UN climate talks near halftime with key issues unresolved

UN climate talks near halftime with key issues unresolved

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — As the U.N. climate talks in Egypt near the half-way point, negotiators are working hard to draft deals on a wide range of issues they’ll put to ministers next week in the hope of getting a substantial result by the end. The two-week-long meeting began with strong calls from leaders around the world for more efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and aid poor countries in coping with global warming.

Scientists say the amount of greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere needs to be halved by 2030 to meet the goals of the Paris climate accord. The 2015 pact set a target 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 so. Campaigners and the developing countries have been pushing for more money from rich polluters, with the impacts of climate change already being felt around the globe. This would be used to help developing countries shift to clean energy and adapt to global warming; increasingly there are also calls for compensation to pay for climate-related losses.

Here is a look at the main issues on the table at the COP27 talks and how they might be reflected in a final agreement.


The hosts of last year’s talks in Glasgow said they managed to “keep 1. 5 alive,” including by getting countries to endorse the target in the outcome document. But U.N. chief Antonio Guterres has warned that the temperature goal is on life support “and the machines are rattling.” And campaigners were disappointed that agenda this year doesn’t explicitly cite the threshold after pushback from some major oil and gas exporting nations. Egypt is still the chair of negotiations and can continue discussions about incorporating it into the final agreement.


Negotiators are trying to put together a mitigation work program that would capture the various measures countries have committed to reducing emissions, including for specific sectors such as energy and transport. These pledges, which are often not part of U.N. processes, cannot be easily inspected at the annual meeting. A proposed draft agreement circulated early Saturday had more than 200 square brackets, meaning large sections were still unresolved. While some countries would prefer that the agreement be in effect for a year only, others believe that a more long-term plan is necessary. You can expect fireworks to follow.


Last year’s meeting almost collapsed over a demand to explicitly state in the final agreement that coal should be phased out. Several loopholes were agreed upon by countries. Climate campaigners are concerned that negotiators representing nations heavily dependent on coal for energy or revenue may try to rescind previous agreements.


Rich countries have fallen short on a pledge to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance for poor nations. This has opened up a rift of distrust that negotiators are hoping to close with fresh pledges. But needs are growing and a new, higher target needs to be set from 2025 onward.


The subject of climate compensation was once considered taboo, due to concerns from rich countries that they might be on the hook for vast sums. But intense pressure from developing countries forced the issue of ‘loss and damage’ onto the formal agenda at the talks for the first time this year. It remains to be determined if there will be an agreement to encourage further technical work, or the establishment of an actual fund. This could become a key flashpoint in the talks.


One way to raise additional cash and resolve the thorny issue of polluter payment would be for those countries that have seen an economic boom in the past three decades to step up. China is the biggest emitter in the world, with other countries being asked to contribute. Although broadening the donor pool is not formally on the agenda, developed countries would like to see assurances in the final text.


Countries such as Britain and Germany want all financial flows to align with the long-term goals of the Paris accord. Others object to this rule because they fear they could be withheld money if they fail to meet strict targets. But there is chatter that the issue may get broader support next week if it helps unlock other areas of the negotiations.


Last year’s meeting saw a raft of agreements signed which weren’t formally part of the talks. Some have also been unveiled in Egypt, though hopes for a series of announcements on so-called Just Transition Partnerships — where developed countries help poorer nations wean themselves off fossil fuels — aren’t likely to bear fruit until after COP27.


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 we will be working until the very last second to ensure that we can reach an ambitious and equitable outcome,” she said. “We are reaching for the stars while keeping our feet on the ground.”


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