Crunch time for UN climate talks as Friday deadline looms

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SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — Global climate talks approached crunch time on Friday, the final scheduled day of negotiations that are expected to go past their deadline as chances of a deal still looked unclear.

The European Union made a surprise proposal late Thursday that could help buoy chances of an agreement. The proposal would tie compensation for climate disasters to tougher emissions cuts, two of the thorniest issues at the meeting.

EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said Friday that the bloc’s proposal on funding for loss and damage and mitigation is “a final offer” that seeks to “find a compromise” between nations as negotiators work out a way forward at the United Nations climate talks in Egypt.

In climate negotiations, loss and damage refers to the idea that rich nations, which have historically done the most to contribute to climate change, should compensate developing countries most impacted. Mitigation refers to efforts to slow global warming, like drastically reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Timmermans said he was “encouraged” by immediate reaction to the proposal and more engagement was expected on Friday.

“This is about not having a failure here,” said Timmermans. “We we cannot afford to have a failure. Now, if our steps forward are not reciprocated, then obviously there will be a failure. But I hope we can avoid that.”

The proposal from the 27-nation EU offers a two-pronged approach that would create a pot of money for poor countries and push for steeper cuts of heat-trapping emissions by all countries, as well as the phasing down of all fossil fuels, including natural gas and oil.

Loss and damage has become a flashpoint at the COP27 climate talks that started two weeks ago. Poorer countries bearing the brunt of climate change, from rising sea levels to extreme flooding, have been stepping up the urgency, accusing richer polluters that have contributed the most to Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions of stalling. They insist that they cannot wait another year for the creation of a fund to pay compensation.

Other big players were staking out their positions after the EU’s offer.

China, which had been quiet during much of the talks, and Saudi Arabia both said they money for a loss and damage fund shouldn’t come from them. Developed countries should foot the bill, China said. Both also insisted that the 2015 Paris Agreement that aims to limit global warming to an ambitious 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) increase should not be altered.

As for the United States, there was “a deafening silence” after the EU revealed their proposal, said Preety Bhandari, senior adviser on climate finance at the World Resources Institute. “So I assume overnight and during the course of the day there will be a lot of diplomatic outreach across various parties to finally help us land the decision on funding for loss and damage here at COP 27.”

The U.S. and China are the world’s top two sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Also Friday, Egypt’s leadership of the summit released a new, slimmer draft for an overarching cover document. The latest draft comes in at half the length of the first, 20-page version released a day earlier, which delegates had criticized for being too long, vague and confusing.

Olivia Zhang contributed to this report.

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