Confusion, finger pointing, opposing views on Egyptian COP27

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SHARM el-SHEIKH, Egypt (TBEN) — A day before the UN climate talks were due to conclude, negotiators seemed far apart on all the major issues being discussed.

Will countries support a proposal to phase out all fossil fuels? Will developing countries’ demands that rich countries compensate them for climate impacts be part of a final deal? What about calls to cut interest rates and rethink how world finance works so that developing countries can invest in green energy?

The resounding answer to all these questions seemed to be ‘no’ for most of Thursday, if one carefully analyzes the rhetoric and lectures of behind-closed-door meetings. However, that is not to say that a significant deal could not be reached. There would be another round of negotiations on Friday, with the possibility of an extension into the weekend.

A look at where it stands late Thursday.

LOSS AND DAMAGE

From the start of the climate conference, the overriding issue, from many leaders and protesters alike, has been whether rich countries should compensate developing countries. Rich, low-carbon countries like the United States have historically done the most to create global warming, while developing countries have contributed little but are often the most affected by extreme weather events. Although the idea has been around for years, until this year it was mostly in the margins. It made the official agenda for the first time.

Negotiators from countries that support the idea, dubbed “loss and damage” in the climate negotiations, have said some industrialized countries are standing in the way of efforts to reach a deal.

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But late Thursday night, the European Union surprised everyone by proposing a pot of money for poorer countries more vulnerable to climate change. The EU’s executive vice president has also given an extra push to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from all countries.

The move was welcomed by many developing countries, but its prospects were unclear.

Earlier on Thursday, Lia Nicholson of the Antigua and Barbuda delegation, speaking on behalf of the Association of Small Island States, said the issue of loss and damage was not being seriously considered. She said there was no text on it for delegates to negotiate.

“Mr. Chairman, where is the text?” she told Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister and chair of COP 27. Shoukry, who chaired the session, told Nicholson that she was mistaken and that there were informal discussions on the matter.

Despite the setbacks, leaders of many developing countries say they will not give up and threaten to refuse to sign any document that does not contain progress on this front.

DEBT GAME

In the midst of many events in the world – including the war in Ukraine, recent US elections, the Group of 20 summit in Bali – it will always be difficult to reach a consensus between so many countries. That said, many longtime observers of the annual climate conference said negotiations shouldn’t have gone so badly at this point.

E3G’s Alden Meyer, a long-time negotiator, told The The Bharat Express News that, unlike in previous years, the conference’s chairman, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, has delayed putting together special teams of ministers to find solutions to major push through problems except loss and damage, which is to leave it all behind. Several other analysts and negotiators blamed the COP27 presidency.

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from the G20 meeting in Bali, issued a statement calling for calm and a willingness to work together to face climate change.

“Now is not the time to point fingers,” the statement said. “The blame game is a recipe for mutually assured destruction.”

CONFUSING RELEASE

Adding to the feeling of confusion and chaos among the negotiators was an Egyptian draft containing ideas that had not been discussed at the summit, which began on November 6.

The lengthy document released early Thursday included a call for developed countries to achieve “net negative carbon emissions” by 2030. That goal goes further than any major nation has committed to date and would be very difficult to achieve. For example, the EU and the US have said they aim to reach net zero emissions by 2050, China by 2060.

Negotiators quickly made it clear that it was just a draft, both criticizing it and making it clear that it was not their guide.

The head of the European Parliament at the UN climate conference, Bas Eirkhout, described it as “a bit of a wish list” with “all subjects” thrown in.

It was “too broad, too many topics, too vague language and too many items, which I don’t think should be in a cover decision,” Eirkhout said.

EXTERNAL BOOSTS

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So far, perhaps the two most important developments to mitigate climate change have come from external developments. First, Brazil’s president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s victory in last month’s election gave hope that his administration would crack down on illegal deforestation in the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest. That is what Da Silva, president between 2003 and 2010, promised. On Tuesday and Wednesday, da Silva got rock star treatment as he met with indigenous groups, climate activists and several ministers, including US climate envoy John Kerry.

Speaking of Kerry, he started talks with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua during the conference. Relations between the US and China have been tense for several reasons, most recently House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. As such, talks between Xie and Kerry had broken down.

US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at the G20 meetings in Bali on Monday. They both said they were committed to getting senior officials from their administrations to resume talks on various issues, including climate change.

China and the US are the world’s No. 1 and 2 climate polluters. Climate experts say cooperation between the two countries is critical if major cuts in global emissions can be made.

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Peter Prengaman is the global climate and environment editor of The The Bharat Express News. Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/peterprengaman

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The The Bharat Express News’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. Read more about TBEN’s climate initiative here. The TBEN is solely responsible for all content.