The UN secretary general, António Guterres, has flown to the attempted rescue of troubled climate talks in Egypt, warning of a “breakdown in trust” between rich and poor governments that could scupper hopes of a deal.
He urged countries reaching the final day of the Cop27 UN climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh to find common ground. “There has been clearly, as in past times, a breakdown in trust between north and south, and between developed and emerging economies,” he said. “This is no time for finger pointing. The blame game is a recipe for mutually assured destruction.”
Guterres appeared on Thursday alongside the Egyptian foreign minister and president of the talks, Sameh Shoukry, who gave a gloomy assessment of the state of negotiations with only one full day of official negotiating time to go.
“It is evidently clear that at this late stage of the Cop27 process, there are still a number of issues where progress remains lacking, with persisting divergent views among parties,” Shoukry said.
There are four key concerns: countries’ plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with limiting global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels; how to help poor countries adapt to the effects of the climate crisis; finance for poor countries to cut emissions and adapt to extreme weather; and loss and damage, which covers ways of helping countries afflicted by the worst ravages of climate disaster.
On each, Shoukry listed severe setbacks. “The mitigation work programme [on cutting emissions] is yet to reach the desired outcome. Adaptation is still held back by procedural matters. Ambitious outcomes on finance have not yet materialised. And on loss and damage, parties are shying away from taking the difficult political decisions,” he said.
Guterres – who in an interview with Guardian before Cop27 had warned that without a “historic pact” between rich and poor nations, “we are doomed” – appealed to governments.
“Send a clear signal that the voices of those on the frontlines of the crisis are finally being heard,” he said. “Reflect the urgency, scale and enormity of the challenge faced by so many developing countries. We cannot continue to deny climate justice to those who have contributed least to the climate crisis, and are getting hurt the most.”
The fortnight-long talks have just one more day to run before the official deadline of Friday evening, but are almost certain to go on into the weekend.
Earlier in the day, the Egyptian presidency released an early draft of a potential “cover text”, intended to list the talks’ key outcomes. The 20-page document listed resolutions on matters ranging from food and agriculture to youth representation. On the substantive issues, however, there were blanks, filled by “placeholder” text showing that no agreement was close.
It reflects the lack of progress made in reconciling rich and poor nations over how to pay for the rebuilding of countries ravaged by climate breakdown, known at the talks as loss and damage.
Many poor nations want a new funding facility that would collect and distribute cash quickly to afflicted areas. Rich countries, however, say they are willing to discuss ways to fund loss and damage, but are not convinced that a whole new funding facility is needed, as there are already several global climate finance institutions, of varying success.
Sir Molwyn Joseph, a government minister in Antigua and Barbuda and the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, said: “They [developed countries] say they understand our circumstances. If they understand our circumstances, why would they be reluctant [to set up a fund]?”
He said poor countries would lose faith in the UN talks. “There has to be a mechanism [for funding loss and damage]. Whether you call it a fund or a facility,” he said. “Failure to do so would establish a feeling of betrayal.”
Debate on the draft text was set to continue through Thursday night. One issue was whether to include language that acknowledged that the world needs to “phase down all fossil fuels”. The push, led by India and civil society groups, has gained momentum over the fortnight, garnering backing from the US, EU and UK. But it is opposed by Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
The draft text released by the Cop27 presidency on Thursday instead included a reference only to phasing down coal power, which was first agreed at Cop26 in Glasgow last year.
There were also concerns that the wording on the 1.5C goal was too weak. The UK’s president of last year’s summit, Alok Sharma, led a small delegation to the Egyptian presidency to urge a stronger commitment to holding temperatures within the 1.5C limit, beyond which the impacts of the climate crisis are likely to become catastrophic and in many cases irreversible. “Keeping 1.5C alive” was the key outcome of the Glasgow talks.
One developing country negotiator told the Guardian of concerns with the Egyptian presidency’s handling of the process of drafting a cover text. “I really don’t know if we will get a proper final text,” they said. “It will really depend on how far countries are willing to take things. Some might say unless there’s agreement on loss and damage, there’s no outcome.”
Rebecca Newsom, the head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said: “Success at Cop27 is now a test of political will. It is a test of whether world leaders will stand up for their citizens, for justice, and the environment upon which we all depend – or whether they will allow fossil fuel lobbyists and self-interest to prevail.”