COP27: How politics put climate on back-burner at fraught summit

Updated on Nov 21, 2022 04:59 AM IST

The COP27 summit was meant to fine-tune the details of how interventions and commitments would be translated into reality, but soon became fraught after rifts began to emerge

Delegates applaud after COP27 president Sameh Shoukry delivers a statement during the closing plenary at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt on Sunday (REUTERS)
Delegates applaud after COP27 president Sameh Shoukry delivers a statement during the closing plenary at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt on Sunday (REUTERS)
ByJayashree Nandi

Several countries and blocs involved in negotiations at the UN Climate Conference (COP27) sought to reopen texts that had already been agreed upon and leaked discussions that were not held widely among parties, people who were part of the 13-day talks that culminated on Saturday said.

The conference, with the tagline “together for implementation”, was meant to fine-tune the details of how interventions and commitments would be translated into reality, but soon became fraught after rifts began to emerge, at one point even collapsing when the European Union threatened to walk out.

Negotiators who were part of the discussions said on Sunday that behind closed doors were more controversial moves.

For instance, one of these people said, Switzerland intervened to seek changes in the loss and damage funding facility text hours after a draft including it was released on Friday afternoon. The particular issues predates the convention, the expert said. “The rich countries only want to escape historical responsibility and pass on the burden to others. Switzerland’s main contention is it wants stronger language on 1.5°C goal in the loss and damage facility text, which means it wants higher mitigation goals for everyone, including the developing countries,” said this person, asking not to be named.

Negotiators who were part of the discussions said on Sunday that behind closed doors were more controversial moves.
Negotiators who were part of the discussions said on Sunday that behind closed doors were more controversial moves.

The issue has gone back to the question of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), a fundamental principle agreed upon years ago that rich nations must bear a larger burden of tackling climate change since they spewed more emissions over the decades, and poorer countries are now left with far less headroom for emissions that their energy needs will lead to. “They want us to clean up the mess that led to 1.1°C warming,” said a developing country negotiator, referring to the warming already recorded.

All developed countries pushed for stronger language on “phasing out” of fossil fuels, as against “phasing down”, said negotiators.

Saudi Arabia pushed for a mention of carbon capture in the text and said energy sources (fossil fuels) should not be mentioned but only emissions be identified for action. US too sought stronger language on “phaseout” of fossil fuels, according to negotiators.

On Friday around midnight, the US, EU, Australia, New Zealand shared a draft proposal on matters related to the loss and damage fund, with the text stating that the funding arrangements would attract contributions from a wide variety of parties and sources, including public and private. It also noted that keeping the global temperature rise to below 1.5°C will be essential to limiting future L&D.

The draft also proposed the funding arrangement to be such that only developing countries that are “particularly vulnerable” to the adverse effects of climate change in responding to L&D. “This draft was leaked to some media and it was done in bad faith. There was no discussion on the proposal. We do not even consider it a proposal,” said a developing country negotiator who was at the negotiations overnight on Friday.

But issues around L&D had resolved by Saturday afternoon, with parties finding a compromise around contentious issues. “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,” Harjeet Singh, head of Global Political Strategy, Climate Action Network International, said earlier in the day.

“The USA, UK, EU & Switzerland are taking #COP27 to point of collapse by now backing out of #LossAndDamageFund - they want to extract even heavier price from developing countries - not sure what else they want. They aren’t cutting emissions, or providing finance,” tweeted Asad Rehman, director of War on Want.

The closing plenary of COP27, which was scheduled to be at 6pm (though not announced formally), was delayed to 9pm and then to after midnight while consultations continued.

Since week 2, the mistrust and divisions among the rich and developing countries became intense. The main issues, negotiators said, revolved around rich nations pushing to open donor base for climate finance, which would mean possibly including countries like China and India as donors for L&D, adaptation etc.

“This effort basically obscures historical responsibility and bring developed and emerging economies at the same level. This game is not good,” said an observer from India.

The High Ambition Coalition, an informal group of approximately 61 countries like Canada, Norway, UK etc made a statement on Saturday evening demanding strengthening of the text from the mitigation point of view.

“We cannot backslide on the Glasgow Climate Pact. If this is to truly be an implementation COP we must start the work on phasing out fossil fuels, and implementing bold transformation toward net zero,” said Alok Sharma, COP26 President, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in a statement.

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