Lines in the sand need redrawing to reach climate deal


SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — In its final days, negotiators at international climate talks in Egypt tried on Thursday to move key countries’ lines in the sand on multiple issues, particularly in the confrontation between developed and developing nations over compensation for climate disasters.

Poorer countries that bear the brunt of climate change, from rising sea levels to extreme flooding, stepped up the urgency, accusing richer polluters of stalling, and said they cannot wait another year for the creation of a fund to pay for damages. Some said they were ready to kill a final deal if it doesn’t include a fund.

Spoilers have emerged on multiple fronts, including the U.S., Saudi Arabia and China, resisting reforms called for by developed and developing nations.

The final document from the annual U.N. climate gathering, known as COP27, is required to be unanimous. There are at least half a dozen instances where nations are “taking negotiations hostage” by taking hardline, seemingly inflexible stances, said Alden Meyer, a long-time negotiations observer at the think tank E3G. The conference is supposed to end Friday, but past gatherings have been extended to reach a deal.

Marshall Islands climate envoy Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner said this year’s gathering must agree on a compensation fund for climate disasters, known as “loss and damage” in negotiators’ parlance.

“Waiting for the next COP or even COP29 is not an option for us. We’re not walking away without this fund,” she told a press panel. “We’ve been really clear. We need the fund now and it needs to be a fund.” The Marshall Islands are a chain of islands between Hawaii and the Philippines, most of which are no more than two meters (6.5 feet) above sea level.

The climate change minister for Pakistan echoed the call. Pakistan was hit by devastating floods this summer that submerged a third of its territory, killed more than 1,700 people and caused more than $30 billion in damage.

“The clock is ticking” not just on this set of negotiations but on “all of humanity,” said Sherry Rehman.

“What went on Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan,” she said. “That dystopia that came to our doorstep will come to everyone’s.”

The United States is resisting any fund that would suggest liability and compensation — let alone reparations — for decades of greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized nations.

Another big point of contention is who pays. European countries have backed calls by island nations for a “mosaic” of financial arrangements drawing on public and private sources of money. But there are big differences among negotiators over whether all big emitters should pay; heavy polluters China and India are arguing they should not have to contribute because they are still officially considered developing nations.

“Anything less than establishing a loss and damage fund at this COP is a betrayal,” said Molwyn Joseph, the health, wellness and environment minister for Antigua and Barbuda.

Rehman told reporters Thursday that the group of countries she chairs, known as G77 and China, wants “at the very least a political announcement of intent” on rich polluters providing new financial aid to poor nations for the effects of global warming.

She made clear that she didn’t not expect “a slew of finance” to result from the meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh but added that “if this continues to be kicked down the road we will see this as justice denied.”

One longtime participant in the climate talks, Yamide Dagnet of the Open Society Foundation, said this year’s meeting has seen more openness from developed countries to the idea of financial aid for loss and damage.

“But fear of compensation and liability remains a Damocles sword that needs to be overcome,” said Dagnet, a former EU negotiator at the talks.

“The United States is probably the most nervous about how much it can give in on loss and damage after decades of delaying tactics, backed by other developed countries,” she said.

Dagnet said that the idea of a “mosaic” of funds proposed rather than a single fund was acceptable to many vulnerable countries, but that they “want to have a one-stop shop for getting resources to tackle this escalating issue of loss and damage.”

The issue of loss and damage is one of three financial aid pots discussed. Rich nations agreed in past conferences to spend $100 billion a year to help poorer countries develop cleaner energy systems and adapt to prevent future disasters — though they have lagged in giving the funds.

Loss and damage is about paying the cost of climate impacts that are already inevitable or occurring, such as extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

An African Union official said some countries were concerned about “how far (loss and damage) can go” — reflecting worries about unlimited claims — and are pressing for it to be part of the already established adaptation funding. Paul Elvis Tangem, the coordinator for the AU Commission’s Great Green Wall Initiative, was pessimistic that loss and damage will be agreed on this year. “But I believe that we’ll have a dedicated funding” at the next COP, he said.

The negotiation situation is so fragile that the summit’s president has kept countries’ chief officials in an hours-long session Thursday afternoon to try to get things moving.

Negotiations were further confused by a draft decision proposed by conference host Egypt, which negotiators said includes ideas never discussed at the two-week talks.

This includes a call for developed countries to achieve “net-negative carbon emissions by 2030” – a far tougher target than any major nation has so far committed to and which would be very hard to achieve. The EU and U.S., for example, have said they aim to reach net zero emissions by 2050, China by 2060.

Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, say the 20-page draft released early Thursday is far more vague and bloated than what would normally have been expected at this stage of negotiations.

Senior Western officials met with the conference chair, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and warned, “there are still lot of gaps remaining” in the draft decisions.

The three officials — Britain’s Alok Sharma, who chaired last year’s talks in Glasgow, EU climate chief Frans Timmermans and Canadian Climate Minister Steven Guilbeault — told Shoukry thatrecent pledges made by the Group of 20 major developed and emerging economies in Bali “should be the baseline and not a ceiling” at Sharm el-Sheikh.

“The last thing anyone wants is for this COP to end without consensus,” they said, according to Sharma’s office.

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