Disagreement over global warming target leaves UN climate agreement in the balance

The outcome of key United Nations climate talks hung on crucial negotiations on global warming targets on Saturday, after the European Union made a high-profile threat to walk away from a fraught COP27 summit earlier in the day.

The national negotiators said progress had been made on the deadlocked issue of “loss and damage” regarding rich countries’ financing of poor countries suffering the effects of climate change.

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

It points to a target in the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming well below 2°C from pre-industrial times, ideally 1.5°C, by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

A group of countries known as the “Coalition for High Ambition”, which includes the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain, said on Saturday night that temperature targets and financing for loss and damage should be reflected in the final COP27 agreement.

“One without the other is meaningless, otherwise we will accept disaster and not push forward to avoid the worst of climate change,” said Maisa Rojas, Chile’s environment minister.

Marshall Islands climate envoy Tina Steig, flanked by Alok Sharma of the United Kingdom, right, and Germany’s Jennifer Morgan, far left, among others in the so-called High Ambition Coalition. © SEDAT SUNA / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

The summit was due to end on Friday but spilled into the weekend as negotiators remained at odds over key issues.

“We don’t want 1.5C to die here today,” EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said on Saturday, when issuing the ultimatum.

“Everything is on the table,” said a European diplomat, “these are big risks, capitals are being called out.”

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

“We’d rather not have a decision than a bad decision,” Timmermans told reporters in Sharm el-Sheikh.

“All ministers . . . like myself are prepared to leave if we do not have an outcome that does justice to what the world awaits, namely that we do something about this climate crisis.

Sun Chen, China’s deputy director-general for climate change, is attending the COP talks. China is among countries resisting EU proposals © AP

China, Brazil and Saudi Arabia were among the countries that resisted increasing measures to cut emissions, according to people familiar with the discussions.

While climate COPs are always divisive and rarely finished on time, it is unusual for a large group of Western countries such as the European Union to threaten at the last minute to pull out.

“No one should underestimate” the EU’s threat to leave, said Romina Burmokhtari, Sweden’s climate and environment minister. “There is no one here willing to go back to our countries and explain to them why we have taken a step back.”

The bloc stressed the importance of building on last year’s Glasgow Climate Pact, which included a commitment to reduce the use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

Sameh Shoukry, chair of COP27, Egypt’s foreign minister, said on Saturday that the draft text of the final agreement would keep the 1.5C goal alive while taking a “comprehensive approach in dealing with the challenges of climate change”.

Shoukry said there was “equal dissatisfaction on all sides” but insisted that the “vast majority” of the parties would find a basis for agreement.

“There is never a perfect solution but there is an effort I made to provide a foundation on which we can move forward,” Shoukry said. “Getting to the meeting point takes some effort.”

There were also concerns about the Egyptian presidency’s handling of the summit. “I’ve never experienced anything like this: opaque, unpredictable, and chaotic,” said one rep.

The countries’ negotiating teams were given only a short time to review updated texts on several key issues pending in the wee hours of the morning; “This was not standard procedure,” said one EU official.

Additional reporting by Pilita Clark and Emilia Mishasuk in Sharm El-Sheikh

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