COP27 gets chaotic with mysterious draft text, elusive president

(Bloomberg) — Diplomats from rich and poor countries, nonprofit observers, and activists gathering in Egypt for the UN-sponsored climate talks are in the unusual position of agreeing on one thing: This is chaos. There is collective exasperation among those present at the COP27 summit at the status of the talks essential to advancing humanity’s fight against climate change as the summit nears its conclusion.

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Deputies in the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh awoke Thursday, just a day before the meeting’s official end, to a 20-page document outlining a wide range of proposals for the “cover decision,” the political statement outlining the goals and commitments that must be agreed upon by all climate negotiators.

The Presidency document confused delegations and was mistaken for a draft of the final statement until Egyptian officials made it clear that it was just a collection of ideas. Still, the document came out late in the process, lacked key demands from some countries and contained statements that outraged others, several delegates and observers told Bloomberg.

“This is going to be quite a long and difficult journey – I’m not sure where these talks will end,” Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s climate chief, told journalists in Sharm El-Sheikh on Thursday. “If this COP fails, we all lose, we have absolutely no time to lose.”

Broad declarations ratified by the nearly 200 countries that make up the Conference of the Parties’ annual climate meeting serve as the basis for climate action worldwide. In 2015, countries signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming below 2°C or close to 1.5°C by the end of the century, from the pre-industrial era to keep. Egypt’s COP27 presidency did not aim for an ambitious cover text and instead focused on the “implementation” of existing agreements – but little progress was made there either.

“It was good to have the first days as days of implementation,” Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Peru’s former environment minister and president of COP20 in Lima, said during a speech on the sidelines of COP27. “These last two days are for making decisions – this COP has to deliver results and we’re not seeing that yet.”

At the conference, frustration with the Egyptian presidency grew after a slow first week marred by fears of state oversight and difficulties in getting food, water and shelter. While informal negotiations on the key issue of loss and damage began ahead of the summit, other talks did not formally start until earlier this week, with the presidency appointing pairs of ministers to negotiate key points much later than usual.COP27 president and Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry has notably been absent from the process, both publicly during press conferences and behind closed doors during meetings with ministers and delegations. Several delegates questioned Shoukry’s hands-off approach, as well as the Egyptian presidency’s lack of direction and preparation ahead of the meeting.

Meeting with Shoukry on Thursday, COP26 President Alok Sharma, Timmermans and Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault stressed the need to ensure the outcome of COP27 is ambitious, a senior country official said.

“Whatever print run you’ve seen is still being worked on and I don’t think you should jump to conclusions,” Shoukry told the Bloomberg New Economy Forum via video link Thursday morning. “We are still in a phase of deliberations to see how best to provide a coverage decision that meets the interests of the parties and does not involve any withdrawal or waiver of previous commitments.”

Certainly, individual negotiating countries also bear responsibility, experienced COP observers said.

“Clearly waiting late in the game to get started on the cover text and engaging ministers was the presidency’s decision,” said Alden Meyer, a senior associate at E3G. “But part of it is the games that other countries – both developed and developing – are playing in this process of taking negotiating hostages and holding their cards until the very last minute.”

In the grand hall of COP27, where delegates from the country gathered in the presence of observers on Thursday morning, anger grew over a presidency that has heavily curtailed demonstrations that traditionally made COP rallies a lively affair. Videos on social media showed hundreds of people standing and applauding at the end of the plenary session – usually just a technical update on the negotiations – chanting ‘Free Alaa, free them all’ in reference to prominent activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah and the thousands of political prisoners languishing in Egyptian prisons without due process.

Outside, hundreds of climate activists staged a sit-in calling for climate justice and climate reparation at the largest demonstration at COP27 to date.

“Come on”

The Presidency’s text, a version of which is expected to be turned into an official statement sometime this week, made no reference to phasing out oil and gas alongside coal, a move that would be seen as significant progress on the deal of last year in Glasgow, coal-fired power plants will continue to be phased out. The push led by India received support from the EU, UK and US, as reported by Bloomberg News.

Developing countries calling for a compensation mechanism for the effects of climate-induced extreme weather events – known as loss and damage – were outraged by the lack of references to a fund, facility or mechanism in the text.

“We were promised an implementation COP that would meet the needs of developing countries,” said Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s climate change minister, who chairs the G77 group of developing countries. “Climate justice delay will be climate justice denial.”

Another part of the document circulated Thursday morning suggested that poor countries can only reduce emissions with contributions from the developed world. E3G’s Meyer said those countries need support for decarbonization at the pace science demands, but making funding dependent on mitigation is inconsistent with the Paris agreement and only “stirring passions.”

Perhaps one of the strangest references in the text was a line asking that rich countries drastically decarbonise this decade and “achieve net negative carbon emissions by 2030” – language that blindsided developed countries.

“It is always good to call on developed countries to accelerate,” said Timmermans. “But let’s be realistic, come on.”

–With help from Laura Millan Lombrana.

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