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SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — European Union ministers here on Saturday threatened to pull out of global climate talks, with officials accusing China and Saudi Arabia of weakening the deal.
“All ministers are, as they told me – like myself – ready to walk away if we don’t have an outcome that lives up to what the world is waiting for,” EU climate chief Frans Timmermans told reporters, escalating tense talks, who have already been running overtime.
Flanked by the 13 EU ministers who were still present at the talks, Timmermans told a crowd of reporters on Saturday that the EU was “concerned about some of the things we’ve seen and heard over the last few hours” that he thinks according to the global goal of limiting endangering warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“A good decision means we stay on course to keep 1.5 alive,” he said. “We don’t want 1.5 degrees to die here.”
Irish Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said the start of the talks crystallized on Saturday morning when ministers read out a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which said a further 420 million people would be exposed to extreme heat and 270 million would suffer from water shortages. if instead the world warmed by 2 degrees Celsius from 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“We have a very tight schedule. And we have to be faster now. But not fast toward a bad outcome,” Ryan said as venue staff packed the conference around the media crowd. “Not fast when it comes to accepting something that we then regret for years – that every year afterwards we say, ‘If only we had held the fort in Sharm El-Sheikh.’ ”
In the early hours of Saturday, EU negotiators were invited by the Egyptians chairing the talks to consider a draft of the final COP27 deal.
Timmermans said the deal, as proposed, “stepped back” from previous agreements.
Dutch Climate Minister Rob Jetten said their proposals to step up efforts to reduce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions had been broadly rejected.
A sentence read to reporters by an EU official, if accepted, would prevent a program designed to drive emissions cuts from ever pressuring higher national climate targets or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).
“The most important thing is that all countries commit to updating NDCs and making sure you actually show that your NDC is also helping us keep a degree and a half alive,” Jetten told POLITICO.
Egyptian COP27 President Sameh Shoukry defended the text in a press conference on Saturday, saying it had “minor” changes and was an attempt to accommodate various parties. He said the text keeps the 1.5 degree target within reach.
A European official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, accused the Egyptian presidency of working on behalf of a coalition of developing countries that included China and Saudi Arabia. Two others confirmed that China and Saudi Arabia were blocking.
Timmermans said the EU made more compromises than any other nation during the two-week negotiations. The EU this week offered a vision for channeling funds to vulnerable countries suffering the irreversible effects of a warming planet, breaking with previous resistance to the idea.
Now it’s time for others to move, Timmermans said.
“Think of where we were just a few months ago – nobody wanted this on the agenda at all,” Timmermans said. “Now we’re talking about … setting up a fund. And that is a movement that comes from us. And I think that should be reciprocated from the other side.”
The battle over these payments, known as Loss and Damage, has been the focus of talks in Egypt.
The EU’s broadsides amounted to a veiled shot at China and a group of developing countries with which it is negotiating. These nations have backed a separate scheme that would send payments to all developing countries, while the EU proposal focuses on the most vulnerable. It would also expand who pays into the fund, meaning that countries that have gotten wealthier over the last few decades can be expected to contribute.
Rich economies like the EU have garnered little goodwill. An Egyptian official argued this week that the EU and other rich countries are to blame for poorer countries’ lack of will because they failed to live up to their own financial pledges made last year.
Ryan told reporters that the goal of the EU proposal is not to split. “The definition of vulnerability is not limited to just one category or group of countries,” he said. “There are middle-income and high-income countries that will need this fund on occasion.”
The US, another long-time denier of paying countries for climate damage, has warmed to the idea, according to draft text of a proposal that has yet to be formally submitted to Egypt’s UN presidency.
Timmermans said the US had played a “constructive role,” adding, “I have to say I have no complaints.”