With just hours to reach an international climate deal, US climate chief John Kerry tested positive for Covid-19 at the United Nations COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, his spokesman Whitney Smith said.
Smith said in a statement that Kerry is “experiencing mild symptoms” and is self-isolating at the summit. As the talks reach a critical stage, he is “working by phone with his negotiating team and overseas colleagues to ensure a successful outcome of COP27.”
It’s bad timing for the illness of the chief US climate negotiator; The last Friday of the annual summit is always the crucial time for negotiators to reach an agreement that nearly 200 nations can agree to. But this year the issues are particularly thorny — the US is a key holdout on the critical issue of a Losses and Damages Fund that would help developing countries and the world’s most vulnerable countries recover from climate-related disasters they are credited with causing contributed little.
Loss and damage is not the only open problem. World leaders at COP27 are also frantically trying to reach an agreement that would secure the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
Just hours before the Sharm el-Sheikh summit officially ended on Friday – and while the conference venue was being dismantled around negotiators – this year’s COP President Sameh Shoukry said he was “concerned” about the progress of the summit so far.
“I remain concerned about the number of outstanding issues, including finance, mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and their interrelationships,” Shoukry said at the conference.
“Today we have to switch back. Time is not on our side,” he added.
The Egyptian COP Presidency was relaxed about Covid-19 at the conference. Organizers did not require attendees to be vaccinated upon registration or to show a negative Covid-19 test, although they “strongly recommended” that attendees be updated on their vaccinations prior to arrival.
Masks were also totally optional and rarely seen in the hall – although the number of people wearing them has increased noticeably in recent days.
As the number of people testing positive grew and word of a possible outbreak spread, more and more participants began to dress up. But even on Friday, when news of Kerry’s positive test broke, most people remained without a mask.
The Chinese delegation distinguished itself by strictly requiring anyone entering the country’s pavilion to dress up and disinfect their hands.