COP27: Summit agrees to help climate victims.But it won’t help stop fossil fuels

Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

World fails to reach agreement on phasing out fossil fuels after marathon UN climate talks ‘blocked’ by some oil producers nation.

At the COP27 UN climate summit in Egypt, negotiators from nearly 200 countries took a historic step by agreeing to a “loss and damage” fund aimed at helping vulnerable countries cope with climate catastrophe and agreeing that the world needs to Reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the past 20 years. Halved by 2030.

The agreement also reaffirms the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Yet attempts to tackle the biggest source of planet-warming emissions contributing to the climate crisis have failed miserably after a number of countries, including China and Saudi Arabia, blocked a key proposal to phase out all fossil fuels, not just coal.

“It is frustrating to see overdue mitigation measures and measures to phase out fossil fuels being blocked by many big emitters and oil producers,” German Foreign Minister Annalene Berberk said in a statement.

Speaking at the summit on Sunday morning, EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said the bloc was “disappointed” by the summit’s final outcome.

“What’s in front of us isn’t enough to take humanity and the planet one step forward … we should be doing more,” Timmermans said.

Yet the deal to help the world’s most vulnerable nation cope with loss and damage represents a breakthrough in a contentious negotiation process.

It marks the first time countries and groups, including longtime opponents such as the United States and the European Union, have agreed to a fund for countries vulnerable to climate disasters made worse by the disproportionate amount of pollution produced by rich industrialized nations.

Negotiators and NGOs observing the talks hailed the agreement as a major achievement after developing countries and small island states united to increase pressure.

“The agreement reached at COP27 is a victory for our entire world,” AOSIS president Molwyn Joseph said in a statement. “We show those who feel left out that we hear you, we see you, and we are giving you the respect and care you deserve.”

The establishment of the fund has also become one of the main demands of activists attending the summit. Unlike previous years, when mass protests and loud calls to action were part of the movement, this year’s demonstrations subsided.

Protests are rare and mostly illegal in Egypt, where the government has placed strict limits on who can attend meetings.

Still, hundreds of activists staged the biggest protest at the summit last weekend, demanding climate payments. Nakeeyat Dramani, a 10-year-old Ghanaian activist, received a standing ovation at the plenary session on Friday after calling on delegates to “do the math with their heads”.

Climate activists staged numerous protests during the conference, calling for an end to fossil fuels and climate finance.

A senior Biden administration official told CNN that the fund would focus on what could be done to support resources for loss and destruction, but would not include liability or compensation provisions.

Reaching an agreement will not be easy. The summit was supposed to end on Friday but went into overtime as negotiators were still trying to hammer out details as the venue for the meeting was being dismantled.

The U.S. and other developed nations have long sought to avoid such clauses, which could expose them to legal liability and lawsuits in other countries. In previous public remarks, US climate envoy John Kerry has said that loss and damage are not the same as climate compensation.

“‘Compensation’ is not a word or a term to use in this case,” Kerry said on a recent conference call with reporters earlier this month. “We have always said that developed countries must help developing countries cope with climate impacts,” he added.

Details of how the fund will operate remain unclear. The text leaves many questions about when it will be finalized and operational, and how it will be funded. The text also mentioned a transition committee that would help finalize those details, but did not set a specific deadline for the future.

As climate experts celebrated the victory, they also noted uncertainty about the future.

“The loss and damage fund will go to poor families whose homes have been destroyed, farmers whose fields have been destroyed and islanders who have been forced from their ancestral homes,” said WRI chief executive Ani Dasgupta. “At the same time, developing countries are leaving Egypt without clear assurances on how the loss and damage fund will be overseen.”

Climate experts say the fund’s success this year is largely due to the fact that the G77 bloc of developing countries has remained unified, exerting greater leverage over loss and damage than in past years.

“They need to come together to move forward with the conversation we’re having now,” Nisha Krishnan, director of resilience for the Africa region at the World Resources Institute, told reporters. “The coalition has stuck with it because of our strong belief that we really need to come together to make this happen — and to move the conversation forward.”

For many, the fund represents years of hard-fought victory, won by global attention to climate disasters such as this summer’s devastating floods in Pakistan.

“It’s like a giant buildup,” former U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern told CNN. “This has been the case for a long time, and it’s getting worse for fragile countries because there’s still not a lot of money going into it. If we can see the actual catastrophic effects of climate change getting worse.”

The EU's Frans Timmermans speaks to reporters on the sidelines of the summit.

Scientists around the world have warned for decades that warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels — a threshold that is fast approaching as Earth’s average temperature has already climbed to around 1.1 degrees.

Above 1.5 degrees, the risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages will increase dramatically, scientists said in the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

But while summit delegates confirmed the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, climate experts expressed disappointment that there was no mention of fossil fuels or the need to phase them down to prevent global temperatures from rising. As it did at the Glasgow summit last year, the text calls for a gradual reduction in unabated coal power and “the phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”, but goes no further in calling for the phasing out of all fossil fuels, including oil and gas .

“The impact of the fossil fuel industry is sweeping across the board,” Laurence Tubiana, chief executive of the European Climate Foundation, said in a statement. “Egypt’s president has created a text that clearly protects the oil and gas oil state and the fossil fuel industry. This trend cannot continue in the United Arab Emirates next year.”

Some dramatic action was even taken to maintain the 1.5 degree figures that occurred in Glasgow last year.

On Saturday, EU officials threatened to walk out of the meeting if the final agreement failed to support the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” Timmermans said at a carefully choreographed news conference, accompanied by ministers and other senior officials from EU member states.

“We don’t want 1.5 degrees to disappear here and today. That’s totally unacceptable to us,” he said.

Negotiations were further complicated by Kerry, who led the U.S. delegation, tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday. He continued to communicate with his team and foreign counterparts by phone, but his physical absence was evident during the critical moments of the summit.

US climate envoy John Kerry gestures to Chinese envoy Xie Zhenhua at the COP27 summit.

In addition to the final agreement, the summit also brought several other major developments, including the resumption of formal climate talks between the United States and China, the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

After China froze climate talks between the two countries this summer, U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to re-establish U.S.-China communication when they met at the G20 summit in Bali last week, providing for Kerry and China. President Xi Jinping paved the way for another official meeting with Zhenhua.

“Without China, even though the U.S. is moving … towards the 1.5-degree plan, … if we don’t have China, no one else can achieve … that goal,” Kerry told CNN last week.

The two sides met in the second week of the COP to try to pick up where they left off before China suspended the talks, according to a source familiar with the discussions. They are focused on specific action points, such as strengthening China’s plan to reduce emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and its overall emissions targets, the sources said.

Unlike last year, the two countries did not make a major joint climate announcement. But the resumption of formal communication was seen as an encouraging sign.

Li Shuo, a Beijing-based global policy advisor for Greenpeace East Asia, said the COP “witnessed extensive exchanges between the two sides under the leadership of Kerry and Xie”.

“The challenge is that they should do more than talk, [and] Leadership is also needed,” Shuo said, adding that restarting formal dialogue “helps prevent the worst. ”

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