UN climate talks near calm with key issues unresolved

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SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — As UN climate talks in Egypt are nearly halfway through, negotiators are working hard to draft agreements on a wide range of issues that they will submit to ministers next week in hopes of achieving a substantial outcome by the end.

The two-week meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh kicked off with strong calls from world leaders for increased efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and help poor countries deal with global warming.

Scientists say that the amount of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere must be halved by 2030 to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. The 2015 pact set a goal of ideally limiting temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, but left it up to countries to decide how they want to do that.

With the effects of climate change already being felt around the world, particularly by the world’s poorest, there has also been a push by campaigners and developing countries to push rich polluters to raise more money. This would be used to help developing countries switch to clean energy and adapt to global warming; There is also an increasing demand for compensation for climate-related losses.

Here’s an overview of the key issues on the table during the COP27 discussions and how they could be reflected in a final agreement.

STAY COOL

The presenters of last year’s talks in Glasgow said they have managed to “keep 1.5 alive”, including by getting countries to endorse the goal in the result document. But UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned the temperature target is on life support “and the machines are rattling”. And campaigners were disappointed that this year’s agenda doesn’t explicitly mention the threshold after pushing back some major oil and gas exporting countries. The chairman of the talks, Egypt, may still hold talks to include it in the final agreement.

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REDUCE EMISSIONS

The negotiators are trying to establish a mitigation work program that includes the various measures countries have pledged to reduce emissions, including for specific sectors such as energy and transport. Many of these commitments are not formally part of the UN process, meaning they cannot be easily examined at the annual meeting. A proposed draft agreement circulated early Saturday had more than 200 square brackets, meaning large parts are still unresolved. Some countries want the plan to be valid for only one year, while others say a longer-term roadmap is needed. Expect fireworks in the coming days.

AVOID FOSSIL FUELS

Last year’s meeting nearly collapsed over a demand to explicitly state in the final agreement that coal should be phased out. Countries eventually agreed on several loopholes, and climate activists worry that negotiators from countries that rely heavily on fossil fuels for their energy needs or as revenues could try to roll back past commitments.

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MONEY MATTERS

Rich countries have failed to deliver on their promise to mobilize $100 billion a year in climate finance for poor countries by 2020. This has led to a chasm of mistrust that negotiators hope to close with new pledges. But the needs are growing and from 2025 a new, higher goal must be set.

ONE FEE

The topic of climate compensation was once considered taboo due to concerns from wealthy countries that they could land for huge sums of money. But intense pressure from developing countries forced the issue of ‘loss and damage’ onto the formal agenda during talks for the first time this year. Whether a deal will come to promote further technical work or the creation of a real fund remains to be seen. This could become an important focal point in the conversations.

MORE DONORS

One way to raise additional money and solve the thorny issue of polluter pay would be to step up the countries that have experienced an economic boom over the past three decades. The focus is mainly on China, the world’s largest emitter, but others may also be asked to open their wallets. Broadening the donor base is not formally on the agenda, but developed countries want reassurance about this in the final texts.

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MONEY RESTRICTIONS

Countries such as Great Britain and Germany want all financial flows to be in line with the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement. Other countries object to such a rule, fearing that money will be withheld if they fail to meet strict targets. But it is rumored that the issue could gain wider support next week if it helps open up other areas of the negotiations.

SPECIAL OFFERS

At last year’s meeting, a series of agreements were signed that were not formally part of the talks. Some have also been unveiled in Egypt, though hopes for a series of announcements about so-called Just Transition Partnerships – where developed countries help poorer countries get off fossil fuels – are unlikely to bear fruit until after COP27.

HOPE TO THE END

Jennifer Morgan, a former head of Greenpeace who recently became Germany’s climate envoy, called the talks this year “challenging”.

“But I can promise you that we will work until the last second to ensure that we can achieve an ambitious and fair result,” she said. “We reach for the stars while keeping our feet on the ground.”

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