Cop27 negotiators work against the clock to salvage a deal

Ministers return to Egypt to lend their political weight to delegates wrestling with key issues

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About 200 nations from around the globe continued to chase a deal at the Cop27 summit in Egypt that will help in the struggle to save the planet from climate change.

But despite hurdles, small but significant signs surfaced that an agreement at the UN summit remained possible.

Working against the clock — the summit is scheduled to wrap up by Friday — negotiators were stepping up efforts to narrow the gap over such vital issues as loss and damage and renewing a commitment made in 2015 to limit global warming to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels.

Egypt, the host country, appealed to negotiators to iron out their differences to meet the Friday deadline.

“I think we have a larger than normal number of lingering issues,” said Wael Aboulmagd, the special representative of the summit's Egyptian presidency.

“We would have hoped under the current circumstances to see more willingness to co-operate and accommodate than we are seeing.

“Some delegations are holding back work in a number of rooms. And we really hope that everyone, as we say it, rises to the occasion and appreciates that business as usual is not enough right now.”

Injecting a measure of impetus to the talks in Egypt, Group of 20 leaders, who ended a summit in Indonesia on Wednesday, expressed support for the 1.5°C ceiling on global temperature rises, phasing out coal and speeding up climate finance.

In Sharm El Sheikh, the Red Sea resort where the summit is being held, a timely boost came from an impassioned speech by Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who vowed to re-engage the rainforest nation with international efforts to fight climate change.

“Today, I am here to say that Brazil is ready to build a healthier planet,” he said. “Brazil is back.”

Loss and damage controversy

Loss and damage — climate parlance for rich nations bankrolling efforts to adapt to and mitigate the impact of climate change in developing nations — is continuing to hinder progress by negotiators and polarise the talks.

Rich nations, responsible for the vast majority of climate-warming emissions, are adamant that existing finance channels should be enough to cover loss and damage and may be expanded to meet growing demand for funds by developing nations, who are the least responsible for climate change.

On Wednesday, however, the European Union climate chief Frans Timmermans, said the bloc was providing €60 million towards climate change.

Another encouraging sign came from John Kerry, the US climate envoy, who said on Wednesday that his country and China are “fully engaged” in talks at the UN climate summit in Egypt.

Mr Kerry met China's top climate official Xie Zhenhua on Tuesday, signalling a return to communication between the two after Beijing put such talks on hold three months ago in retaliation for US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan.

Asked about the outcome of the meeting, Mr Kerry would only say: “We'll have to see, it’s a late start.”

China’s about-turn on climate negotiations with the US followed a partial thaw in relations between Washington and Beijing during the G20 meeting.

In their final communique, the G20 leaders declared their commitment to pursuing more ambitious limits on global warming — a positive development that prompted the representative of Egypt’s Cop27 presidency to welcome it.

There are signs that the rich nations’ position on loss and damage may be softening, but it remains to be seen whether a compromise is possible with only two days left until the summit’s conclusion.

Developing nations have for years been pressing wealthy nations for funds to deal with the damage they suffer due to climate change. This UN climate summit in Egypt was the first to include loss and damage on the agenda, a small but significant victory that was soon eclipsed by divisions over the issue.

The subject has gained additional urgency in recent months as many nations around the globe were hit by natural disasters, such as flooding that put a third of Pakistan underwater in August and widespread, lengthy droughts in parts of Africa.

Developing nations also want to see rich nations make good on financial pledges made at previous summits, particularly an annual $100 billion to help them cope with climate change.

Cabinet ministers have meanwhile started to descend on Egypt to throw their political weight behind the diplomats and technical officials who have so far been leading the negotiations.

Their hope is that compromises on the divisive issues can be reached by Friday to spare the planet calamitous levels of warming in coming decades if no agreement is reached.

Delegates have also been wrestling with other issues, such as whether to renew their countries’ milestone commitment to the 1.5ºC temperature rise limit

This year's two-week summit has also fallen victim to geopolitical issues.

EU delegates walked out of a speech on Tuesday by Russia's special climate representative, while a small group of Ukrainian and Polish activists briefly disrupted a Russian side event.

Updated: May 31, 2023, 1:22 PM