SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — Negotiators say they have struck a potential breakthrough deal on the thorniest issue of United Nations climate talks, the creation of a fund for compensating poor nations that are victims of extreme weather worsened by rich nations’ carbon pollution.
“There is an agreement on loss and damage,” which is what negotiators call the concept, Maldives Environment Minister Aminath Shauna told The Associated Press Saturday. It still needs to be approved unanimously in a vote later today. “That means for countries like ours we will have the mosaic of solutions that we have been advocating for.”
“We proposed a text and this actually just has just been accepted, so we now have a fund,” Norway Climate and Environment minister Espen Barth Eide told the AP.
New Zealand Climate Minister James Shaw said both the poor countries that would get the money and the rich ones that would give it are on board with the proposed deal.
If approved, it’s a big win for poorer nations which have been calling for compensation — sometimes even called reparations — for decades because they are often the victims of climate disasters despite having contributed little to the pollution that heats up the globe. It’s a reflection of what can be done when they remain unified, said Alex Scott, a climate diplomacy expert at the think tank E3G.
“I think this is huge to have governments coming together to actually work out at least the first step of at least how to deal with the issue of loss and damage,” Scott said. But like all climate financials, it is one thing to create a fund, it’s another to get money flowing in and out, she said. The developed world still has not kept its 2009 pledge to spend $100 billion a year in other climate aid — designed to help poor nations develop green energy and adapt to future warming.
“The draft decision on loss and damage finance offers hope to the vulnerable people that they will get help to recover from climate disasters and rebuild their lives,” said Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International.
The Chinese lead negotiator would not comment on a possible deal. The U.S. negotiations office, where special envoy John Kerry is sick with COVID-19, declined to comment. China and the U.S. are the two biggest carbon polluters. European negotiators were huddling over proposals.
Alok Sharma, the British official who chaired last year’s climate talks in Glasgow, said details of the agreement still needed be worked out.
“We are continuing to discuss,” he said, as he rushed with aides to a meeting at the Egyptian presidency office.
The Egyptian presidency, which had been under criticisms by all sides, proposed a new loss and damage agreement Saturday afternoon and within a couple hours an agreement was struck but Norway’s Eide said it was not so much the Egyptians but countries working together.
According to the draft of the proposal from Egypt developed countries would be “urged” to contribute to the fund, which would also draw on other private and public sources of money such as international financial institutions.
“We managed to make progress on an important outcome,” said Wael Aboulmagd, who heads Egyptian delegation.
However, the Egyptian proposal does not suggest that major emerging economies such as China have to contribute to the fund, which was a key ask of the European Union and the United States.
The Egyptian proposal also does not tie the creation of the new fund to any increase in efforts to cut emissions, or restrict the recipients of funding to those countries that are most vulnerable, which had been an earlier proposal from the Europeans.
A second overarching document from the climate talks leadership that was also published by the Egyptian presidency Saturday ignores India’s call to phase down 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 cuts and the overarching decision of this year’s talks, barely build on what was agreed in Glasgow last year.
The Egyptian package leaves in place 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.
It also doesn’t suggest any new short-term targets for either developing or developed countries, which experts say are needed to achieve the more ambitious 1.5C (2.7F) goal that would prevent some of the more extreme effects of climate change.
Earlier on Saturday government delegations and the COP27 meeting’s Egyptian hosts pointed fingers at each other.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said responsibility for the fate of the talks “now lies in the hands of the Egyptian COP presidency.”
Hours later a deal was struck.
Before striking a deal, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, speaking as the summit’s chair, deflected blame.
“The issue now rests with the will of the parties,” Shoukry said at a press conference. “It is the parties who must rise to the occasion and take upon themselves the responsibility of finding the areas of convergence and moving forward.”
He added that “all must show the necessary flexibility” in reaching a consensus, and that Egypt was merely “facilitating this process.”
Throughout the climate summit, the American, Chinese, Indian and Saudi Arabian delegations have kept a low public profile, while European, African, Pakistan and small island nations have been more vocal.
Many of the more than 40,000 attendees have left town, and workers started packing up the vast pavilions in the sprawling conference zone.
U.N. climate meetings have evolved over the years to resemble trade fairs, with many countries and industry groups setting up booths and displays for meetings and panel discussions.
At many stands, chairs were stacked neatly ready for removal, and monitors had been taken away, leaving cables dangling from walls. Pamphlets and booklets were strewn across tables and floors. Snack bars, which the Egyptian organizers said would remain open through the weekend, were emptied out.
At the youth pavilion, a gathering spot for young activists, a pile of handwritten postcards from children to negotiators was left on a table, in what was perhaps an apt metaphor for the state of play as the talks bogged down.
“Dear COP27 negotiators,” read one card. “Keep fighting for a good planet.”
An occasional gust of wind from the open doors nearby blew some of the cards onto the floor.
Kelvin Chan and Theodora Tongas contributed to this report.
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