THE 27th UN climate talks have officially started in the remote Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh – a complete contrast to the central Glasgow location a year ago. But although the host has changed, the key issues that are being discussed remain the same, and the need for real action becomes ever more urgent.

I’m attending the conference with several of our members to speak at events to get our messages across, feedback on what’s happening to our coalition and keep track of Scottish Government events and announcements. With some spotlight remaining on Scotland following our hosting last year, it’s great that several of us could be here this year to ensure Scottish civil society is represented and heard.

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Day 1 was a very busy one for us – with several media interviews and a meeting with the First Minister and climate experts from the Global South. COP is an opportunity for the First Minister to hear directly from people who are experiencing some of the worst climate impacts and the action they want to see from Scotland and other rich nations who have done the most to cause the crisis. Experts from Rwanda, Mali, Nigeria, Malawi, Nepal, Bangladesh and India welcomed the leadership Scotland has shown on the issue of finance for communities to recover from the irreversible impacts of climate change and urged her to do what she could to encourage other countries to commit finance. Following the meeting, the First Minister announced an additional £5m of funding specifically for loss and damage from the existing Climate Justice Fund – we welcomed the continued international leadership from Scotland on this issue, but it needs to ensure these funds are genuine, additional, and are raised by making the biggest polluters pay, as we have been calling for.

Much of the first days of COP are spent finding your way around the various pavilions, meeting rooms and hubs. Walking through the halls, it’s not uncommon to see a giant bear advertising the benefit of nuclear energy or a fake marble stand with a real tree planted in the middle, as organisations from around the world seek to set themselves aside from the hundreds of other stands and get their messages across.

Venturing out between the halls into the bright sunshine, conversations are often cut short by flights zooming overhead into the adjacent airport, bringing yet more delegates (and a few holidaymakers) from all over the world.

COP clearly has a carbon footprint of its own, and signs of “greenwashing” are everywhere. It’s sad to see fresh turf being laid and petunias planted alongside the empty 4-lane highways, with networks of irrigation pipes keeping them barely alive, wasting precious water on trying to beautify the otherwise desert landscape. However, the benefits of bringing the world together to make progress on climate outweigh the cost – if promises are delivered, it is estimated that the carbon savings are 72,000 times the emissions produced by the conference itself.

Last year in Glasgow, one of the highlights of COP was the incredible range of fringe events hosted by local and international activists, the creative and impactful protests that showed the strong public support for action and the way that people in Glasgow welcomed attendees into their homes.

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This year there is none of that – protests are banned in Egypt, there are serious concerns about human rights abuses, and it is hosted in a resort town that seems to have no permanent residents. People find creative ways to make their voices heard, but that people-power and the pressure it means the negotiators and world leaders hear is a big loss.

As the week goes on, we will be hosting an official side event, meeting with international partners and continuing to keep people back home informed about what’s happening. It’s surprising how the adrenaline generated by knowing you’re at the place where these crucial negotiations on the planet’s most important issue are taking place and that the world’s attention is on it keeps you going. COPs have been taking place for the last 27 years, and progress has been far too slow, so there is understandable scepticism about what this one will achieve. The world badly needs climate leaders – we all need some to step up over the next two weeks.

Becky Kenton-Lake is a coalition manager with Stop Climate Chaos Scotland