By SETH BORENSTEIN, SAMY MAGDY and FRANK JORDANS (Associated Press)
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — A last minute fight over emissions cutting and the overall climate change goal keeps delaying a potentially historic deal that would create a fund for compensating poor nations that are victims of extreme weather worsened by rich countries’ carbon pollution.
Final discussions were put off for several hours late Saturday and into the wee hours of Sunday morning. Delegates, activists and others tried to grab catnaps on couches and chairs as negotiators kept looking for solutions. Promised documents outlining potential agreements kept being more wishes than reality.
Bleary-eyed rumpled delegations began to fill the plenary room 4 a.m. local time Sunday but so far few if any of them had seen the key document they were scheduled to soon decide upon. The international meeting run by the Egyptian presidency amid a lot of criticism had gone into extended extra time and threatened to be overshadowed by the beginning of the World Cup, where the United Nations Secretary-General had already fled to.
Going into the final session, battle lines were drawn over India’s request to change last year’s agreement that called for a phase down of “unabated coal” to include a phase down of oil and natural gas, two other fossil fuels that produce heat-trapping gases. While European nations and others keep pushing for that language, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Nigeria have been insistent on keeping it out.
“We are extremely on overtime. There were some good spirits earlier today. I think more people are more frustrated about the lack of progress,” Norwegian climate change minister Espen Barth Eide told The Associated Press. He said it came down to getting tougher on fossil fuel emissions and retaining the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times as was agreed in last year’s climate summit in Glasgow.
“Some of us are trying to say that we actually have to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees and that requires some action. We have to reduce our use of fossil fuels, for instance,” Eide said. “But there’s a very strong fossil fuel lobby … trying to block any language that we produce. So that’s quite clear.”
Several cabinet ministers from across the globe told the AP Saturday that agreement was reached on a fund for what negotiators call loss and damage. It would be a big win for poorer nations which have long called for cash — sometimes viewed as reparations — because they are often the victims of climate disasters despite having contributed little to the pollution that heats up the globe.
The loss and damage deal was a high point on Saturday.
“This is how a 30-year-old journey of ours has finally, we hope, found fruition today,” said Pakistan Climate Minister Sherry Rehman, who often took the lead for the world’s poorest nations. One-third of her nation was submerged this summer by a devastating flood and she and other officials used the motto: “What went on in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan.”
The United States, which in the past has been reluctant to even talk about the issue of loss and damage, “is working to sign on,” said an official close to negotiations.
If an agreement is accepted it still needs to be approved in a unanimous decision Sunday. But other parts of a deal, outlined in a package of proposals put out earlier in the day by the Egyptian chairs of the talks, are still being hammered out as negotiators head into what they hope is their final session.
There was strong concern among both developed and developing countries about proposals on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, known as mitigation. Officials said the language put forward by Egypt backtracked on some of the commitments made in Glasgow aimed at keeping alive the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. The world has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the mid 19th century.
Some of the Egyptian language on mitigation seemingly reverted to the 2015 Paris agreement, which was before scientists knew how crucial the 1.5 degree threshold was and heavily mentioned a weaker 2-degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) goal, which is why scientists and Europeans are afraid of backtracking, said climate scientist Maarten van Aalst of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.
Ireland’s Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said: “We need to get a deal on 1.5 degrees. We need strong wording on mitigation and that’s what we’re going to push.”
Still, the attention centered around the compensation fund, which has also been called a justice issue.
“There is an agreement on loss and damage,” Maldives Environment Minister Aminath Shauna told the AP early Saturday afternoon after a meeting with other delegations. “That means for countries like ours we will have the mosaic of solutions that we have been advocating for.”
New Zealand Climate Minister James Shaw said both the poor countries that would get the money and the rich ones that would give it are on board with the proposed deal.
It’s a reflection of what can be done when the poorest nations remain unified, said Alex Scott, a climate diplomacy expert at the think tank E3G.
“I think this is huge to have governments coming together to actually work out at least the first step of … how to deal with the issue of loss and damage,” Scott said. But like all climate financials, it is one thing to create a fund, it’s another to get money flowing in and out, she said. The developed world still has not kept its 2009 pledge to spend $100 billion a year in other climate aid — designed to help poor nations develop green energy and adapt to future warming.
“The draft decision on loss and damage finance offers hope to the vulnerable people that they will get help to recover from climate disasters and rebuild their lives,” said Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International.
The Chinese lead negotiator would not comment on a possible deal. European negotiators said they were ready to back the deal but declined to say so publicly until the entire package was approved.
The Egyptian presidency, which had been under criticism by all sides, proposed a new loss and damage deal Saturday afternoon and within a couple hours an agreement was struck but Norway’s Eide said it was not so much the Egyptians but countries working together.
According to the latest draft, the fund would initially draw on contributions from developed countries and other private and public sources such as international financial institutions. While major emerging economies such as China would not initially be required to contribute, that option remains on the table and will be negotiated over the coming years. This is a key demand by the European Union and the United States, who argue that China and other large polluters currently classified as developing countries have the financial clout and responsibility to pay their way.
The planned fund would be largely aimed at the most vulnerable nations, though there would be room for middle-income countries that are severely battered by climate disasters to get aid.
Wanjohi Kabukuru, David Keyton, Theodora Tongas and Kelvin Chan contributed to this report.