Who’s who at Cop27: the leaders who hold the world’s future in their hands


A look at who will – and who may not – be at Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh climate summit this month

Delegates arrive for Cop27 on 6 November in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and the conference is scheduled to end on 18 November, though it is likely to run later. World leaders will attend on 7 and 8 November, and after they depart the crunch negotiations will be done by their representatives, environment ministers or other high-ranking officials.

Cop27 president Sameh Shoukry

Egypt’s foreign minister will take on the pivotal role of Cop27 president, acting as a neutral arbiter of the 196 nations attending, smoothing over differences while challenging laggards to step up with stronger measures. Cops are often fraught affairs, and this time the geopolitical landscape is riven with conflict: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upended diplomatic relations around the world, while the ensuing energy crisis and cost-of-living crisis have plunged governments, rich and poor, into chaos. Shoukry will need to manage possible walk-outs, on top of the usual fractious negotiations. He has also offered to mediate between the US and China, the world’s two biggest emitters, whose relations have frozen after US house speaker, Nancy Pelosi, visited Taiwan this summer.

Shoukry will relish the task: he is a seasoned diplomat who first entered Egypt’s foreign ministry in 1984, taking on a variety of senior roles in Cairo and around the world before becoming Egypt’s ambassador to the US from 2008 to 2012, then taking on his current ministerial role in 2014. The wide network he developed over those years means he has connections throughout the developed and developing worlds.

Shoukry has promised that civil society organisations will be allowed to demonstrate at the talks, despite Egypt’s poor record on political dissent and human rights.

António Guterres

The UN secretary-general has stepped up his rhetoric on the climate crisis over the last year, warning of “collective suicide” and targeting fossil fuel companies, who “have humanity by the throat”, calling for a windfall tax on their excessive profits that should be distributed to poor countries that are suffering “loss and damage” from extreme weather. He will champion developing nations at the talks, and will play a key role, but his ability to influence the countries most antagonistic to international climate efforts – such as Russia and Saudi Arabia – is severely limited.

Simon Stiell

The UN’s new climate chief was environment minister for the island nation of Grenada until this summer, taking over from the Mexican diplomat Patricia Espinosa, who finished her second term as executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Though many were surprised that a third chief in succession should come from the Americas – Christiana Figueres, who held the role during the run-up to the 2015 Paris agreement, is from Costa Rica – Stiell was a widely welcomed choice, as he has been a consistent voice for the countries most vulnerable to the climate crisis. Friendly and approachable, he is an engineer by training and worked in technology before entering politics in Grenada nearly a decade ago.

Alok Sharma

Sharma was widely praised for his role at Cop26, where he forged a global consensus aimed at limiting global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, in line with scientific advice. Known by his staff as “no-drama Sharma” for his calm demeanour and quiet manner, the stress of his role became apparent in the final tense minutes of the talks when China and India threatened to unravel the agreement, moving him to tears of frustration before a compromise kept the pact intact. But as he admitted soon after the Glasgow summit, the agreement was “fragile” and “on life-support … its pulse is weak”, because countries at Glasgow failed to come up with emissions-cutting pledges tough enough to keep the target. The expectation was that governments would return this year with improved plans, but the Ukraine war and cost-of-living crises have stymied those hopes.

Sharma has many admirers at the talksbut these appear not to include his own government. His tenure as Cop president was marked by a series of perverse decisions by the UK, which he was forced to excuse, including the proposal of a new coal mine, handing out new oil and gas licences in the North Sea, and a return to fracking. A supporter of Boris Johnson, who also appointed him business secretary, he was kept on by Liz Truss in her brief period as prime minister, but under Rishi Sunak has been stripped of his ministerial role and will return to the backbenches when he leaves Sharm el-Sheikh.

Mia Mottley

The prime minister of Barbados, under whom the country removed the British crown as head of state to become a fully fledged republic, made a splash at Cop26, where her no-nonsense speaking and forceful arguments gained her widespread recognition. She sees it as her mission to begin the restructuring of international financial institutions to hold them accountable for the climate crisis, and this summer held key meetings in Bridgetown, the Barbadian capital, aimed at developing new means of financing climate action.

David Malpass

It has been a torrid few months for the president of the World Bank, who is facing mounting calls to resign. Since his appointment by then-US president Donald Trump in 2019, under the convention by which the post is given by the US government, the World Bank has been slammed by developed and developing countries alike for failing to focus on the climate crisis. Criticism came to a head in September when Malpass tried to avoid a direct question from a New York Times journalist on whether he accepted climate science. Though he subsequently apologised, the episode fuelled calls for his resignation, led by former US vice-president Al Gore, and now an increasing number of donor countries want major reform of the World Bank’s climate lending practices as a minimum.

