Dubai: Bassem Youssef hits out at 'hypocrisy of developed countries', climate pledges

Addressing a rapt audience, the comedian said that the problem with COP in general is the 'non-committing commitment'

by

Angel Tesorero

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Bassem Youssef, Egyptian comedian and television host, during his session at COP28 in Dubai on December 5, 2023. Photos: M. Sajjad
Bassem Youssef, Egyptian comedian and television host, during his session at COP28 in Dubai on December 5, 2023. Photos: M. Sajjad

Published: Tue 5 Dec 2023, 8:44 PM

Last updated: Tue 5 Dec 2023, 10:33 PM

Egyptian-American comedian Bassem Youssef pulled no punches, highlighting what he called "the hypocrisy of developed countries in making climate pledges" but not reaching a common ground "to stop (messing) with the planet."

Youssef spoke on Tuesday on the sidelines of the ongoing COP28 in Dubai, where his trademark witty one-liners, uncanny humour and self-deprecating jokes were on full display during the talk titled 'Sustainable Personal Stories.'

The heart-surgeon-turned-media personality, who recently went viral with his satirical but thought-provoking take on the ongoing Gaza war, made it clear – at the onset – to manage the expectation of the audience that he was not a climate activist. Nor was he out to provide "serious solutions" to Earth's problems.

"I'm a comedian," he bluntly said, adding: "I don't know about world peace or solutions to climate change. My role is to make fun of a situation."

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But his self-deprecating statement hit the mark when asked by a journalist in the audience: 'How do you find humour in a broken world?' He then dropped a quick-witted truth bomb: "The fact that we've been going around for 28 years and not getting a consensus on how to stop [messing] the planet is itself the real comedy."

COP, or the Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is an annual gathering aimed at keeping the 1.5ºC temperature rise target within reach to combat climate change.

Crowd during Bassem Youssef's session
Crowd during Bassem Youssef's session

'Non-committing commitment'

Addressing a rapt audience – composed of UN delegates, environmental experts, and climate activists – Youssef said: "The problem with COP in general is that it is like a 'non-committing commitment."

He added, "People come and say what they want and make a pledge, then say – okay, let's meet again next year and make a pledge."

Without naming any particular country, Youssef put the onus on the Global North – a collective term encompassing the so-called rich and powerful nations, including the United States, Canada, UK, France, Germany and other European countries, as well as Japan, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand, among others.

Height of hypocrisy

Still maintaining his comic approach, Youssef pointed out the 'hypocrisy of rich nations and big companies'. He said: "What drives me crazy is that they make ordinary people feel so guilty for not recycling and using plastic straws, when, in fact, more than 70 per cent of what is polluting the sea is from fish nets owned by big corporate fishing companies.

"If that is not hypocrisy, I don't know what is," he underlined, adding: "Yes, they can pledge by start putting in money (to start the climate action)."

As expected, Youssef's interaction with the audience also touched on the issue of Palestine. With many in the audience wearing keffiyeh – the chequered black and white scarf that has become a symbol of Palestinian identity and history – Youssef was asked about his take on the war in Gaza.

More strategic approach

Youssef, whose two-part interview with British media personality Piers Morgan Uncensored was dubbed a masterclass in humanising Palestinians and their long history, noticeably avoided turning the talk political.

He called the situation in Gaza "extremely catastrophic and inhuman" but did not engage in outright political call for a ceasefire or cessation of hostilities.

He, however, talked about taking "a more strategic approach in humanising the situation in Gaza. The West look at us (Arabs) as sub-humans. This is disheartening, but we must take a more strategic approach. Talk to everyone and make a sustainable and consistent approach to humanising the situation."

Youssef also addressed the apparent censorship in the Western media of the "real situation in Palestine". He said: "As frustrating as it is, we have to keep doing what we do and persevere to tell the truth."

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