SHARM EL-SHEIKH — Global climate talks in Egypt headed into their second half on Monday with plenty of uncertainty left over whether there’ll be a substantial deal to combat climate change.
Tens of thousands of attendees, including delegates from nearly 200 countries, observers, experts, activists and journalists, returned to the conference zone in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh after a one-day break.
The U.N.’s top climate official appealed for constructive diplomacy to match the high-flying rhetoric heard during the opening days of the talks.
“Let me remind negotiators that people and planet are relying on this process to deliver,” U.N. Climate Secretary Simon Stiell said.
“Let’s use our remaining time in Egypt to build the bridges needed to make progress,” he added, citing the goals of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) as agreed in the Paris climate accord, adapting to climate change, and providing financial aid to vulnerable nations trying to cope with its impacts.
What happens at the G-20 in Bali, as well as at a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping on the sidelines, will be crucial to what happens at the climate summit. If the G-20 makes progress on climate, it will be easier in Egypt, but if they backslide, especially on the 1.5 goal, it will undermine the climate summit, said Alden Meyer, a long-time observer of U.N. climate meetings with the environmental think tank E3G.
“What the two presidents decide in Bali will play directly into the endgame here in Sharm El-Sheikh,” he said.
A handshake between Biden and Xi was already noted positively by negotiators at COP, who are also looking to see whether the U.S. and China can resume formal talks on climate.
A key issue is whether the G-20 reiterate their commitment to the 1.5-degree climate goal that they made last year, when they declared it to be a G-20 goal as well. If there’s a push to drop it, it would be a setback for climate change fighting, Meyer said.
Last past climate conferences, COP27 is to put together a “cover decision,” an all-encompassing document that lays out the political goals and often gets name for the conference venue, like the Glasgow Climate Pact. But discussions on the cover decision have started late, Meyer said. Some nations don’t even want one, while others are pushing for a strong one, he said.
“The negotiators’ job is to not make any concessions until ministers come,” he said.
Some delegates were already talking about the possibility of a walkout by developing nations unless key demands for more aid to poor countries are met during the talks.
A major theme at the COP27 meeting has been a call for wealthy nations who benefited most from industrialization that contributed to global warming to do more to help poor countries who have contributed little to global emissions. Their demands include compensation for loss and damage from extreme floods, storms and other devastating effects of climate change suffered by developing countries.
“Now rich countries need to play their part,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director and lead economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“So this is going to be the litmus test of success at this COP, at COP27, that we get this loss and damage finance facility agreed here and that it’s up and running in two years,” Cleetus said at a press briefing.
The Group of Seven leading economies launched a new insurance system Monday to provide swift financial aid when nations are hit by devastating effects of climate change.
The so-called Global Shield is backed by the V20 group of 58 climate-vulnerable nations and will initially receive more than 200 million euros (dollars) in funding, mostly from Germany. Initial recipients include Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Fiji, Ghana, Pakistan, the Philippines and Senegal.
Ghana’s Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta called it “a path-breaking effort” that would help protect communities when lives and livelihoods are lost.
But civil society groups were skeptical, warning that the program should not be used as a way to distract from the much broader effort to get big polluters to pay for the loss and damage they’ve already caused with their greenhouse gases.
Poorer, vulnerable nations also want financing to help them shift to clean energy and for projects to adapt to global warming.
The Global Shield has “some useful elements but it’s not a substitute for a loss and damage finance facility,” Cleetus said, noting that rich countries have contributed millions of dollars, but developing nations need billions to deal with a hotter planet.
India made an unexpected proposal over the weekend for this year’s climate talks to end with a call for a phase down of all fossil fuels.
The idea is likely to get strong pushback from oil and gas-exporting nations, including the United States, which promotes natural gas as a clean ‘bridge fuel’ to renewables.
Two diplomats who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the proposal was yet to be officially debated said India could be trying to get payback for last year’s meeting, when it was publicly shamed for resisting a call to “phase out” coal. Countries compromised by calling for a vaguer “phase down” instead, which was nevertheless seen as significant because it was the first time a fossil fuel industry was put on notice.
The talks are due to wrap up Friday but could extend into the weekend if negotiators need more time to reach an agreement.