COP27 climate talks reach crunch time with big rifts remaining

  • UN chief tells faltering negotiations to "stand and deliver"
  • Limiting warming to 1.5C seen as vital to stop worst impacts
  • China's Xie and U.S. envoy Kerry meet
  • Wealthy countries fear endless liability for climate damage
  • Draft appears to soften language on fossil fuel subsidies

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Nov 17 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged world governments to "stand and deliver" a strong climate deal at the COP27 summit in Egypt on Thursday as negotiators remained far apart on key issues a day before the agreement's deadline.

The two-week conference at the seaside resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh is a test of global resolve to combat global warming as governments around the world are buffeted by crises ranging from a land war in Europe to sky-high consumer costs.

"Global emissions are at their highest level in history – and rising. Climate impacts are decimating economies and societies – and growing. We know what we need to do – and we have the tools and resources to get it done," Guterres told the conference.

"I am here to appeal to all parties to rise to this moment and to the greatest challenge facing humanity. The world is watching and has a simple message: stand and deliver."

"We are at crunch time in the negotiations."

The first draft of a deal, released Thursday morning, would keep a target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but leaves many of the most contentious issues in the talks unresolved ahead of the Friday deadline.

Among the most disputed points is whether to set up new fund that would benefit poor countries already feeling the impact of climate-driven storms, floods, droughts and wildfires - a key demand of developing nations.

The 20-page draft for a hoped-for final agreement "welcomes" the fact that delegates had for the first time begun discussions on the so-called loss and damage fund, but provided no details on the path forward to setting one up.

"If we can't agree on loss and damage, then I think this COP will not be a successful COP," said Nabeel Munir, a diplomat from flood-ravaged Pakistan and the lead negotiator for the G77 group of countries.

Wealthy nations, including the United States, have opposed creating a new loss and damage fund, fearing it could expose them to limitless liability for their historic contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

In his speech, Guterres said he hopes to see negotiators bridge their differences on loss and damage in a way that reflects the "urgency, scale and enormity of the challenge faced by developing countries."

"No one can deny the scale of loss and damage we see around the globe," he said. "The world is burning and drowning before our eyes."

He added he wanted to see countries commit to do more to reduce their emissions to achieve the 1.5°C limit on global warming that was agreed at last year's summit in Glasgow, including by restricting fossil fuel usage.

"Fossil fuel expansion is hijacking humanity," he said. "Any hope of meeting the 1.5 target requires a step change in emissions reductions."

He also urged developed countries to deliver on a past pledge to provide $100 billion per year to help poor nations adapt to climate change and switch to clean energy.

Highlighting frustrations over the talks so far, a delegation from Britain, the European Union and Canada met COP27 President Sameh Shoukry on Thursday to draw attention to gaps in the current negotiating texts and to express their view that the talks should not be allowed to fail.

"The COP27 presidency is working around the clock with the facilitating ministers to ensure a timely conclusion of all issues at hand,” said Shoukry. "I urge all parties to go the extra mile, to take the necessary steps, to reach the much-needed conclusions and agreements."

Brazil's President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, meanwhile, told delegates at the summit he would meet with Gutteres to discuss how the United Nations could be empowered to take stronger action on climate change.

“The forums of the United Nations cannot continue to be never-ending theoretical discussions," he said.

WHERE'S THE MONEY?

U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry held a closed-door meeting Thursday with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua at the summit in a sign of potential renewed climate cooperation between the world's two largest emitters.

"We're making progress. Let's let the talks continue," Kerry said as he left the meeting.

Xie later showed up at a ministerial meeting at the summit hosted by the United States and EU to discuss Beijing's policies for cutting emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

China and the United States had agreed earlier this week to resume their climate cooperation, after a hiatus due to diplomatic tensions over Taiwan, lifting the mood at the summit.

Concerns remained, however, that COP27 would fail to show much increase in global climate ambition.

The current COP27 draft deal, for example, repeats the Glasgow deal's request for countries to phase-down unabated coal power, despite an EU-backed proposal from India during the conference to expand that to all fossil fuels.

It also urges countries to "phase out and rationalize inefficient fossil fuel subsidies" - a slight tweak from the Glasgow deal, which had not included the word "rationalize".

"Instead of a reference to phasing out all fossil fuels, we have an even weaker version of the language around coal and fossil fuel subsidies than we got last year," said Catherine Abreu of the E3G non-profit think tank.

EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said the first draft left a lot to be desired.

"The cover text still needs a tremendous amount of work," he told Reuters. "So, we will continue the discussions and will give our input and hope that we can find this common ground before the end of the COP."

On limiting the global temperature rise, the document mirrors language included in last year's COP26 agreement to pursue "efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels."

Temperatures have already increased by 1.1°C and are projected to blow past 1.5°C without swift and deep cuts to emissions within this decade.

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Additional reporting from Dominic Evans, Valerie Volcovici, Kate Abnett, Gloria Dickie, Aiden Lewis, and Simon Jessop; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker

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Thomson Reuters

Writes about the intersection of corporate oil and climate policy. Has reported on politics, economics, migration, nuclear diplomacy and business from Cairo, Vienna and elsewhere.