The annual round of UN climate negotiations take place in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh this year against a backdrop of increasing signs of climate crisis: rising temperatures, catastrophic floods and droughts, wildfires and extreme weather patterns. As part of the new Reactor programme of events and activities which provide a platform for academic responses to current events, Cambridge Digital Humanities (CDH) is launching a Data Lab and public event which combines the expertise of researchers and software engineers to incubate investigative projects responding to COP27.

Among the special guests invited to take part in the Data Lab and event is Egyptian software engineer Alaa Abdel Fattah, currently imprisoned in Egypt following a trial on charges which Amnesty International has described as “inherently unfair”.

CDH’s Dr Anne Alexander, Director of Learning and one of the convenors of the Data Lab, explained:

“On Monday 7 November as the COP27 negotiations begin in Egypt, our team of experts and software engineers will assemble in Cambridge. We’ll be using methods drawn from data science and journalism to gather information and incubate investigations which may shed light on some of the key questions facing the parties at COP.

Are we moving towards a transition away from fossil fuel use? Or actually seeing the expansion of fossil fuel extraction and its associated infrastructure? Are the countries of the Global North, especially the EU states and Britain, helping countries in North Africa such as Egypt move towards a zero carbon future, or locking them into more financial debt and continued dependency on gas and oil?

A huge problem facing researchers, journalists and citizens in Egypt, as in many countries in the Global South, is that they face severe penalties for even asking these questions in any public forum. Amnesty International rightly calls attention to Egypt’s “abysmal human rights record”, noting that “since 2013 the authorities have arbitrarily arrested, detained and prosecuted journalists … consolidating their grip on the media through online censorship, raiding and closing independent media outlets and controlling media content in both public and private media.”

This begs a further question: can there be a “just transition” without the opening of civic spaces and the respect of human rights in Egypt? Failing to guarantee these rights harms not only everyone in Egypt, but is damaging to us all. The lack of space for protest, dissent and criticism around COP27 means that other powerful actors who are complicit in the climate crisis – such as fossil fuel companies and other states besides Egypt, including the states of the Global North who bear historic responsibility for loss and damage to the climate – will also escape scrutiny as a result.

Alaa Abdel Fattah’s expertise as a journalist and software engineer, as well as his personal experience of arrest and detention for engaging in forms of self-expression we in Britain often take for granted makes him an invaluable contributor to our programme. I urge the Egyptian government to release him from prison so that he can join us in Cambridge.”

Members of the Reactor Data Lab team will present initial findings alongside special guests film-maker and author Omar Robert Hamilton and media researcher Dr Miriyam Aouragh of University of Westminster at an online public panel on 16 November as COP27 draws to close.

Sign up here for the public event:

For further information please contact Anne Alexander:

  • Posted 2 Nov 2022

Cambridge Digital Humanities

Tel: +44 1223 766886