A potential breakthrough may have been found on the thorniest issue of the UN climate summit in Egypt, the creation of a fund to compensate developing nations for the destruction they have suffered from global warming, delegates said on Saturday.
The issue, known in climate parlance as “loss and damage”, has dominated the talks since it was officially added to the agenda at the start of the summit two weeks ago ― after being rejected for many years.
News of the possible breakthrough came only hours after a grim-faced Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, the Cop27 president, told reporters that the deadlock in negotiations remained unresolved and urged nations to rise to the occasion.
“There is an agreement on loss and damage,” Maldives Environment Minister Aminath Shauna said. The deal, presented by the Egyptian presidency, must be agreed to by all 196 nations taking part in Cop27.
There was no formal announcement of an agreement by midnight on Saturday, hours after news of the possible breakthrough first broke, with delegates continuing talks behind closed doors as scores of journalists and TV crews waited outside the main conference halls.
Like previous talks, Cop27 is expected to drive forward the fight against climate change at a time when the world is beset by extreme weather and needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“We have to be fast here now but not fast towards a bad result, not fast in terms of accepting something that we then spend years regretting,” said Eamon Ryan, Ireland’s Environment Minister.
“We managed to make progress on an important outcome,” said Wael Aboulmagd, who heads the Egyptian delegation. “I think we’re getting there.”
Developing nations, which contributed little to the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming, have been unified in insisting on the creation of a compensation fund.
Negotiations on the draft declaration from the summit have continued after its scheduled close on Friday, reflecting the large gap between developing and developed nations on loss and damage as well as other issues.
A veteran climate activist from Africa who is close to the negotiations told The National that the Cop27 presidency was not being transparent enough and a previous draft it issued was soft on fossil fuels.
“There are so many problems with that document,” he said.
In a further setback, US climate envoy John Kerry, a powerful figure in the fight against climate change, was unable to attend the talks after testing positive for Covid-19. A representative said Mr Kerry had mild symptoms was continuing to work by phone with his negotiating team and foreign counterparts.
The EU’s climate chief gave a warning earlier on Saturday that the 27-nation bloc was prepared to walk away from the negotiations if a satisfactory outcome could not be reached.
“We need to move forward, not backwards and all [EU] ministers … are prepared to walk away if we do not have a result that does justice to what the world is waiting for — namely that we do something about this climate crisis,” Frans Timmermans said.
He called on other parties to the negotiations to reciprocate efforts to find a deal, particularly on loss and damage.
“We believe that a positive result today is still within reach. But we are worried about some of the things we have seen and heard over the last, let’s say, 12 hours,” he said.
“We’d rather have no decision than a bad decision.”
Delegates said the document also failed to set new and more ambitious targets on the reduction of gas emissions or phasing-out fossil fuels.
The world has already been ravaged this year by a series of natural disasters linked to climate change, including floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, drought in parts of Africa, wildfires in North America, and record heatwaves in Europe.
Small island nations around the world, particularly in the South Pacific and Caribbean, are threatened by rising seas.
The EU, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China, has agreed to set up a loss and damage fund as demanded by developing nations, but said the money should go only to the worst-hit countries. It also wanted to link payments from the fund to pledges by the countries receiving them to reduce emissions and phase out fossil fuels.
The bloc also wants to broaden the donor base for the proposed fund to include China, which remains de developing nation under a UN categorisation dating back to 1992.
“I think that whether it is a climate fund, an adaptation fund, or even a loss and damage [fund], if a fund is established, it should be the responsibility and obligation of developed countries to donate, and developing countries are voluntary,” said China’s climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua.
He also indicated that, like the EU, his country wanted nations affected the worst by climate change to be given priority of assistance from the proposed fund.
The Egyptian draft made no mention of the conditions or the role of China in contributing to the fund.
Rich nations have been reluctant to set up a compensation fund, partially over fears that the process could turn into a reparation scheme with possible legal liabilities.
The issue has led to remarks reminiscent of the struggle against colonialism in the past century, with some delegates from developing nations comparing the resistance to a loss and damage fund to exploitation by colonial powers.
Developing nations are responsible for a negligible contribution towards global warming.
A draft of the agreement released on Friday reaffirmed past commitments to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, beyond which scientists said the effects of climate change will be much worse.
Other stumbling blocks include the implementation of past resolutions, such as a pledge by rich nations to provide $100 billion a year to less-wealthy countries to help them reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.
With reporting from agencies
Updated: November 20, 2022, 4:27 AM