The COP27 deal delivers a “loss and damage” milestone, but little else

Countries passed a hard-fought final deal early Sunday at the COP27 climate summit that establishes a fund to help poor countries hit by climate disasters – but does not step up efforts to tackle the emissions they cause.

After tense negotiations that lasted through the night, Egypt’s COP27 presidency released the final text for an agreement while convening a plenary session to get it through quickly.

Rapid approval to create a special loss and damage fund leaves many of the most contentious decisions about the fund until next year, including who should pay into it.

Negotiators raised no objection as COP27 President Sameh Shoukry rattled through the final agenda items. And as dawn broke over the summit venue in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday, the deal was sealed.

Although there was no agreement on stricter emission reductions, “we stuck to the agreement because we want to stand by the weakest,” said Germany’s climate minister, Jennifer Morgan, clearly annoyed.

Delegates hailed the breakthrough in establishing the fund as climate justice for its goal of helping vulnerable countries weather storms, floods and other disasters fueled by historic carbon emissions from rich nations.

Asked by Reuters if the deal’s goal of stronger climate action had been jeopardized, Mexico’s chief climate negotiator Camila Zepeda summed up sentiment among weary negotiators.

“Probably. You win if you can.”

FOSSIL FUEL BRICKS

The two-week summit was seen as a test of global resolve to tackle climate change – even as a war in Europe, turbulence in energy markets and runaway consumer inflation divert international attention.

Dubbed the “African COP,” the summit in Egypt had pledged to highlight the plight of poor countries facing the most severe consequences of global warming, which is mainly being caused by wealthy industrialized nations.

The United States also supported the loss and damage settlement, but climate commissioner John Kerry did not attend the meeting after testing positive for COVID-19 this week.

Negotiators from the European Union and elsewhere had previously said they were concerned about efforts to block action to strengthen last year’s Glasgow climate pact.

“It is beyond frustrating to see overdue steps to mitigate and phase out fossil fuels being blocked by a number of large emitters and oil producers,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in a statement.

In line with previous iterations, the approved deal did not include a reference to phasing out the use of “all fossil fuels” as requested by India and some other delegations.

Instead, she called on countries to take steps towards “the phasing out of unabated coal-fired power generation and the phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” as agreed at the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

“Too many parties are not ready today to make further progress in the fight against the climate crisis,” said EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans, describing the agreement as “not a step forward for people and the planet”.

The text also included a reference to “low-carbon energy,” raising concern from some that this opens the door for the increased use of natural gas — a fossil fuel that produces both carbon dioxide and methane emissions.

“It doesn’t completely break with Glasgow, but it doesn’t inspire any ambition at all,” Norway’s climate minister Espen Barth Eide told reporters.

Small island nations facing climate-related sea-level rise had pushed for the loss-and-damage deal but lamented a lack of ambition in curbing emissions.

“I recognize the progress we made at COP27 in establishing the fund,” Maldives Climate Minister Aminath Shauna told the plenary. But “we failed at mitigation… We need to make sure we increase our ambition to reach peak emissions by 2025. We need to phase out fossil fuels.”

The Marshall Islands Climate Ambassador said she was “exhausted” but happy with the fund’s approval.

“So many people told us this week we wouldn’t get it. I’m so glad they were wrong,” Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner said via email. Still: “I wish we had a fossil fuel phase-out. The current text is not enough.”

© Thomson Reuters 2022.

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