Dispute over global warming target leaves UN climate deal hanging in the balance

The outcome of key UN climate talks hinged on crucial negotiations over rolling back global warming targets on Saturday, after the EU made a dramatic threat to withdraw from the COP27 summit.

National negotiators said progress was being made on the previously stalled issue of financing “loss and damage” by rich countries for poorer nations suffering from the effects of climate change.

But Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s climate minister, said a deal would only pass if it included measures to “keep 1.5 alive,” a phrase that became the mantra at last year’s COP26 talks in Glasgow.

It refers to a 2015 Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming to well below 2°C since pre-industrial times, and ideally to 1.5°C, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A group of countries known as the “high ambition coalition”, which includes the UK, Germany and Spain, said late Saturday that both temperature targets and loss and damage financing needed to be reflected in the final deal for the COP27.

“One without the other is meaningless, otherwise we would be accepting the catastrophe and not moving forward to avoid the worst of climate change,” said Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s environment minister.

Marshall Islands climate envoy Tina Stege, flanked by Britain’s Alok Sharma, right, and Germany’s Jennifer Morgan, left, among others in the so-called high-ambition coalition © SEDAT SUNA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The summit was due to end on Friday but was extended into the weekend as negotiators continued to disagree on key issues.

“We don’t want 1.5C to die here today,” EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said on Saturday, as he issued an ultimatum.

“Everything is on the table, the stakes are high, capitals are being called,” said a European diplomat.

The question of how countries would increase their emissions cuts was still up for grabs on Saturday, fueling concerns among some negotiators that the 1.5C target could be in jeopardy.

“We would rather have no decision than a bad decision,” Timmermans told reporters in Sharm el-Sheikh.

“All the ministers. . . Like me, we are prepared to walk away if we don’t have an outcome that does justice to what the world is waiting for, namely that we do something about this climate crisis,” he said.

Sun Zhen, China’s deputy director general for climate change, is at the COP talks. China is one of the countries resisting the EU proposals © AP

China, Brazil and Saudi Arabia were among the countries that resisted further action to cut emissions, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

While climate COPs are always contentious and rarely end on time, it is unusual for a large group of Western countries, such as the EU, to threaten strike action at the last minute.

“No one should underestimate” the EU’s threat to withdraw, said Romina Pourmokhtari, Sweden’s climate and environment minister. “There is no one here who is willing to go back to our countries and explain to them why we took a step back.”

The bloc has stressed the importance of building on last year’s Glasgow Climate Pact, which included a commitment to reduce the use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

COP27 President Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, said on Saturday that the draft text of the final deal would keep the 1.5C target alive while taking a “holistic approach to meeting the challenges of climate change.”

Shoukry said there was “equal dissatisfaction from all quarters” but insisted the “vast majority” of the parties would find a basis for an agreement.

“There is never a perfect solution, but I have made an effort to provide the foundation on which we can move forward,” Shoukry said. “Getting to a point of convergence takes a little bit of effort.”

There were also concerns about how the Egyptian presidency was handling the summit. “I have never experienced anything like this: opaque, unpredictable and chaotic,” said one delegate.

Country negotiating teams were given little time to review updated texts on several key outstanding issues in the early hours of the morning; this was “not standard procedure,” an EU official said.

Additional reporting by Emiliya Mychasuk and Pilita Clark in Sharm el-Sheikh

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