Nations reach tentative agreement on payments as climate talks work overtime

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Governments around the world reached a preliminary agreement on Saturday to pay the most vulnerable countries for the damage they suffer from climate change, negotiators said — a move that would mean a major concession from the United States and the European Union.

Despite that milestone, talks at the United Nations’ two-week climate summit stalled early Sunday local time in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, two days after negotiations were due to conclude. Nearly 200 countries have yet to announce a final agreement on numerous issues, including whether they will commit to a broad phase-out of coal, oil and natural gas in an effort to avoid catastrophic global warming.

Organizers and delegates gave no hint as to when the talks might end.

Final drafts of the lyrics, seen by POLITICO, showed that the damage fund deal remained intact despite a rumor in recent hours after an adverb describing vulnerable countries was changed from “particular” to “particular.” Negotiators said Egypt’s presidency of the summit attributed the change to a typo.

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Another part of the deal being negotiated said a process aimed at encouraging accelerating cuts in pollution “will not impose new goals or targets.” That’s a line that Europeans had fought hard to scrap.

European regulators had threatened to halt talks on Saturday if countries did not agree to stronger commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas pollution. European officials accused ruling oil producer Saudi Arabia and big coal burner China of wanting to water down the deal.

Yet a pivotal point in the talks came on Friday, when negotiators said the United States made a significant break from its previous positions by agreeing to create a fund that would pay developing countries for the damage they suffer from climate damage. Washington has long opposed such a fund for fear it would expose the US to legal action for all the carbon it has pumped into the atmosphere over the past century and a half.

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Seve Paeniu, finance minister of the Pacific island state of Tuvalu, confirmed on Saturday that a deal has been reached to establish a fund for payments, one of the most controversial issues at the summit.

At the same time, US negotiators have been pushing for China – the world’s second-largest economy and current leader in greenhouse gas pollution – to contribute to such a fund. China, citing a 1992 UN agreement classifying it as a developing country, has argued that it should receive payments instead.

US opposition to a climate fund has drawn steady criticism from delegates representing countries at risk from climate change, even as President Joe Biden has sought to use the summit to reaffirm US leadership in the fight against global warming .

An EU official said the yet-to-be-final deal “decides to establish new financing arrangements to help developing countries particularly vulnerable to climate change respond to loss and damage.”

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The same official said a clause in the draft that referred to “identifying and expanding funding sources” was a vague reference to expanding the base of countries that would contribute to the fund. Next year, the EU will ensure that this reference also applies to countries such as China and Saudi Arabia.

The talks in Egypt paved the way for more conclusive negotiations at the next UN climate summit, scheduled for the end of 2023 in the United Arab Emirates. Those talks will try to develop more details about the design of the new fund.

But with key aspects of negotiations still underway in Sharm El-Sheikh, notably over a program to encourage stronger cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who is leading the talks, warned against banking any aspect of the agreement.

“I don’t want to speculate or anticipate the ongoing discussions and negotiations,” he said.

Sara Schonhardt contributed to this report.