COP27: Negotiators reach tentative deal on ‘loss and damage’ at UN climate summit

Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

Despite a major setback on Saturday, international climate negotiations at the UN’s COP27 climate summit dragged on into the early hours of Sunday morning.

The closing plenary of this year’s COP is scheduled to begin at 3 am Egypt time, according to a notice from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

For the second year in a row, the marathon negotiations continued well beyond their scheduled end, as countries tried to hammer out stronger language around phasing out all fossil fuels, including oil and gas, instead of only coal without slipping, according to several NGOs observing the conversations.

Elsewhere, progress has been made. On Saturday, the parties reached a tentative agreement to establish a “loss and damage” fund for nations vulnerable to climate disasters, according to negotiators with the European Union and Africa, as well as non-governmental organizations that observe the discussions.

The United States is also working to sign an agreement on a loss and damage fund, Whitney Smith, a spokesperson for the US climate envoy John Kerry, confirmed to CNN.

The fund will focus on what can be done to support loss and damage resources, but will not include liability or compensation provisions, a senior Biden administration official told CNN. The United States and other developed nations have long sought to avoid such provisions that could open them to legal liability and lawsuits from other countries.

If completed, this could represent a major advance in negotiations on a contentious subject – and is seen as a reversal, since the United States has in the past opposed efforts to create such a fund.

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All is not settled yet – an EU source directly involved in the negotiations warned earlier on Saturday that the deal is part of the larger COP27 deal that needs to be approved by nearly 200 countries. Negotiators worked through the night into Sunday. And other issues, including language around fossil fuels, remain, according to several NGOs observing the talks.

But progress has been made, the source said. In a discussion Saturday afternoon, Egypt time, the EU was able to get the block of G77 countries to agree to direct the fund to vulnerable nations, which could pave the way for an agreement on loss and damages.

If completed, the agreement will represent a major breakthrough on the international stage and far exceed expectations at this year’s climate summit, and the mood among some of the delegates was jubilant.

Countries that are most vulnerable to climate disasters – but have contributed little to the climate crisis – have struggled for years to secure a fund for losses and damages.

Developed nations that have historically produced the most planet-warming emissions have been hesitant to sign a fund they think could open up legal liability for climate disasters.

Details about the fund’s operation remain unclear. The tentative text says a fund will be established this year, but leaves many questions about when it will be finalized and become operational, climate experts told reporters Saturday. The text talks about a transition committee that will help nail down those details, but does not set future deadlines.

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“There are no guarantees to the timeline,” Nisha Krishnan, director of resilience for the World Resources Institute Africa, told reporters.

Lawyers for a loss and damage fund were happy with the progress, but they noted that the project is not ideal.

“We’re happy with this result because it’s what developed countries wanted — even if it’s not what they came here for,” Erin Roberts, founder of the Loss and Damage Collaborative, told CNN in a statement. . “Like many, I have also been conditioned to expect very little from this process. While the creation of the fund is certainly a victory for developing countries and those on the front lines of climate change, it is an empty shell without funding. It’s too little, too late for those on the front lines of climate change. But we have to work on it.”

At COP27, calls for a loss and damage fund – from developing countries, the G77 bloc and activists – had reached a fever pitch, driven by a number of major climate disasters this year, including Pakistan’s devastating floods.

The conference first went into overtime on Saturday before continuing into the early hours of Sunday morning, with negotiators still working out the details as workers dismantled the place around them. At points, there was a real sense of fatigue and frustration. Complicating matters was the fact that Kerry – the US’s top climate official – is self-isolating after recently testing positive for Covid, working on the phones instead of having face-to-face meetings.

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And earlier in the day on Saturday, EU officials threatened to walk out of the meeting if the final agreement fails to approve the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Global scientists have warned for decades that warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees – a threshold that is fast approaching as the planet’s average temperature has already climbed to around 1.1 degrees. Beyond 1.5 degrees, the risk of extreme drought, fires, floods and food shortages will increase dramatically, scientists said in the latest report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In a carefully choreographed press conference on Saturday morning, EU Green Deal czar Frans Timmermans, flanked by a full slate of ministers and other senior officials from EU member states, said that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

“We don’t want 1.5 Celsius to die here and today. That for us is completely unacceptable,” he said.

The EU made it clear that it was willing to agree to a loss and damage fund – a major change in its position compared to just a week ago – but only in exchange for a strong commitment to the 1.5 degree target .

As the sun set on Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday night, the mood shifted to cautious jubilation, with groups of negotiators beginning to hint that a deal was in sight.

But, as is always the case with top-level diplomacy, officials were quick to emphasize that nothing is really agreed until the final hammer falls.


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