With a Friday deadline fast approaching, negotiators at the UN-led Cop27 in Egypt are working round the clock to hammer out a deal that would satisfy, if only partially, developing nations demanding “climate justice”.
The summit’s Egyptian hosts have been calling for a “meaningful outcome” of the 200-nation gathering.
Egypt cancelled the day's customary pair of news conferences on Thursday, a sign that all may not be well at the negotiation front.
The deadlock at the two-week, UN climate summit appears to be chiefly over “loss and damage,” a term that refers to the idea of rich nations — responsible for most gas emissions — providing funds to developing countries, which make a negligible contribution to climate change but are the hardest hit by its impact.
“It's going to be quite a long and difficult journey to the end of this process,” said Frans Timmermans, the EU top climate official and the European Commission's Vice President. “Today, I'm afraid I'm not sure yet where these talks will land.”
“We've shown openness and we hope others are going to do the same. If this Cop fails, we all lose. I don't think we have time to lose,” he said, of the standoff over loss and damage.
The impasse belies the existential threat faced by the planet as a result of climate change, with the findings of numerous studies revealed over the past two weeks showing beyond doubt that much must be done, and quickly.
This year alone, the world was hit by a series of disasters linked to climate change, from Pakistan's devastating floods and drought in the Horn of Africa to flooding in Nigeria, wildfires in California and the hottest summer on record in parts of Europe.
“We are at crunch time in the negotiations. It [Cop27] is closing in 24 hours and the parties remain divided,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told delegates at a plenary session late on Thursday.
“The world is burning and drowning before your eyes,” he said.
The Egyptian president of Cop27, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, reminded the delegates of the vows made by their national leaders in their speeches before the UN summit to do everything possible to save the planet.
“That political will needs to find its way to the negotiating rooms … I urge all parties to go the extra mile. The world is waiting to see the seriousness with which we tackle this matter,” he said.
The talks in Sharm El Sheikh, the Egyptian Red Sea resort where the climate summit is held, have since Wednesday been conducted by pairs of ministers, one from a developed nation and the other from a rich one, the idea being to provide the political balance necessary for compromise.
The US and its EU allies believe existing finance mechanisms should be sufficient and are proposing their expansion in some cases, rather than creating a new one dedicated to loss and damage.
Their position is partially rooted in the fear that a separate loss and damage body might evolve into a reparation scheme laden with notions of historical responsibility. They also argue that a new mechanism could take years to function whereas existing ones can swiftly deliver assistance.
The mainly western powers also want the money spent where it is most needed and not dispersed as funds to all countries affected by climate change.
On Thursday, the 27-nation EU, the world's third-largest gas emitter after the US and China, said the loss and damage debate was polarising the talks, pitting developing countries against the G7 and the rich industrialised world.
“The world can longer be divided between developing and developed worlds. The world is far more complex,” said Mr Timmermans.
“We have 48 hours left and at one point we will have to leave the technical discussions behind us and look for political common ground,” he said. “The last thing I want is an entrenched battle between the developing and developed worlds. We have no time to waste.”
The funding for countries affected by climate change must come from a “mosaic” of sources, including major emitters outside the EU and the US, according to Eamon Ryan, Ireland's environment minister.
Fossil fuel companies that have raked in massive profits since the global energy crisis, which followed Russia's February invasion of Ukraine, should also chip in to help developing nations hit by climate change, he told reporters on the sidelines of the talks in Egypt.
Developing nations are sticking to their guns.
Molwyn Joseph, Antigua and Barbuda's environment minister, said a loss and damage fund was the least to be expected at present.
“Anything less than establishing a loss and damage fund at this Cop is a betrayal of the people who are working so hard to clean up this environment and the people who are fighting for humanity, we cannot afford to miss this opportunity,” said Mr Joseph.
“I would like to appeal to all partners at this conference; let us not leave Cop27 without establishing the loss and damage fund.”
Separately, the negotiations are on track to reject calls for phasing down the use of all fossil fuels, frustrating efforts by India and major developed nations to target oil and gas, as well as coal, in an overarching deal at Cop27.
The Egyptian presidency has published the first draft of its so-called “cover decision”, largely keeping last year’s pledge at Glasgow to “accelerate measures towards the phasing down of unabated coal power” and phase out fossil fuel subsidies.
The draft, according to the Egyptian presidency, also renews a commitment made seven years ago in Paris to keep global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
The draft document also notes that many countries are falling well short on meeting the climate finance needs of developing countries.
The draft, which remains subject to revision and fresh input, is likely to anger anti-fossil fuel activists who have been pushing for a harsh stance on the issue.
Cop27 has attracted what activists say is an unprecedentedly high number of oil and gas executives and lobbyists.
“Acknowledging only the need to phase down coal while ignoring oil and gas is hugely problematic,” said Collin Rees, campaign manager at Oil Change International. “This predatory delay is out of line with the science and with 1.5°C.”
The draft document also acknowledges the energy crisis gripping the world, as concerns about fuel needs prompt countries to embrace more coal-fired power.
“The unprecedented global energy crisis underlines the urgency to rapidly transform energy systems to be more secure, reliable and resilient” as well as “the need to accelerate clean and just transitions to renewable energy”, the draft said.
In what appeared to be an isolated piece of good news from Cop27, the US and EU said on Thursday that more than 150 countries have now signed up to a global pact to reduce methane emissions, about 50 more than those signed on when the initiative was launched last year.
The pledge to cut emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas by 30 per cent this decade is seen as critical to global efforts to limit planetary warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, a threshold scientists insist must be maintained to avoid the worst of climate change.
With additional reporting by agencies