Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
Despite a major breakthrough on Saturday, international climate negotiations at the UN’s COP27 climate summit continued on Sunday morning.
The closure of this year’s COP is scheduled to begin at 3 am Egypt time, according to an announcement from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
For the second year in a row, the marathon negotiations have dragged on past the scheduled end, as countries tried to hammer out strong language about ending all fossil fuels, including oil and gas, instead of the inexhaustible coal, according to several NGOs monitoring the talks.
In some areas, progress has been made. On Saturday, the parties reached an agreement to establish a fund for “losses and damages” in countries at risk of climate disasters, according to negotiations with the European Union and Africa, with non-governmental organizations monitoring the negotiations.
The United States is also working to sign an agreement on financial loss and damage, Whitney Smith, spokesperson for US Climate Envoy John Kerry, confirmed to CNN.
The fund will focus on what can be done to support loss and property damage, but will not include debt relief or compensation, a senior Biden administration official told CNN. The US and other developed nations have long sought to avoid such provisions that could open them up to legal liability and liability from foreign countries.
If completed, this could represent a major breakthrough in negotiations on a controversial issue – and is seen as a setback, as the US has previously opposed efforts to create such a fund.
All are not yet settled – an EU source directly involved in the negotiations warned earlier on Saturday that the agreement is part of a larger COP27 agreement that must be ratified by around 200 countries. Speakers work all night until Sunday. And some issues, including language about fossil fuels, remain, according to several NGOs monitoring the talks.
But progress has been made, the source said. In a discussion on Saturday afternoon in Egyptian time, the EU managed to get the G77 bloc of countries to agree to focus on the fund in countries at risk, which could pave the way to deal with losses and damages.
If completed, the agreement will represent a major achievement on the international stage and far exceed the expectations of this year’s climate summit, and the mood among some of the delegates was upbeat.
Countries that are most vulnerable to climate disasters – but have contributed least to the climate crisis – have struggled for years to recover from losses and financial damage.
Developed nations that have historically produced most of the planet’s warming emissions have been reluctant to sign on to a fund they feel could open themselves up to legal responsibility for climate disasters.
Details on how the fund will operate remain murky. The draft document says the fund will be established this year, but leaves many questions about when it will be completed and when it will be operational, climate experts told reporters on Saturday. The text mentions a transition committee that will help hammer out those details, but does not set any future deadlines.
“There are no guarantees on the timeline,” Nisha Krishnan, director of sustainability at the World Resources Institute Africa, told reporters.
Advocates of the loss and damage fund are happy with the progress, but note that the design is inappropriate.
“We’re happy with this result because it’s what developed countries wanted – although it’s not everything they came here for,” Erin Roberts, founder of the Loss and Damage Partnership, told CNN in a statement. “Like many, I was made to have very low expectations for this program. While establishing a fund is certainly a victory for developing countries and those at the forefront of climate change, it is an empty shell without money. It’s too little, too late for those at the forefront of climate change. But we will work on it. ”
At COP27 the need for funding for loss and damage – from developing countries, the G77 bloc and activists – reached a fever pitch, driven by a number of climate disasters this year including the devastating floods in Pakistan.
The conference first went into overtime on Saturday before continuing into the early hours of Sunday, with negotiators still working out details as workers demolished the area around them. In the articles, there was a real sense of exhaustion and frustration. Complicating matters was the fact that Kerry – the US’s top climate official – is self-isolating after recently testing positive for Covid, working on the phone instead of having face-to-face meetings.
And on Saturday, EU officials threatened to walk out of the meeting if the final agreement fails to support the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The world’s scientists have warned for decades that warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees – a limit that is fast approaching as the planet’s temperature has already risen to about 1.1 degrees. Without 1.5 degrees, the risk of severe droughts, wildfires, floods and food shortages will increase significantly, scientists said in the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
In a carefully selected press conference on Saturday morning, the EU’s Green Deal tsar Frans Timmermans, accompanied by a full list of ministers and other senior officials from EU member states, said that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
“We don’t want 1.5 Celsius deaths here and today. That to us is totally unacceptable,” he said.
The EU made it clear that it is ready to accept the loss and damage fund – a major change in its position compared to just a week ago – but only in exchange for a firm commitment to the 1.5 degree.
As the sun was going down on Saturday evening in Sharm el-Sheikh, the mood changed to one of cautious excitement, and the negotiators began to show that there was an agreement.
But, as is often the case with high-level diplomacy, officials are quick to insist that nothing is really agreed until the final gavel comes down.