Geopolitical battle lines were drawn at the UN climate summit in Egypt as negotiations entered the final scheduled day, with the intractable issue of financial support for developing countries among the unresolved matters.
A potential breakthrough moment came in the early hours of Friday, when the EU said it would support the creation of a new fund for “loss and damage” to help poorer countries suffering destruction from climate change, as long as the donor base of countries was broadened.
This was taken to mean that China and other high-emitting nations such as Saudi Arabia should contribute to any fund.
The EU proposal, raised with the US and China among other countries earlier in the week, also stipulated that the money must go only to the most vulnerable nations, and that countries must commit to more ambitious action on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
At the moment, China and Saudi Arabia are among the countries classified as developing nations under the 30-year-old UN system, and have resisted the suggestion they should contribute to international climate financing despite their improved economic status over the past three decades.
The US was silent about the EU proposal after it was put forward. US climate envoy John Kerry had the previous evening reportedly held several hours of talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua.
The lack of response from the US to the EU proposal was “stark”, said Preety Bhandari, a senior adviser at the World Resources Institute. “That was a deafening silence.”
However, a person familiar with the talks said they remained “optimistic” the US and EU could reach a “joint position”. The EU would not accept a compromise that did not see the donor base increased in some way, they added.
“Everything really depends on the resolution of this loss and damage issue,” said Alden Meyer, a UN climate negotiations expert at think-tank E3G. “If we get a breakthrough . . . I think a lot of other things will fall into place.”
As COP27 seemed destined to drag into the weekend, tensions went beyond the usual posturing after two weeks of wrangling. Observers reported that discussions over the food and agriculture segment on Thursday became heated and “personal”.
“I am here to appeal to all parties to rise to this moment and to the greatest challenge facing humanity,” said the UN secretary-general António Guterres. “The world is watching and has a simple message: stand and deliver.”
The draft of the final text that landed on Friday morning showed little advance on that delivered at the end of the COP26 summit in Glasgow a year ago. It reaffirmed the 1.5C target for global warming, which reflected the position outlined by G20 leaders in Bali this week.
The Paris agreement of 2015 was the first to set aims for a cut in greenhouse gases enough to keep global warming well below 2C from pre-industrial times, and ideally 1.5C.
Outstanding issues at COP27 included the scope of a “work programme” designed to cut emissions faster in the years to 2030.
Missing from the draft text was a proposal floated by the Indian delegation that the agreement cover the phase-down of all fossil fuels, as opposed to coal alone.
Another area of minimal progress was the effort to establish a new UN-organised carbon offset market. This is now expected to go beyond COP27 and continue into next year.
“My initial reaction is that it is a bit concerning,” said Tom Evans, from E3G. The draft text “does not represent a move forward from Glasgow”.
With so much still outstanding, some delegates privately criticised the Egyptian COP27 presidency for not providing greater leadership.
COP27 president Sameh Shoukry held meetings with country blocs throughout Friday. Delegations “made us know how they felt”, said COP27 ambassador Wael Aboulmagd. “Not everyone was completely happy.” The Egyptian team was “following a very clear game plan”, he added.
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