Climate damage fund trumps 1.5C push as COP27 summit nears end

An attendee poses for a picture near a model earth during the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt November 19, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

An attendee poses for a picture near a model earth during the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt November 19, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

What’s the context?

Emerging deal likely to include "loss and damage" fund but efforts to phase down all fossil fuels still contested

-Weather extremes, rising seas help drive 'loss and damage' fund

-Ukraine war, rising debt complicate climate action

-Fossil fuel phase-out struggles in final hours of COP27

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt - In its closing hours, the COP27 climate talks appeared set to create a long-sought fund to tackle "loss and damage" from climate change but progress on cutting emissions and moving away from fossil fuels was proving hard to win, policy experts said.

A draft agreement at the summit in gas-rich Egypt emphasised the tough economic and geopolitical situation many countries face, even as they are battered harder by more extreme weather and threatened by rising seas.

The draft deal, which nearly 200 countries need to adopt by consensus, noted that "the impacts of climate change exacerbate the global energy and food crises, and vice versa, particularly in developing countries".

Simon Lewis, a professor of global change science at University College London, said economic pressures have grown on governments since COP26 in Glasgow, where countries were urged to ramp up efforts to limit global warming to the most-ambitious Paris Agreement goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The invasion of Ukraine by oil and gas giant Russia - sparking sanctions - has hiked energy prices while warming-fuelled disasters have added another layer of crisis, he said.

Worsening climate impacts, inflation and higher interest rates "make countries more indebted and in a difficult position - and that is all playing out" at the COP27 talks, he told journalists.

This year, countries from Pakistan to Nigeria have experienced unprecedented flooding, while more than 20 million people in the drought-hit Horn of Africa are mired in a grave hunger crisis, with some in Somalia on the edge of famine.

"This COP has emphasised climate impacts more than any other. The focus on loss and damage certainly reflects that," said David Waskow, director of the international climate initiative at the U.S.-based World Resources Institute.

"The increasingly severe impacts we are seeing around the world have really caught people's attention," he added.

Climate activists take part in a protest during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 19, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Climate activists take part in a protest during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 19, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Climate activists take part in a protest during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 19, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Loss and damage 'hope'

The ever-harsher effects of floods, droughts and storms on the world's poorest pushed a coalition of 134 developing countries at the talks to demand a fund to help them repair and recover from the losses they are experiencing.

That appears likely to be set up at COP27, although the details of how it will operate and who will pay into it will be left for governments to decide over the next year at least.

"The draft decision on loss and damage finance offers hope to the vulnerable people that they will get adequate help to recover from climate disasters and rebuild their lives," said Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy for Climate Action Network, an alliance of about 1,900 green groups.

The United States became increasingly isolated at the talks after initially refusing to back a fund, afraid it would be forced to pay compensation for its historically high emissions.

But it warmed to the idea after the European Union reversed its earlier reluctance and announced on Thursday it would support a fund, providing that countries also stepped up their efforts to reduce emissions and keep the 1.5C limit in reach.

Since COP26, only about 30 countries have strengthened their national plans to cut fossil fuel emissions.

Scientists say holding to the 1.5C limit would require cutting emissions 43% by 2030, but current trajectories suggest they will dip less than 1% below 2019 levels by then.

Average global temperatures have already risen more than 1.2C since preindustrial times.

The expected loss and damage agreement at COP27 makes clear a new fund would receive finance from a range of sources, such as development banks and innovative taxes, and would not be limited to contributions from wealthy industrialised countries.

A rift at the talk opened over calls from the EU and other donors for large-emitting emerging economies, especially China, to step up and pay into the fund.

But analysts said those discussions could come once the fund has been established and in the broader context of setting a new goal for climate finance, due to kick in from 2025.

A climate activist takes part in a protest, during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 19, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

A climate activist takes part in a protest, during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 19, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

A climate activist takes part in a protest, during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 19, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Fossil fuel omission?

Progress toward reducing fossil fuel use - and the resulting climate-warming emissions - was less clear in the proposed deal.

Governments including Britain, India, Colombia, small island states and the EU have pressed for agreement to phase down use of all "unabated" fossil fuels instead of just coal, as was agreed in Glasgow.

"Unabated" fuels are those whose emissions are not captured in some way to prevent them entering the atmosphere and adding to climate change.

The draft COP27 deal said surging global challenges, including ongoing recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, "should not be used as a pretext for backtracking, backsliding or de-prioritizing climate action".

But as the over-running summit headed into its final hours, wording on a fossil-fuel phase-down had yet to be included, with the text containing only the Glasgow call to reduce unabated coal.

Countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, with significant fossil fuel reserves, have said they plan to keep producing oil and gas to meet global demand, while some African countries are eyeing boosting exports, especially to Europe.

On Saturday, a coalition of "high-ambition countries" - including some small island states, Latin American and European nations - said governments must commit at COP27 to do more to slash emissions in line with the 1.5C goal, as well as agreeing a loss and damage fund.

Susana Muhamad, Colombia's environment minister, said the two things needed to happen together.

"One without the other doesn't make sense because otherwise we will be accepting catastrophe and not pushing forward towards avoiding the worst of climate change," she said in a press briefing.

Tom Evans, a policy advisor, with London-based think-tank E3G, said that if language on phasing down fossil fuels did not make it into the COP27 outcome, the urgency of addressing the problem would only ramp up next year.

Innovation is needed to speed climate action work, he said, whether turning to a windfall tax on fossil fuel profits to help pay for loss and damage or reforming global lending institutions such as the World Bank to better direct finance.

"There (are)... bigger questions about how we unblock the politics that seems to have led to a lot of foot-dragging and slow progress on limiting warming to 1.5C," he told journalists.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering.)


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