The UN agrees a climate fund for the poorest countries, but backtracks on the end of fossil fuels

The UN climate summit agreed to set up a landmark fund to pay for climate-related damages in the poorest countries after working past dawn in Egypt on Sunday, but backed away from further cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. and an end to the use of fossil fuels.

Nearly 200 countries at the summit made a breakthrough for a fund to cover the “loss and damage” that “particularly vulnerable” nations are suffering from climate change.

Negotiators agreed to set a structure for the next summit in 2023, with contributors and recipients yet to be determined.

African and other developing country leaders were jubilant over plans to establish the fund, which Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rehman described as “an investment in climate justice.”

However, in the final hours of the talks, which lasted from Saturday night to Sunday morning, the countries could not agree on provisions that would accelerate emissions cuts. A push to include phasing out all fossil fuels in the final deal also failed.

EU climate chief Frans Timmermans reflected the deep dissatisfaction felt by many countries with the result in a strident speech at the closing UN session, saying the result was “not enough of a step forward for the people and the planet”.

“We should have done a lot more. Our citizens expect us to lead. That means reduced emissions much more quickly,” she said. The EU had signed the agreement “reluctantly” and was disappointed to have to give up its position “to allow the process to move forward”.

Addressing the role of oil and gas-producing countries, led by Saudi Arabia, in protecting fossil fuel production, New Zealand’s climate change minister, James Shaw, said “there are still parties that are trapped in a state of denial or delusion about the state of the climate crisis.”

The EU had made a dramatic threat to withdraw on Saturday if the global deal was not enough to “keep 1.5 alive”, a phrase that became the mantra of the COP26 talks last year. It refers to the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming well below 2°C, and ideally 1.5°C, since pre-industrial times by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The push by dozens of countries to include a commitment to phase out all fossil fuels failed after staunch resistance from countries including Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Instead, the final agreement was changed at the last minute to include the need for “low emissions” power, which would allow for continued production of fossil fuels when combined with carbon capture technology to trap emissions.

UK climate chief Alok Sharma, president of COP26 in Glasgow, reflected exasperation over the lack of improvement in the effort to cut emissions.

“He is very much on life support – 1.5c,” he said Sunday morning. “We had to fight incredibly hard, relentlessly, it was like a battle, to make sure we preserved what we got in Glasgow. I am incredibly disappointed that we were not able to go further.”

Xie Zhenhua, China's special envoy for climate, and Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's climate change minister

Xie Zhenhua, China’s special envoy for climate, left, and Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s climate change minister, bump fists after the loss and damage fund that Rehman has relentlessly lobbied for was agreed © Peter Dejong/ PA

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the conference had been “obstructed by a number of big emitters and oil producers”.

“That this conference has not ended in total failure despite obstructions and organizational deficiencies is mainly due to a progressive alliance of states on all continents,” he said.

Asked about the criticism, Egypt’s COP27 ambassador Wael Aboulmagd said “everyone should be expected to do better” but countries were constrained by financial capacity.

UN Secretary General António Guterres praised the creation of a climate damage fund, but also expressed his dissatisfaction with the failure to meet global warming targets.

“Our planet is still in the emergency room. We need to drastically reduce emissions now, and this is a problem that this COP did not address,” she said. In the closing session, some speakers from developing countries, including Tuvalu, echoed his comments in moving closing statements.

“A loss and damage fund is essential, but it is not an answer if the climate crisis wipes out a small island state or turns an entire African country into a desert,” Gueterres added.

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