The outcome of key UN climate talks on Saturday hinged on tricky negotiations over global warming targets, after the EU dramatically threatened to withdraw from the tense COP27 summit earlier in the day.
National negotiators said progress was being made on the previously deadlocked issue of “loss and damage” funding by rich countries to poorer nations suffering the effects of climate change.
But Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s climate minister, said a deal would only be approved if it included measures that “keep 1.5 alive” – a phrase that became the mantra of last year’s COP26 talks in Glasgow.
It refers to a goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming well below 2°C from pre-industrial times and ideally 1.5°C by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
A group of countries known as the “High Ambitious Coalition” – which includes the UK, Germany and Spain – said Saturday night that both temperature targets and funding for losses and damage would need to be factored into the final COP27 deal.
“One without the other makes no sense, otherwise we would accept a catastrophe and not move forward to prevent the worst of climate change,” said Chilean Environment Minister Maisa Rojas.
The summit was due to end on Friday but was extended into the weekend as negotiators disagreed on key issues.
“We don’t want 1.5 °C to die here today,” said EU climate chief Frans Timmermans on Saturday when he presented an ultimatum.
“Everything is on the table, these are high stakes, capitals are called,” said a European diplomat.
The question of how countries would step up their emissions cuts remained at stake on Saturday, stoking concerns among some negotiators that the 1.5 degree target could be at risk.
“We’d rather have no decision than a bad decision,” Timmermans told reporters in Sharm el-Sheikh.
“All ministers . . . like me, are willing to walk away if we don’t have an outcome that lives up to what the world is waiting for, which is that we do something about this climate crisis,” he said.
China, Brazil and Saudi Arabia were among countries resisting increased measures to cut emissions, people with knowledge of the discussions said.
While climate COPs are always recalcitrant and rarely end on time, it is unusual for a large group of Western countries like the EU to threaten a strike at the last minute.
“Nobody should underestimate the EU’s exit threat,” said Romina Pourmokhtari, Sweden’s climate and environment minister. “There is nobody 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 use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.
COP27 President Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, said Saturday that the draft text of the final deal will keep the 1.5 degree target alive while taking a “holistic approach to addressing the challenges of climate change”.
Shoukry said there was “equal dissatisfaction in all areas,” but insisted the “vast majority” of parties would find a basis for an agreement.
“There’s never a perfect solution, but I’ve endeavored to lay the foundation from which we can move forward,” Shoukry said. “Reaching a point of convergence takes some effort.”
There were also concerns about how the Egyptian presidency is handling the summit. “I’ve never experienced anything like it: opaque, unpredictable and chaotic,” said one delegate.
The countries’ negotiating teams were only given a short time to review the updated texts for several important outstanding issues in the early hours of the morning; this is “not a common practice,” said an EU official.
Additional reporting by Pilita Clark and Emiliya Mychasuk in Sharm el-Sheikh
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