Countries closed this year’s UN climate summit on Sunday with a hard-fought deal to create a fund to help poor countries beset by climate disasters, even as many lamented the lack of ambition in tackling emissions that cause them.
The deal was widely hailed as a triumph for responding to the devastating impact global warming is already having on fragile countries. But many countries said they felt pressured to give up tougher commitments to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius so that the landmark Loss and Damages Fund deal could go ahead.
The delegates – exhausted after intense, nightly negotiations – raised no objections as COP27 Egyptian President Sameh Shoukry picked up the final agenda and pushed the deal through.
Despite not agreeing on a stronger commitment to the 1.5°C target set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement, “we’ve honored the agreement here because we want to stand with the most vulnerable,” the president said. German climate secretary Jennifer Morgan, visibly shocked. Reuters.
When asked by Reuters whether the goal of a stronger climate-fighting ambition had been compromised for the deal, Mexico’s chief climate negotiator Camila Zepeda summed up the mood among the exhausted negotiators.
“Probably. You win if you can.”
Loss and Damage
The loss and damage fund deal represented a diplomatic coup for small islands and other vulnerable countries by winning over the 27-nation European Union and the United States, which had long resisted the idea for fear that such a fund would could open to legal liability for historical emissions.
Those concerns were addressed with language in the agreement calling for the funds to be drawn from a variety of existing sources, including financial institutions, rather than relying on rich countries to pay.
The Marshall Islands’ climate envoy said she was “exhausted” but happy with the fund’s approval. “So many people told us this week that we weren’t going to get it,” Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner said. “So glad they were wrong.”
But it will likely be several years before the fund exists, with the agreement merely providing a roadmap for resolving lingering questions, including who would oversee the fundhow the money would be distributed – and to whom.
US special envoy John Kerry, who was not personally at the weekend negotiations after testing positive for COVID-19, welcomed the deal on Sunday to “establish arrangements to respond to the devastating impact of climate change on vulnerable communities across worldwide.”
In a statement, he said he would continue to urge big emitters like China to “significantly increase their ambition” to keep the 1.5C target alive.
Fossil fuel fizzes
The price paid for a loss and damage fund deal was most clearly reflected in the language surrounding emission reductions and reducing the use of polluting fossil fuels – known in the language of the UN climate negotiations as ‘mitigation’.
Last year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, was all about keeping the 1.5°C target alive as scientists warn that if warming exceeds that threshold, climate change will lead to extremes.
Countries were then asked to update their national climate targets ahead of this year’s Egypt summit. Only a fraction of the nearly 200 parties did so.
While praising the loss and damage deal, many countries criticized COP27’s failure to take mitigation further and said some countries were trying to reverse commitments in the Glasgow Climate Pact.
“We had to fight relentlessly to hold the Glasgow line,” a visibly frustrated Alok Sharma, architect of the Glasgow deal, told the summit.
He listed a number of ambition-boosting measures that were stymied during the negotiations of Egypt’s final COP27 deal: “Emissions peak before 2025, as science tells us, is that necessary? Not in this text. Clear follow-up of the phase-out of coal? Not in this text. A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels? Not in this text.”
On fossil fuels, the text of the COP27 deal largely echoes the wording from Glasgow, calling on parties to “accelerate efforts to phase out unabated coal-fired power stations and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”.
Attempts to include a commitment to phase out, or at least phase out, all fossil fuels were thwarted.
A separate “mitigation work program” agreement, also approved on Sunday, contained several clauses that some parties, including the European Union, felt a weakened commitment to increasingly ambitious emissions reduction targets.
Critics pointed to a section they said undermined Glasgow’s commitment to regularly renew its emissions targets – with language saying the work program “would not impose any new targets or targets”. Another part of the COP27 agreement dropped the idea of annual target renewal in favor of a return to a longer five-year cycle outlined in the Paris Pact.
“It is beyond frustrating to see overdue mitigation and fossil energy phase-out measures being held back by a number of major emitters and oil producers,” said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.
The deal also included a reference to “low-emissions energy,” leading some to worry that it opened the door to growing use of natural gas — a fossil fuel that leads to both carbon dioxide and methane emissions.
“It doesn’t completely break Glasgow, but it doesn’t raise the ambition at all,” Norway’s Climate Minister Espen Barth Eide told reporters.
The climate minister of the Maldives, who will face flooding in the future due to climate-driven sea level rise, lamented the lack of ambition to reduce emissions.
“I recognize the progress we have made in COP27” with the loss and damage fund, Aminath Shauna told the plenary. But “we have failed on mitigation… We need to make sure we raise the ambition to reach peak emissions by 2025. We need to phase out fossil fuels.”
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, Dominic Evans and William James; written by Katy Daigle)