Joe Biden

Passing the Inflation Reduction Act, containing the biggest stimulus for renewable energy and the green economy yet seen in the US and around the world, was a mammoth achievement for the US president, Joe Biden. But he faces atest in the midterm elections, which will overshadow his potential participation in the Cop27 talks. Biden was a powerful influence at Cop26, where despite rhetoric criticising China his government signed a surprise bilateral agreement to work closely with the world’s biggest emitter on key green technologies and initiatives such as reducing methane emissions. Now, cooperation looks unlikely as relations between the two countries hit a new low this summer when Nancy Pelosi, the third most senior Democrat, provoked a diplomatic spat by visiting Taiwan.

John Kerry

As secretary of state, Kerry signed the Paris climate agreement for the US, with his granddaughter on his lap. The former US senator and presidential candidate, now Biden’s special envoy on climate, was a major influence at Cop26, and gets on well at a personal level with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua. But that rapport is unlikely to be enough to unfreeze diplomatic relations with the world’s biggest emitter.

Ursula von der Leyen

The EU negotiates as a bloc at the UN talks, and sees itself as the global leader on climate action, having introduced strong climate policies over two decades, such as renewable energy and emissions targets. During the presidency of George W Bush in the US, the EU almost single-handedly kept the flame of international climate action alive, and it played a pivotal role in more recent Cops. But the EU’s leadership on the climate is now in doubt, as the energy and cost of living crises bite, and the continent’s over-dependency on Russian gas have left member states in fear of a hard winter.

Frans Timmermans

The former Dutch foreign minister, a leftwing MP for many years and the EU’s executive vice-president, has vast experience and cut an impressive figure at the Cop26 talks. Timmermans has a reputation for straight talking but is skilled at the sort of late-night horse-trading that often accompanies Cops – demonstrated by successfully pushing the EU green deal through a fractious legislative process. He takes the climate crisis personally, and has warned that today’s children face wars over food and water if countries do not succeed in cutting emissions. But he has admitted that the EU will have to make tough decisions on keeping fossil fuels going – including, potentially, seeking new sources of gas from Africa and other parts of the world – to see out the gas crisis provoked by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Xie Zhenhua

The veteran Chinese climate envoy has been a key figure at Cops for more than a decade, and his reappointment to the role ahead of Cop26 was seen as a positive sign of China’s intention on closer engagement. But that was before the world was plunged into crisis by the Ukraine war, and before Chinese relations with the US were put into the deep freeze after Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Negotiations on the climate were supposed to be kept in a “bubble”, unaffected by disagreements elsewhere, but that has not proved the case. China’s outlook has changed markedly under Xi Jinping, but the country has made huge strides towards clean energy and to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. China may do more, and faster, on climate action than it has yet publicly promised.

Rishi Sunak

The UK prime minister was condemned in private by the diplomatic community for his initial decision to snub Cop27, and some countries even broken cover to say so publicly. As prime minister of the host country for Cop26, he would have been expected to attend for the handover of the presidency. But after plans by former prime minister Boris Johnson to attend were revealed in the Observer, Sunak reversed his decision and now says he will visit Sharm el-Sheikh. The two-day leaders’ summit at the start of the Cop also provides an important opportunity for bilaterals with other heads of state on issues stretching beyond the climate, to the Ukraine war and global energy and cost of living crises.

Who won’t be there:

King Charles

As Prince of Wales, Charles made his first public speech on the environment in 1970 and has been a staunch advocate of conservation and other environmental causes since, assembling groups of businesses to commit to emissions targets. Ahead of Cop26, he launched Terra Carta, asking organisations to sign up to environmental principles, and has hosted business leaders, dignitaries and diplomats including – John Kerry, with whom he gets on well. He has attended previous Cops, including the Paris summit of 2015 and Cop26. The ban on his appearing at Cop27, initiated by Liz Truss and reinforced by Rishi Sunak, has come as a bitter blow to many who applaud his advocacy and convening power.

Vladimir Putin

Through his brutal invasion of Ukraine in February, Putin has done more than any world leader in recent times to influence the climate crisis – in a highly negative way. By weaponising gas supplies as part of his war, Putin has plunged Europe and the world into crisis, sending the price of gas – which was already on the way up, as the world recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic – to stratospheric levels, as well as raising food prices around the world and threatening shortages of staple foods at a time of already stretched resources.

One response to Putin’s actions is for governments and business to invest far more in renewable energy, to head off similar crises in the future. But in the short term, his threats to cut off supplies have sent Germany and other European countries back to coal, and scrambling for supplies of liquefied natural gas from other countries, while fossil fuel companies are spending their bonanza on new extraction plans, which could lock in fossil fuel infrastructure long after it should have been abandoned.

Alaa Abd el-Fattah

The British-Egyptian blogger and activist is on hunger strike in an Egyptian jail. His plight has become emblematic for many of the broader Egyptian crackdown on political dissent and the lack of freedom of speech and protest in the country. Egypt has promised that civil society groups will be allowed to demonstrate during Cop27, and the UN can guarantee their representation inside the conference zone, but many activists fear what could happen to local supporters after Cop27 when the UN has moved on.

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