leaving their seats. The UNFCCC, the UN body sponsoring the talks and responsible for security at the site, did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

CNN saw that three of the activists were denied entry to the site on Monday afternoon, and were told by UN staff that they had been suspended. CNN has reached out to the White House for comment, but has not heard back.

The episode is just the latest example of the somewhat heavy-handed approach to protests that the UN and the Egyptian government took at the conference held in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Climate activists briefly interrupted Biden's speech on Friday.

All four activists had their credentials suspended after the protest.

The annual conference has always been seen as the place where activists and members of civil society groups can interact with government officials and observe the negotiations firsthand.

Huge protests and calls to action have become part of the event over the years. When climate activists took to the streets of Glasgow during the COP26 conference last November, it was one of the biggest protests the UK has ever seen. At COP25 in Madrid in 2019, tens of thousands of protesters filled the city center, just as they had the previous year in the Polish city of Katowice, host of COP24.

But in this year’s iteration of the summit, protesters have been largely sidelined in spaces far removed from the negotiations.

The largest protest of the summit took place inside the conference on Saturday, when a large group of people marched through the venue, demanding that rich countries pay the world’s most vulnerable countries for the loss and damage caused by the climate crisis

But most of the other protests have been so small that they’re almost hard to spot by anyone who doesn’t know they’re happening.

A small group of activists have staged protests around the site in recent days, holding placards calling for plant-based diets as a solution to the climate crisis. On Monday, a group of young protesters from Fridays for Future posed for photos at the conference, calling on G20 leaders to act on climate.

“It hurts to say this, but they don’t get the attention. There is so much action happening within the COP space that is meaningful: people whose communities, our communities, are affected are speaking up and offering solutions to these problems , but there is no coverage,” said Big Wind, a climate activist and member of the Northern Arapaho tribe.

Protests are rare – and mostly illegal – in Egypt, and the Egyptian government said anyone who wants to protest during the summit can only do so in a special “protest zone” away from the main site of the conference

Access to the area requires registration, a requirement that can scare off activists who fear surveillance. Among the rules imposed by the Egyptian authorities on the protests is a ban on using “impersonated objects, such as satirical cartoons of heads of state, negotiators, individuals”.

“All the meetings we had, I can only speak for myself, but they were really trying to instill fear in us, you know, it’s such a repressive state … but within the [conference venue], which is supposed to be UN territory,” said Jacob Johns, another of the group of activists who had been suspended from the conference. “And so for the UN to deny people the freedom to ‘expression in this space that is supposed to be his is just, you know, a slap in the face. It’s hypocrisy.”

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