Despite growing signs that major breakthroughs are unlikely, the UN climate summit’s Egyptian hosts are tenaciously clinging to hopes for a “meaningful and robust” outcome.
In a pair of back-to-back news conferences at Cop27, a top official from the Egyptian presidency and the European Union’s point man on climate offered equally cautious scenarios on the outcome of the two-week summit, scheduled to wrap on Friday.
There are reportedly deep divisions over issues including the recommitment to capping the rise of the planet’s temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels as well as the question of loss and damage — a term referring to the responsibility of rich, industrialised countries to bankroll efforts by developing nations to adapt to and mitigate the impact of climate change.
But career Egyptian diplomat Wael Aboulmagd peppered his caution with optimism that breakthroughs can still be made.
“We are making all the efforts at our disposal because we want a meaningful and robust outcome. We still want something meaningful to come out,” he said.
There were, he said, “gaps” among the delegates of the nearly 200 nations participating in the summit on renewing their commitment to the agreement reached seven years ago to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C.
This follows the disclosure made last week by the US climate envoy John Kerry that some unnamed countries did not want to stick to the 1.5°C pledge.
Frans Timmermans, the EU’s top climate official, offered the 27-nation bloc’s view on the issue of loss and damage, saying he was “not sure we will find consensus this week”.
“We want to find solutions that are agreeable to everyone. I hope we can be pragmatic,” he said.
He went on to explain that the needs of countries hit hard by climate change vary.
“We want to tailor-make solutions that suit the needs of each country.”
His comments appeared to align with the general view of many in the rich nations’ camp that existing and new mechanisms to help countries suffering from climate change would be sufficient, rather than creating new ones dedicated to loss and damage.
The US has categorically dismissed the creation of a new entity to channel loss and damage funds.
Not reaching a meaningful compromise on loss and damage will come as a blow to many developing countries whose delegates have spoken passionately in Egypt about the need for an agreement on the issue, citing the devastation wreaked by climate change.
It will also dishearten the Egyptian hosts, who touted as a major diplomatic victory the inclusion of loss and damage on the official agenda — something that had proved elusive for many years.
Already, there is chatter among delegates in Sharm El Sheikh, the Red Sea resort city where Cop27 is being held, that the conference would go into overtime and not finish on schedule on Friday.
Egyptian Environment Minister Yasmine Fouad acknowledged that big sticking points remain unresolved. She cited the called-for doubling in finance to adapt for future climate disruptions as well as loss and damage.
But she, too, struck a hopeful note, saying she expected much progress to be made when ministers take over from technical delegates.
Delegates, however, said Cop27 in Egypt would not be allowed to go down as a failure, explaining that a string of small victories would be made, such as rich nations making good on past promises of funds for developing nations.
There is also likely to be new targets on gas emissions announced by the world’s major polluters — the US, China, the EU and India — that match the rapid climate deterioration.
Mr Timmermans, also the European Commission Vice President, announced in Sharm El Sheikh that the EU would exceed its original plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent by 2030.
The bloc, he said, will be able to cut the emissions by 57 per cent from 1990 levels.
“Europe is staying the course and, in fact, accelerating the course,” he said on Tuesday. “The EU has to look forward, not backward.”
Offering a glimmer of hope for the proceedings in Sharm El Sheikh, Brazil's president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrived at the summit on Tuesday, bringing with him a message that “Brazil is back” in the struggle against climate change.
The left-wing leader is scheduled to meet top US and Chinese climate officials in Egypt as he seeks to restore his country's credibility as a key partner in global efforts to stem global warming.
Last month, Mr da Silva defeated right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who oversaw mounting destruction of the Amazon rainforest and refused to host the 2019 climate summit originally planned to take place in Brazil.