SETH BORENSTEIN, SAMY MAGDY and FRANK JORDANS (Associated Press)
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — For the first time, the nations of the world have decided to help pay for the damage an overheating world is doing to poor countries, but ended a marathon of climate talks Sunday without further addressing the root cause of these disasters — the burning of fossil fuels.
The deal, struck at dawn in this Egyptian Red Sea resort, sets up a fund to cover what negotiators call losses and damages.
It’s a big win for poorer countries that have long been demanding cash – sometimes seen as reparations – as they often fall victim to climate-destroying floods, droughts, heatwaves, famine and storms, despite contributing little to the pollution that is heating up. .
It has also long been called the issue of equality between peoples affected by extreme weather and small island states facing existential threats from rising seas.
“Three long decades and we have finally delivered climate justice,” said Seve Paeniu, Tuvalu’s finance minister. “We have finally responded to the appeal of hundreds of millions of people around the world to help them recover from loss and damage.”
Pakistan’s Environment Minister Sherry Rehman said setting up the fund “is not about handing out handouts”.
“This is clearly an advance on a longer-term investment in our common future,” she said, speaking on behalf of the world’s poorest coalition.
Molwyn Joseph of Antigua and Barbuda, who chairs the Organization of Small Island States, described the agreement as “a victory for our whole world.”
“We showed those who felt neglected that we hear you, see you and show you the respect and care you deserve,” he said.
The deal followed a game of fighting climate change over fossil fuels.
Early Sunday morning, delegates approved a compensation fund but did not address controversial issues over the overall temperature target, emissions reductions and the desire to phase out all fossil fuels. In the early hours of the night, the European Union and other nations fought what they saw as a deviation from the overarching deal of the Egyptian Presidency and threatened to disrupt the rest of the process.
The package was revised again, removing most of the elements that Europeans objected to, but adding nothing of the heightened ambition they had hoped for.
“What we have ahead of us is not enough of a step forward for people and the planet,” a disappointed Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the European Union, told his fellow negotiators. “It does not bring enough additional efforts from major emitters to increase and accelerate their emission reductions.
“We have all failed to act to avoid and minimize loss and damage,” said Timmermans. “We should have done much more.”
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also expressed frustration.
“It is more than frustrating to see overdue mitigation and phase-out steps being blocked by many major oil emitters and producers,” she said.
The agreement makes a veiled reference to the benefits of natural gas as a low-carbon energy, even though many countries are calling for a phase-out of natural gas, which contributes to climate change.
While the new deal doesn’t bolster calls for emissions reductions, it retains language to keep the global goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) alive. The Egyptian presidency continued to come up with proposals that harkened back to the 2015 Paris language, which also mentioned a looser 2 degree target. The world has already warmed 1.1 degrees (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.
The deal also does not extend last year’s call for a gradual reduction in global consumption of “relentless coal”, despite India and other countries pushing for oil and natural gas to be included in the language of Glasgow. This too has been the subject of last-minute debate, particularly annoying to Europeans.
During last year’s climate talks, the president chided the summit’s leaders for undermining his efforts to cut emissions by making an emphatic list of what hasn’t been done.
“We have joined with many parties to propose a range of measures that would help peak emissions before 2025, as science tells us this is necessary. Not in this text,” said Alok Sharma from the UK, emphasizing the last part. “A clear continuation of the coal phase-out. Not in this text. A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels. Not in this text. And the energy text has weakened in the final minutes.
In his remarks to negotiators, UN climate chief Simon Stiell, who is from Grenada, called on the world “to move away from fossil fuels, including oil and gas.”
However, this fight was overshadowed by the historic compensation fund.
“A lot of positives to celebrate amid the gloom and doom” of not cutting emissions fast enough to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, said climatologist Maarten van Aalst of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Center, which responds to climate disasters.
This is a reflection of what can be done when the poorest nations remain united, said Alex Scott, an expert on climate diplomacy at the E3G think tank.
“I think it’s huge for governments to come together to actually work out at least the first step … how to deal with the problem of loss and damage,” Scott said. But as with all financial climate funds, it’s one thing to set up a fund and another thing to have money flowing in and out, she said. The developed world has still not kept its 2009 promise to spend $100 billion a year on other climate aid – designed to help poor nations develop green energy and adapt to future warming.
Next year’s talks will also see further negotiations to work out the details of a new loss and damage fund, as well as a review of global efforts to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, which scientists say are beyond reach.
Under the agreement, the fund would initially be based 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 automatically have to contribute, this option remains valid. This is a key demand from the European Union and the United States, which argue that China and other large polluters, now classified as developing countries, have the financial power and obligation to pay.
The fund would largely target the most vulnerable countries, although there would be room to get help for middle-income countries that have been severely hit by climate disasters.
Martin Kaiser, head of Greenpeace Germany, described the loss and damage agreement as “a small band-aid on a huge open wound”.
“It is scandalous that the Egyptian COP presidency has given petrostats like Saudi Arabia the space to torpedo effective climate protection,” he said.
Many climate activists fear that pushing for decisive action to end the use of fossil fuels will be even harder at next year’s meeting in Dubai, located in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.
Wanjohi Kabukuru, David Keyton, Theodora Tongas and Kelvin Chan contributed to this report.
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