COP27: Summit agrees to help climate victims. But it does nothing to stop fossil fuels

Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

The world has failed to reach an agreement to phase out fossil fuels after marathon UN climate talks were “blocked” by a string of oil producers Nation.

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries at the UN climate summit COP27 in Egypt took the historic step of agreeing to set up a “loss and damage” fund to help vulnerable countries deal with climate disasters and agreed to that the globe must reduce greenhouse gas emissions almost completely half the city by 2030.

The recent devastating floods across Pakistan are just one example of the suffering caused or exacerbated by the climate crisis.

The deal also reiterated the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

However, an attempt to tackle the biggest source of planet-warming emissions causing the climate crisis ended in fiasco after a number of nations, including China and Saudi Arabia, rejected a key proposal to phase out all fossil fuels only made of coal, had blocked .

“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.

EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said at the summit early Sunday morning that the EU was “disappointed” with the outcome of the summit.

“What we have ahead of us is not a step forward for people and the planet… we should have done a lot more,” Timmermans said.

But the agreement to help the world’s most vulnerable countries deal with loss and damage represents a breakthrough in a contentious negotiation process.

It is the first time that countries and groups, including longtime holdouts like the United States and the EU, have agreed to set up a fund for nations at risk of climate disasters made worse by pollution disproportionately generated by wealthy industrialized nations.

Negotiators and NGOs monitoring the talks hailed the deal as a significant achievement after developing countries and small island nations banded together to step up the pressure.

“The agreements reached at COP27 are a win for our whole world,” Molwyn Joseph, chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States, said in a statement. “We have shown those who have felt neglected that we hear you, we see you and give you the respect and care you deserve.”

Establishing the fund also became one of the main demands of activists attending the summit. Unlike previous years, when huge protests and loud calls to action became part of the event, this year’s demonstrations were muted.

Protests are rare and mostly illegal in Egypt, and the Egyptian government has placed strict restrictions on protesters attending the conference.

Still, in the biggest protest at the summit last weekend, hundreds of activists marched through the venue demanding climate payments. On Friday, 10-year-old Ghanaian activist Nakeeyat Dramani received a standing ovation in the plenary after calling on delegates to “have heart and calculate”.

Climate activists staged a series of protests during the conference demanding an end to fossil fuels and climate finance.

The fund will focus on what can be done to support resources for loss and damage, but does not include liability or indemnification provisions, a senior Biden administration official told CNN.

Reaching an agreement was not easy. The summit was originally scheduled to end on Friday but went far into overtime as negotiators were still trying to work out the details while the conference venue was dismantled around them.

The US and other developed nations have long sought to avoid such regulations, which could expose them to legal liability and lawsuits from other countries. And in previous public statements, US climate chief John Kerry said that casualties and damage are not the same as climate repairs.

“‘Reparations’ is not a word or term that was used in this context,” Kerry said in a recent call with reporters earlier this month. He added: “We have always said that it is imperative for developed countries to help developing countries deal with the effects of climate.”

Details on how the fund would work remain unclear. The text leaves many questions about when it will be completed and operational, and how exactly it would be funded. The text also mentions a transitional committee that will help nail these details, but does not set any specific future deadlines.

And while climate experts celebrated the victory, they also noted the uncertainty for the future.

“This loss and damage fund will be a lifeline for poor families whose homes have been destroyed, farmers whose crops have been ruined and islanders who have been displaced from their ancestral homes,” said Ani Dasgupta, CEO of the World Resources Institute. “At the same time, developing countries are leaving Egypt without clear assurances about how the Loss and Damage Fund will be monitored.”

A result for a fund this year came in large part because the G77 bloc of developing countries remained united and wielded more leverage over losses and damage than in previous years, climate experts said.

“They had to be together to force the conversation that we’re having now,” Nisha Krishnan, director of resilience at the World Resources Institute Africa, told reporters. “The coalition has thrived because of this belief that to make this happen we had to stay together — and move the conversation forward.”

For many, the fund represents a hard-fought, multi-year victory pushed across the finish line by global attention devoted to climate catastrophes such as this summer’s devastating floods in Pakistan.

“It was like a big accumulation,” former US climate chief Todd Stern told CNN. “It’s been around for quite a while and it’s getting more and more annoying for vulnerable countries because there’s still not a lot of money being put into it. As we can see, the true catastrophic effects of climate change are becoming more intense.”

The EU's Frans Timmermans speaks to reporters during the summit.

Global scientists have warned for decades that warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels – a threshold fast approaching as the planet’s average temperature has already risen to about 1.1 degrees.

Beyond 1.5 degrees, the risk of extreme drought, wildfires, flooding and food shortages will increase dramatically, scientists said in the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

But while delegates at the summit reaffirmed the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, climate experts expressed dismay at the lack of mention of fossil fuels or the need to phase them out to prevent a rise in global temperatures. As at last year’s Glasgow Summit, the text calls for a phasing out of unabated coal-fired power generation and a “phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”, but goes no further to call for a phase out of all fossil fuels. including oil and gas.

“The impact of the fossil fuel industry has been noted across the board,” Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, said in a statement. “The Egyptian Presidency has produced a text that clearly protects oil and gas petrostates and the fossil fuel industries. This trend cannot continue in the United Arab Emirates next year.”

It took some dramatic action to even maintain the 1.5 degree figure that was hit in Glasgow last year.

On Saturday, EU officials threatened to walk out of the meeting if the final deal didn’t confirm the target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In a carefully choreographed press conference, flanked by a slew of ministers and other top officials from EU member states, Timmermans said “no deal is better than a bad deal”.

“We don’t want 1.5 degrees to die here and now. This is totally unacceptable to us,” he said.

The talks were further complicated by the fact that Kerry, who led the US delegation, tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday. He continued to communicate with his team and overseas colleagues by phone, but his physical absence made itself felt at the summit during the crisis period.

US Climate Ambassador John Kerry points to his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua at the COP27 summit.

Aside from the final deal, the summit brought several other significant developments, including the resumption of formal climate talks between the US and China – the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters.

After China froze climate talks between the two countries this summer, US President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping agreed to restore US-China communications when they met at the G20 summit in Bali last week and Zhenhua paved the way for Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie to formally meet again.

“Without China, even if the US … moves towards a 1.5 degree program … if we don’t have China, no one else can … achieve that goal,” Kerry told CNN last week.

According to a source familiar with the discussions, the two sides met during the second week of the COP and attempted to pick up where they left off before China suspended talks. They focused on specific action points, such as improving China’s plan to reduce emissions of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – and its overall emissions target, the source said.

Unlike last year, there was no major, joint climate change announcement by the two countries. But the resumption of formal communications was taken as an encouraging sign.

Li Shuo, a Beijing-based global policy adviser for Greenpeace East Asia, said this COP saw “extensive exchanges between the two sides, led by Kerry and Xie.”

“The challenge is that they should do more than just talk, [and] must also lead,” Shuo said, adding that the resumed formal dialogue “helps prevent the worst.”

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