SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — Negotiators say they have reached a potential breakthrough on the thorniest issue of the United Nations climate talks, the creation of a fund to compensate poor countries affected by extreme weather that is exacerbated by the carbon pollution from rich countries.
“There is an agreement on loss and damage,” is what the negotiators are calling the draft, Maldivian Environment Minister Aminath Shauna told The Associated Press on Saturday. It must be approved unanimously in a vote later today. “That means that for countries like ours, we will have the mosaic of solutions that we have been advocating for.”
“We have proposed a text and it has just been accepted, so we now have a fund,” Norway’s Climate and Environment Minister Espen Barth Eide told the AP.
New Zealand’s Climate Minister James Shaw said both the poor countries who would get the money and the rich who would give it are on board with the proposed deal.
If passed, it would be a major win for poorer countries that have been asking for compensation – sometimes even called reparations – for decades because they are often victims of climate catastrophes, despite having contributed little to global warming pollution. It’s a reflection of what can be done if they stay united, said Alex Scott, a climate diplomacy expert at the E3G think tank.
“I think this is huge that governments are coming together to work out at least the first step of how to deal with the problem of loss and damage,” Scott said. But as with all climate finance, it’s one thing to create a fund, it’s another to keep money flowing in and out, she said. The developed world still hasn’t kept its 2009 pledge to spend $100 billion annually on other climate aid – designed to help poor countries develop green energy and adapt to future warming.
“The draft decision on financing loss and damage offers the vulnerable people hope that they will receive help to recover from climate disasters and rebuild their lives,” said Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International.
China’s chief negotiator declined to comment on a possible deal. The US Negotiation Office, where Special Envoy John Kerry is sick with COVID-19, declined to comment. China and the US are the two largest carbon emitters. European negotiators huddled over proposals.
Alok Sharma, the British official who chaired last year’s climate talks in Glasgow, said details of the agreement have yet to be worked out.
“We continue to discuss,” he said, rushing with aides to a meeting at the Egyptian presidency’s office.
The Egyptian presidency, criticized by all sides, proposed a new damage and loss deal on Saturday afternoon and an agreement was reached within hours, but Norway’s Eide said it was not so much the Egyptians, but countries working together.
According to the draft of Egypt’s proposal, developed countries would be “urged” to contribute to the fund, which would also draw from other private and public sources of money, such as international financial institutions.
“We managed to make progress with an important result,” said Wael Aboulmagd, head of the Egyptian delegation.
However, the Egyptian proposal does not suggest that major emerging economies such as China should contribute to the fund, which was a key demand from the European Union and the United States.
The Egyptian proposal also does not link the creation of the new fund to a greater effort to reduce emissions, or limit recipients of funding to the most vulnerable countries, as was an earlier proposal by the Europeans.
A second umbrella document from the leadership of the climate talks, also published by the Egyptian presidency on Saturday, ignores India’s call to phase out oil and natural gas, in addition to last year’s agreement to wean the world from “unabated” coal.
The package of drafts released by the Egyptian presidency on efforts to step up emissions reductions and the overarching conclusion of this year’s talks barely builds on what was agreed in Glasgow last year.
The Egyptian package leaves a reference to the Paris accords’ less ambitious goal of limiting global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit)”, which scientists say is far too risky.
Nor does it suggest new short-term goals for both developing and developed countries, which experts say are necessary to reach the more ambitious 1.5°C (2.7°F) goal that would prevent some of the more extreme effects of climate change.
Earlier on Saturday, government delegations and the Egyptian hosts of the COP27 meeting pointed the finger at each other.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said responsibility for the fate of the talks “now lies in the hands of Egypt’s COP presidency”.
Hours later, a deal was struck.
Before concluding an agreement, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who spoke as president of the summit, dismissed the blame.
“The issue is now at the will of the parties,” Shoukry said at a news conference. “It is the parties who must seize the opportunity and assume the responsibility to find the areas of convergence and move forward.”
He added that “everyone should show the necessary flexibility” in reaching a consensus, and that Egypt was merely “facilitating this process”.
During the climate summit, the US, Chinese, Indian and Saudi Arabian delegations kept a low profile with the public, while European, African, Pakistani and small island states were more outspoken.
Many of the more than 40,000 in attendance have left town and workers have begun to pack up the huge pavilions in the sprawling conference area.
UN climate meetings have evolved over the years into trade fairs, with many countries and industry groups setting up booths and displays for meetings and panel discussions.
At many stands, chairs were neatly stacked ready to be moved and monitors had been removed, leaving cables dangling from the walls. Pamphlets and booklets were scattered on tables and floors. Snack bars, which Egyptian organizers said would remain open all weekend, were emptied.
In the youth pavilion, a meeting place for young activists, a stack of handwritten postcards from children to negotiators lay on a table, perhaps a fitting metaphor for the state of affairs when talks stalled.
“Dear COP27 Negotiators,” read one card. “Keep fighting for a good planet.”
The occasional gust of wind from the open doors nearby blew some cards to the floor.
Kelvin Chan and Theodora Tongas contributed to this report.
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