The UN climate summit agreed to create a historic fund to pay for climate-related damage in poorer countries after working beyond sunrise in Egypt on Sunday, but backed out of deeper cuts greenhouse gas emissions and ending the use of fossil fuels.
Nearly 200 countries at the summit made a breakthrough for a fund to cover the “loss and damage” that “particularly vulnerable” nations suffer from climate change.
Negotiators agreed to put a structure in place by the next summit in 2023, with contributors and beneficiaries yet to be determined.
Leaders from Africa and other developing countries have welcomed plans to establish the fund, which Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rehman described as “an investment in climate justice”.
However, in the final hours of the talks, which lasted until Saturday evening and Sunday morning, the countries could not agree on provisions that would accelerate emissions cuts. A push to include the phase-down of all fossil fuels in the final deal also fell through.
EU climate chief Frans Timmermans expressed the deep dissatisfaction felt by many countries with the outcome in a strident speech at the closing session of the UN, saying the outcome was “not a step enough forward for people and the planet”.
“We should have done a lot more. Our fellow citizens expect us to take the lead. That means much faster reduced emissions,” he said. The EU had signed the agreement “reluctantly” and was disappointed that it had to back down from its position “to allow the process to move forward”.
Addressing the role of oil and gas producing countries, led by Saudi Arabia, in protecting fossil fuel production, New Zealand’s climate change minister, James Shaw, said there was “still parties that are stuck in a state of denial or delirium about the state of the climate crisis”.
The EU had issued a dramatic threat to pull out on Saturday if the global deal was not enough to “keep 1.5 alive” – a phrase that became the mantra of the COP26 talks last year. It references the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming well below 2C, and ideally 1.5C, since pre-industrial times by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The drive of dozens of countries to include a commitment to phase out all fossil fuels failed after fierce resistance from countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Instead, the final deal was changed at the last minute to include the need for “low-emissions” energy – which would allow for the continued production of fossil fuels when combined with carbon capture technology to trap emissions.
UK climate chief Alok Sharma, president of COP26 in Glasgow, expressed exasperation with the failure to improve emissions reduction efforts.
“It’s really on life support – 1.5c,” he said on Sunday morning. “We had to fight incredibly hard, relentlessly – it was like a battle – to make sure we preserved what we had achieved beyond the line in Glasgow. I’m incredibly disappointed that we couldn’t go further.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the conference was “blocked by a number of major emitters and oil producers”.
“The fact that this conference did not end in total failure despite blockages and organizational shortcomings is mainly due to a progressive alliance of states across continents,” she said.
Asked about the criticisms, Egyptian Ambassador to COP27 Wael Aboulmagd said “everyone should expect to do better” but countries were limited by their financial capacity.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the creation of a climate damages fund, but also expressed dissatisfaction with the failure of global warming targets.
“Our planet is still in the emergency room. We need to drastically reduce emissions now – and that’s an issue this COP hasn’t addressed,” he said. In the closing session, some speakers from developing countries, including Tuvalu, echoed his remarks in moving closing statements.
“A fund for loss and damage is essential – but it is no answer if the climate crisis wipes a small island state off the map – or turns an entire African country into a desert,” Gueterres added.
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