Global warming target dispute leaves UN climate deal in the balance

The outcome of key UN climate talks on Saturday was to back away from global warming targets after the EU strongly threatened to walk away from the COP27 summit.

National negotiators say progress is being made on a previously deadlocked issue of funding rich countries for “losses and damages” to poor countries suffering from climate change.

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But Germany’s climate minister, Jennifer Morgan, said the deal would only be approved if it included measures to “keep 1.5 alive,” a phrase that became the mantra of last year’s COP26 talks in Glasgow.

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This refers to the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping global warming below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, ideally below 1.5°C, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A group of countries known as the “highly ambitious coalition” including Britain, Germany and Spain said late on Saturday that temperature targets and funding for losses and damages should be included in the final COP27 agreement.

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“It doesn’t make sense to have one without the other, otherwise we will accept the catastrophe and not move forward to avoid climate change,” said Maysa Rojas, Chile’s environment minister.

Marshall Islands climate ambassador Tina Stege, right, Britain’s Alok Sharma and Germany’s Jennifer Morgan, left, part of the ambitious coalition © SEDAT SUNA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The summit was supposed to end on Friday, but was extended over the weekend as negotiators remain at odds on key issues.

“We don’t want 1.5C to die here today,” EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said on Saturday as he issued extreme temperatures.

“Everything is on the table, these are high stakes, capitals are calling,” said one European diplomat.

The question of how countries will step up their emissions reductions remained looming on Saturday, raising concerns among some negotiators that the 1.5C target could be at risk.

“We would rather not make a decision than make a bad one,” Timmermans told reporters in Sharm el-Sheikh.

“All the ministers . . . “If we don’t do something about the climate crisis, if we don’t get the results that the world expects, I’m ready to go,” he said.

Sun Zhen, China’s vice president for climate change, is participating in the COP negotiations. One of the countries opposing the EU proposal is China © AP

China, Brazil and Saudi Arabia are among the countries opposed to increasing emissions reductions, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

Climate deals are always broken and rarely completed on time, but it is not unusual for a large group of Western countries, including the EU, to threaten to leave at the last minute.

Romina Pourmohtari, Sweden’s climate and environment minister, said “no one should underestimate” the threat of leaving the EU. “There’s nobody here willing to go back to our country and explain why we’ve taken a step back.”

The union points to the importance of last year’s Glasgow climate deal, which included a pledge to reduce the use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

COP27 president Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, said on Saturday that the final draft agreement would take a “comprehensive approach to tackling the challenge of climate change” and maintain the 1.5C target.

Shoukry said there was “equal dissatisfaction across the board” but said the “vast majority” of parties would find a basis for an agreement.

“There’s never a perfect solution, but I’ve done my best to build a foundation for us to move forward,” Shawkri said. “It takes some effort to get to the convergence point.”

There were also concerns about how the Egyptian presidency was handling the summit. “I’ve never experienced anything like transparency, unpredictability, chaos,” said one agent.

The negotiating teams of the countries were given a short time early in the morning to review the updated text of several important outstanding issues; This is “not a normal procedure,” said one EU official.

Additional reporting in Sharm el-Sheikh by Pilita Clark and Emilia Michasuk

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