Swedish cyclist pedals in Egypt to raise climate awareness
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — She cycled thousands of miles from Sweden to Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to deliver a simple message: Stop climate change.
The journey took 72-year-old activist Dorothee Hildebrandt and her pink electric bike – which she affectionately calls Miss Piggy, after the wayward character from The Muppet Show – more than four months. She criss-crossed Europe and the Middle East until arriving in Sharm el-Sheikh, at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula.
The mission here is to raise awareness and urge world leaders gathered at the annual United Nations climate conference known as COP27 to take concrete action to stop climate change, she said. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and scientists say the amount of heat-trapping gases must be cut by nearly half by 2030, to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature-limiting targets on the climate of 2015.
Since arriving a week ago, Hildebrandt and his e-bike have become a staple at the top. From a friend’s house where she is staying, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the conference venue, she bikes downtown every day, meets other activists, attends events.
“They really need to stop climate change,” Hildebrandt says of world leaders. « Even if it’s uncomfortable », it must be done – for the sake of the future.
« It was uncomfortable for me…that long drive, » she told The Associated Press. But she wanted to show that if there is a will, « you can do it, » she said.
Past climate talks have traditionally seen very large protests at the end of the first week of the two-week summit, often drawing thousands of people. This year has been rather quiet, with small sporadic demonstrations during the first week. Activists blamed the high cost of travel, accommodation and restrictions in the remote Egyptian city for limiting the number of protesters.
The biggest protest to date took place on Saturday, a day after US President Joe Biden stopped at the summit. Hundreds of protesters chanted, sang and danced in an area not far from where the negotiations were taking place amid tight security.
Born in the city of Kassel in central Germany, Hildebrandt says she got her first bike when she was 10 and never stopped pedaling. In 1978, she moved with her husband to Sweden, where she worked as a housekeeper and then trained in caring for the elderly and disabled.
She retired over a decade ago. Her activism and her bike ride, which she documents on social media, are for her two grandchildren, she says. A sign on his bicycle reads: “Cycling for the future and peace”.
In her hometown of Katrineholm, just north of Stockholm, the Swedish capital, she is part of the group « Grandmas for Future » which focuses on raising awareness of climate change.
Hildebrandt says she also wants Western industrialized countries to pay for the destruction they have caused so far – an issue called loss and damage, about reparations from big polluters to impoverished countries that have been most affected.
Unhappy with the results of the previous climate conference, COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, she saw her chance in Sharm el-Sheikh.
From July 1, Hildebrandt cycled through 17 countries, covering some 8,830 kilometers (5,487 miles), an average of about 80 kilometers (49 miles) per day. Her Facebook posts have received thousands of views and she says she has received positive feedback from both followers and people she has met along the way.
In the Turkish coastal city of Antalya, his bike broke down. Volunteers ran to help fix it, and she was able to continue.
She was forced to hire a taxi for stretches of conflict-torn Syria, where she had a mandatory bodyguard, as well as in Lebanon. Even in Sinai, local authorities banned her from cycling from Nwueiba port to Sharm el-Sheikh, apparently for her safety, she said.
However, she is convinced that she got her message across.
On Thursday, she was invited to cycle with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, an avid cyclist. She complained about the lack of activism and large protests, compared to previous summits. The Egyptian leader assured him that the voice of activists would be heard in Sharm el-Sheikh.
« Everyone is allowed to demonstrate, » he told her, Hildebrandt said.
After the summit concludes on November 18, Hildebrandt will cycle to Cairo and then to the Mediterranean city of Alexandria where she will board a ferry to the Israeli port of Haifa and from there to Greece.
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Samy Magdy, Associated Press