COP27: UN climate summit ends in discord after agreeing help for poor nations
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Poor countries suffering from the effects of climate change will get financial help from richer nations under a historic agreement by the UN on Sunday.
But the talks ended in discord after negotiators failed to reach a deal on greater cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and an end to fossil fuel use.
In fraught negotiations which over-ran their Friday deadline and took until Sunday morning to complete, almost 200 countries agreed to set up a fund to cover the “loss and damage” that “particularly vulnerable” nations are suffering from climate change.
Negotiators at the COP27 summit in Egypt agreed to set up the new structure by the time of the next annual summit in 2023; contributors and recipients will be determined by a committee of countries.
African and other developing world leaders were jubilant. Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rehman described it as “an investment in climate justice”.
The US shifted its long-held position to seal the deal; Joe Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry said Washington was “pleased” to support the new fund after it became clear there would be no legal liability.
However many of those involved in the talks expressed dismay at their failure to reach agreement on stepping up the pace of emissions cuts and a push to reduce the use of all fossil fuels after staunch resistance from countries including Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Instead, the final agreement included the need for “low-emission” energy — which would allow the continued production of fossil fuels when paired with carbon capture technology.
EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said the result was “not enough of a step forward for people and planet”.
“We should have done much more. Our citizens expect us to lead. That means far more rapidly reduced emissions,” he said.
On Saturday the EU threatened to walk out of the talks if the global agreement was not enough to “keep 1.5 alive” — a phrase that became the mantra of last year’s COP26 talks. It refers to the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming well below 2C, and ideally 1.5C, from pre-industrial times.
Timmermans said that in the end the EU had signed up to the deal “reluctantly” and was disappointed that it had to give up on its position “to allow the process to move forward”.
New Zealand’s minister for climate change James Shaw hit out at oil- and gas-producing countries which had sought to protect the production of fossil fuels. There were “still parties that are stuck in a state of denial or delusion about the state of the climate crisis”, he said.
The drive by dozens of countries to include a commitment to phase down all fossil fuels was unsuccessful after staunch resistance from countries including Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Instead, the final agreement was altered at the last minute to include the need for “low-emission” energy, which would allow the continued production of fossil fuels when paired with carbon capture technology.
UK climate chief Alok Sharma, the president of COP26 in Glasgow, said this year’s negotiators had “had to fight incredibly hard, relentlessly — it was like a battle — to make sure that we preserved what we got over the line in Glasgow [last year]”.
“I’m incredibly disappointed that we weren’t able to go further,” he said.
Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said the conference had been “stonewalled by a number of large emitters and oil producers”.
“That this conference did not end in utter failure despite the stonewalling and organisational shortcomings is mostly due to a progressive alliance of states across continents,” she said.
Kerry said the US would continue to press China to take bolder action on climate change, after the world’s two biggest polluters renewed negotiations last week.
UN secretary-general António Guterres praised the set-up of a fund for climate damage but also voiced his discontent with failure on global warming targets.
“Our planet is still in the emergency room. We need to drastically reduce emissions now — and this is an issue this COP did not address,” he said. Some speakers in the closing session, including the tearful representative for Tuvalu, echoed Guterres’ remarks in emotional final statements.
“A fund for loss and damage is essential — but it’s not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map — or turns an entire African country to desert,” Guterres added.
Asked about the criticism, Egypt’s COP27 ambassador Wael Aboulmagd said “everyone should be expected to do better” but countries were constrained by financial ability.
Where climate change meets business, markets and politics. Explore the FT’s coverage here.
Are you curious about the FT’s environmental sustainability commitments? Find out more about our science-based targets here