UN chief warns of ‘breach of trust’ with no deal in sight at COP27

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has come to the rescue of troubled climate talks in Egypt, warning of a “break in trust” between rich and poor governments that could dash hopes of a deal.

He urged countries reaching the final day of the UN Cop27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh to find common ground. “There has clearly been, as in the past, a breakdown of trust between North and South, and between developed and emerging economies,” he said. “Now is not the time to point fingers. The blame game is a recipe for mutually assured destruction.

António Guterres appeared alongside Egyptian Foreign Minister and chairman of the talks Sameh Shoukry on Thursday, who gave a grim assessment of the state of negotiations with just one full day of official talks remaining.

“It is evident that at this late stage in the COP27 process, there still remain a number of issues where progress is lacking, with continuing divergent views between parties,” Shoukry said.

There are four main concerns: countries’ plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels; how to help poor countries adapt to the effects of the climate crisis; financing poor countries to reduce their emissions and adapt to extreme weather conditions; and loss and damage, which covers ways to help countries hit by the worst ravages of a climate catastrophe.

On each, Shoukry listed serious setbacks. “The mitigation work program [on cutting emissions] has not yet achieved the desired result. Adaptation is still hampered by procedural issues. The ambitious results on financing have not yet materialized. And when it comes to loss and damage, parties are reluctant to make tough political decisions,” he said.

Guterres – who in an interview with the Guardian ahead of Cop27 warned that without a “historic pact” between rich and poor nations, “we are doomed” – appealed to governments.

“Send a clear signal that the voices of those on the frontlines of the crisis are finally being heard,” he said. “Reflecting the urgency, scale and enormity of the challenge facing so many developing countries. We cannot continue to deny climate justice to those who have contributed least to the climate crisis and are most affected.

The fortnightly talks have just one day left before the official deadline on Friday evening, but it is almost certain that they will continue over the weekend.

Earlier in the day, the Egyptian presidency released a first draft of a potential “cover text”, intended to list the main outcomes of the talks. The 20-page document listed resolutions on issues ranging from food and agriculture to youth representation. On substantive issues, however, there were gaps, filled in with “fictitious” text indicating that no agreement was near.

This reflects the lack of progress in reconciling rich and poor nations on how to pay for the reconstruction of countries ravaged by climate breakdown, known in the talks as loss and damage.

Many poor countries want a new financing mechanism that would quickly collect and distribute money to affected regions. Rich countries, however, say they are ready to discuss ways to finance loss and damage, but are not convinced that an entirely new financing mechanism is needed, as several global climate finance institutions already exist, variable success.

Sir Molwyn Joseph, Government Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and Chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States, said: “They [developed countries] say that they understand our situation. If they understand our situation, why would they be reluctant [to set up a fund]?”

He said poor countries would lose faith in the UN talks. “There must be a mechanism [for funding loss and damage]. Whether you call it a fund or a facility,” he said. “Failure to do so would create a sense of betrayal.”

Debate on the draft text was to continue until Thursday evening. One of the questions was whether to include language that recognized that the world should “phase out all fossil fuels”. The push, led by India and civil society groups, gained momentum over the fortnight, garnering support from the US, EU and UK. But he is opposed by Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

The draft text released by the Cop27 presidency on Thursday included instead a reference only to phasing out coal power, which was first agreed at Cop26 in Glasgow last year.

There were also concerns that the wording of the 1.5C target was too weak. Britain’s chairman of last year’s summit, Alok Sharma, led a small delegation to the Egyptian presidency to demand a stronger commitment to keeping temperatures within the 1.5C limit, above which impacts of the climate crisis are likely to become catastrophic and in many cases irreversible. “Keeping 1.5C alive” was the main outcome of the Glasgow talks.

A negotiator from a developing country told the Guardian of his concerns about the way the Egyptian presidency handled the process of drafting a cover text. “I really don’t know if we’ll get a decent final text,” they said. “It will really depend on how far countries are willing to go. Some might say that if there is no agreement on loss and damage, there is no outcome.

Rebecca Newsom, Head of Policy at Greenpeace UK, said: “Success at COP27 is now a test of political will. It is a test of whether world leaders will stand up for their citizens, for justice and for the environment we all depend on – or if they will allow fossil fuel lobbyists and self-interest to prevail.

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