Just over a week before the start of the UN Climate Change Conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheihk, Sameh Hassan Shoukry takes a tour of the conference grounds. Press photos show the 70-year-old talking to workers. He wears a short-sleeved gray polo shirt, his left hand in his pants pocket, while he gestures with his right. He seems approachable, interested, open-minded. Like an architect visiting his construction site. “The Egyptian COP-27 presidency is ready to receive the global climate community in Sharm El Sheikh in November,” is his message following this visit.
The expectations resting on him these days are high. The slogan of the COP is “together for implementation”. But rarely have the circumstances been as bad for global cooperation against the climate crisis as they are today. Russia’s war against Ukraine, energy price inflation, food crisis, high post-pandemic debt and tensions between the US and China make joint and decisive action against climate threats difficult.
Little presence on climate issues so far
Before his appointment as COP president earlier this year, Shoukry had not been involved with climate issues. “Shoukry is a career diplomat with decades of experience,” says Lutz Weischer of Germanwatch. That’s not the worst possible prerequisite, though, he thinks.
The task of a COP president, he said, is to create a good negotiating atmosphere and facilitate compromises but also to ensure that the lowest common denominator is not all that remains at the end. The experience of decades in the service of diplomacy can certainly be helpful here.
In the run-up to the climate conference, Shoukry is not sparing in his criticism of the industrialized countries, which have so far failed to meet their financial pledges for climate protection measures in developing countries. He has made adaptation to the effects of climate change his priority.
“This criticism is entirely justified,” says Lutz Weischer. But to be a successful COP president, he says, the focus should not be solely on the issues of adaptation to climate change and reparation for loss and damage. “Shoukry must be even more explicit about climate policy ambitions and formulate ambitious emission reduction targets,” says Weischer.
In the service of diplomacy for four decades
A year after graduating with a degree in law from Ain Shams University in Cairo, Shoukry began his career as an attaché to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo in 1976. After posts in London, Buenos Aires and Vienna, he was Egypt’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva from 2005 to 2008. Finally, in 2008, he becomes Egypt’s ambassador to the United States.
While in his homeland, the Arab Spring swept then-President Hosni Mubarak from office in 2011, Shoukry remained in Washington until 2012. “During the 2011 uprising, Shoukry was the epitome of calm, pragmatic thinking that supported demands for democracy. In the same breath, however, he advocated for the military’s involvement in politics to prevent chaos,” according to an article on Shoukry in “The Africa Report”.
“However, his pragmatic nature and calm diplomatic approach did not help him win a seat in the short-lived post-Mubarak government of Mohammed Mursi,” it adds. Finally, in 2014, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi brought the experienced diplomat Shoukry into the Egyptian government as foreign minister after coming to power.
Little is known about Shoukry’s private life. According to press reports, his wife, Suzy Shoukry, is also active in diplomatic and charitable circles. Together they have two sons.
Shoukry does not have to manage COP 27 alone. In his demanding task, he can rely on the experience of Environment Minister Yasmine Fouad, who is assisting him as Ministerial Coordinator and Envoy. She has more than 18 years of experience in the fields of environment and international cooperation. Ulrike Christl