EU threatens COP27 walkout over weak deal

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SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — European Union ministers threatened to walk out of global climate talks here Saturday, with officials blaming China and Saudi Arabia for weakening the deal. 

“All ministers, as they have told me — like myself — are prepared to walk away if we do not have a result that does justice to what the world is waiting for,” EU climate envoy Frans Timmermans told reporters, escalating tense talks that have already run into overtime.

Flanked by the 13 EU ministers still present at the talks, Timmermans told a pack of reporters on Saturday that the EU is “worried about some of the things we have seen and heard” in recent hours, which he said jeopardizes the global goal to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

“A good decision means that we remain on track to keep 1.5 alive,” he said. “We do not want 1.5 Celsius to die here.”

Ireland Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said the stakes of the talks crystallized Saturday morning when ministers read an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that said an additional 420 million people would face extreme heat and 270 million would endure water scarcity if the world warmed 2 degrees Celsius instead of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“We’re on a very tight timeline. And we have to be faster now. But not fast towards a bad result,” Ryan said, as venue staff packed up the conference around the media scrum. “Not fast in terms of accepting something that we then spend years regretting — that every year afterwards we say ‘If only we had held the line in Sharm El-Sheikh.’ ”

In the early hours of Saturday morning, EU negotiators were invited to review a draft of the final COP27 deal by the Egyptians leading the talks. 

Timmermans said the deal, as proposed, “stepped back” from earlier agreements.

Dutch Climate Minister Rob Jetten said that across the board their suggestions for bolstering efforts to cut dangerous greenhouse gas emissions had been rejected.

One phrase, read out to reporters by an EU official, would, if accepted, block a program meant for driving emissions cuts from ever resulting in pressure for higher national climate targets, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). 

“The most crucial thing is that all countries commit themselves to updating NDCs, making sure that you actually showcase that your NDC is also helping us to keep one and a half degrees alive,” Jetten told POLITICO. 

Egyptian COP27 President Sameh Shoukry defended the text in a Saturday press conference, saying it has “minor” amendments and is an attempt to accommodate various parties. He said the text keeps the 1.5 degree Celsius goal within reach.

EU climate envoy Frans Timmermans speaks to reporters in Sharm El-Sheikh | Karl Mathiesen/POLITICO

One European official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, accused the Egyptian presidency of working on behalf of a coalition of developing countries that included China and Saudi Arabia. Two others confirmed China and Saudi Arabia were blocking.

Timmermans said that the EU has done more compromising than any nation at the two-week-long negotiations. The EU offered a vision this week for steering money to vulnerable countries suffering from irreversible effects of a warming planet, breaking with past resistance to the idea.

Now it’s time for others to move, Timmermans said.

“Remember where we were only a couple of months ago — nobody even wanted this on the agenda,” Timmermans said. “Now we are talking about … establishing a fund. And that is a movement that came from us. And I think that should be reciprocated by the other side.”

The fight over those payments, known as loss and damage, has taken center stage at the talks in Egypt. 

The EU’s broadsides amounted to a veiled shot at China and a group of developing countries it negotiates with. Those nations have backed a separate concept that would send payments to all developing countries, while the EU proposal focuses on the most vulnerable. It also would expand who pays into the fund, meaning countries that have grown wealthier in recent decades may be expected to contribute.

Rich economies like the EU have garnered little goodwill. An Egyptian official argued this week that the EU and other rich countries bore responsibility for the lack of will among poorer countries because they had failed to match their own financial pledges from last year.

Ryan told reporters that the goal of the EU’s proposal was not to divide. “The definition of vulnerability is not just limited to any one category or group of countries,” he said. “There are medium- and high-income countries who will on occasion be in need of that fund.”

The U.S., another longtime holdout on paying countries for climate damage, has warmed to the idea, according to a draft text of a proposal that has not yet been formally submitted to the U.N.’s Egyptian presidency.

Timmermans said the U.S. has played a “constructive role,” adding, “I have to say, I have no complaints.”

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