The outcome of key United Nations climate talks hung on challenging negotiations over backtracking on global warming targets on Saturday, after the EU made a dramatic threat to pull out of the hard-fought COP27 summit.
Negotiators in the country said progress was being made on the previously stalled issue of “loss and damage” funding by rich countries for poorer nations suffering from climate change.
But Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s climate minister, said a deal would only be agreed if it contained measures that would “keep 1.5 alive” – a phrase that became the mantra of last year’s COP26 talks in Glasgow.
It refers to a goal in the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming well below 2C from pre-industrial levels, and ideally 1.5C, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
A group of countries known as the “coalition of high ambitions”, which includes Britain, Germany and Spain, said on Saturday night that both the heat targets and loss and damage funding needed to be reflected in the final COP27 agreement.
“One without the other does not make sense, otherwise we would be accepting disaster and not pushing forward towards avoiding the worst of climate change,” said Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s environment minister.
The summit was supposed to end on Friday but was extended over the weekend as negotiators were still at odds on key issues.
“We don’t want 1.5°C to die here today,” Frans Timmermans, the EU’s climate chief, said on Saturday as he set out the top demand.
“Everything is on the table, the stakes are high, capitals are being called,” said a European diplomat.
The question of how countries would increase their emissions cuts was at stake on Saturday, fueling concerns among some negotiators that the 1.5C target could be in jeopardy.
“We would rather have no decision than a bad decision,” Timmermans told reporters in Sharm el-Sheikh.
“All ministers. . . like I’m ready to leave if we don’t get a result that justifies what the world is waiting for, namely that we do something about this climate crisis,” he said.
China, Brazil and Saudi Arabia were among the countries that opposed the increased measures to reduce emissions, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.
In the eleventh session of the draft final agreement, countries including Saudi Arabia and Russia objected to the energy chapter, which deals with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing renewable energy.
Saudi Arabia wanted technology that would allow continued production of oil and gas, such as carbon capture, while Russia said it could “make the energy situation even worse.”
While climate action is always fragile and rarely ends on time, it is unusual for a major bloc of Western countries such as the EU to threaten to withdraw at the last minute.
“No one should underestimate” the EU’s threat to withdraw, said Romina Pourmokhtari, Sweden’s climate and environment minister. “There is nobody here who is ready to go back to our countries and explain to them why we took a step back.”
The organization has stressed the importance of building on last year’s Glasgow Climate Accord, which included a commitment to reduce the use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.
COP27 President Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, said on Saturday that the draft final agreement would keep the 1.5C target on track while taking a “holistic approach to addressing the challenges of climate change”.
Shoukry said there was “equal dissatisfaction on all sides” but insisted that the “vast majority” of the parties would find a basis for an agreement.
“There’s never a perfect solution, but it’s an effort I’ve made to create the foundation we can move forward on,” Shoukry said. “Achieving convergence requires some effort.”
There were also concerns about the Egyptian presidency’s handling of the summit. “I have never experienced anything like this: opaque, unpredictable and chaotic,” said one representative.
Country negotiating teams were given only a short time to review the updated text due to several key outstanding issues early in the morning; It was “not a normal procedure,” one EU official said.
Additional reporting by Emilia Mychasuk and Pilita Clark in Sharm el-Sheikh
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