COP27: Negotiations have officially overrun into the weekend. What happens next?

COP27 was meant to come to a close this evening (18 November), but negotiators are still scrambling to deliver a final text agreed upon by all parties. An extension to the summit means a formal announcement is now expected late on Saturday or early on Sunday. So what, if anything, has been agreed so far?


COP27: Negotiations have officially overrun into the weekend. What happens next?

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (L) and COP27 President Sameh Shoukry are imploring negotiators to reach a strong, swift agreement. Image: UNFCCC

COP27 began in Sharm El-Sheikh on 6 November and was intended to have concluded by now. However, negotiators are still clashing on several tricky issues, including loss and damage.

An extended plenary discussion has been agreed for midnight on Saturday (19 November), with a formal announcement of any final text expected on Sunday (20 November).

The Egyptian Presidency team have stuck to the tradition of previous COP presidency units by claiming that a deal could be agreed earlier, namely Saturday morning. But at the start of week two they also stated that documents could be finalized by Thursday (17 November), so Sunday now seems most likely.

The extension was agreed upon following a week of little progress on some key aspects of UN’s overarching climate plans, including both the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Climate Pact.

Setting the mood for the final day in Egypt was the announcement of “sorry no water, water is finished,” as delegates were informed at around 10am today that the summit had run out of bottled drinking water. But if the lack of amenities in the Blue Zone at COP27 made life uncomfortable for negotiators, it did not translate into the draft documents, with green groups warning that what has been negotiated at COP27 will fail to avert climate catastrophe.

Alycia Leonard, a postdoctoral research assistant at energy and power group, was on the ground in Egypt during negotiations and states that “there is a sense on the ground that this COP could be the beginning of the end of 1.5C”.

Last week’s Global Carbon Budget Report warned that there is a 50/50 change of 1.5C overshoot by 2030. This, compounded by the sheer leverage of the coal and gas lobbies, has many experts wondering whether the final text will be strong enough to ‘keep 1.5C alive’.

Also weighing in was COP20 president Manuel Pulgar-Widal, now WWF’s global climate and energy lead. He said:”Faced with the possibility of a low-ambition outcome with gaps in key areas, talks must rapidly intensify, and culminate in new agreements and a powerful cover decision that sets the tone for the year ahead. We cannot afford to have so many negotiation areas go unresolved until the next COP. We don’t have time for more delays and excuses. We are in a race against time to prevent the climate crisis spiraling out of control.”

The draft started out as a monstrous entity, coming in at more than 20 pages, which has since been whittled down to around 10. It deals with the peculiar issue of UN language, and how some phrases are deemed stronger than others, so a lot of the finetuning has been in regards to changing the language. According to the UN, ‘requests’ is actually a weaker choice of words than ‘urges’ and is just one of the many requests that nations will be making as negotiations extend into the weekend.

So, what have been the key stumbling blocks to negotiations at COP27, and what (if anything) has been agreed so far?

Loss and Damage

Loss and damage has been arguably the focal point of COP27 and for all the talk of a lack of delivery on 1.5C, frameworks and discussions around Loss and Damage have been prominent throughout the 12 days. Read edie’s Loss and Damage explainer here.

This morning, the EU delivered a crucial breakthrough in the area of both loss and damage and climate finance (more on that shortly).

European Commission vice-president, Frans Timmermans agreed on a proposal from the G77 nations to establish a dedicated loss and damage fund. It was hoped that this might have swayed the US.

Timmermans said: “We were reluctant about a fund, it was not our idea to have a fund. My reluctance was because I know from experience it takes time before a fund can be established, and more time before it is filled, whereas we have existing instruments. I really believe we could move faster with existing instruments. But since [the G77] are so attached to a fund, we have agreed.”

Timmermans noted that the fund would only be set up if “clear conditions” could be confirmed. One key condition is that the fund should only support “vulnerable” countries.

Many leaders from the likes of Barbados, the Maldives, and even China, have claimed that a dedicated loss and damage facility should be set up to support them. China’s insertion into this debate both at COP26 and COP27 has irked other nations as the country is the world’s largest emitter and many believe they should be contributing to funding, not receiving it.

At the moment, the draft text merely “acknowledges” loss and damage as an important agenda item and reiterates existing commitments. Last year, after blocking the creation of a fund/facility, wealthy nations agreed to host a series of talks concluding in 2024

However, we have seen the final text published for the Santiago Network from the UNFCCC, which was expanded at COP26 last year to act as a “technical assistance facility” for loss and damage. The final text, which was published midweek, notes that an advisory board has been established and will feature women, youth activists and Indigenous peoples. A secretariat location will now be set up.

It is unlikely that other major nations will join the EU in agreeing to a loss and damage facility until more clarity has been provided on funding types, liability risks and a host of other intricate details. However, the draft text does call on international financial institutions to identify how to contribute to loss and damage funding by June 2023.

Climate finance

Climate finance has been one of the abject failures of previous global climate summits. Developed nations have ignored and abandoned commits to provide $100bn in annual climate funding to developing nations and as the loss and damage debate matures, so to do the questions as to who and how climate funding should be provided. The $100bn target was set in 2009 and has never been met. The closest we have come was in 2020, when provisions peaked at $83bn.

Discussions are ongoing about potentially adding to the list of “climate donors”, who would provide funding to developing nations to respond to the climate crisis through adaptation and mitigation methods and through loss and damage funding pools.

Developed nations are trying to expand the donor base to include “high-income” nations. This would cover Israel, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Qatar amongst others. But the main addition to this list would be China, the world’s largest emitter.

In the meantime, one thing that parties have agreed on is that a new, updated overall climate finance goal will need to be presented in 2024. Additionally, after strong words from leaders including Mia Mottley, the cover draft calls upon multilateral development banks to align their financing with the Paris Agreement. Another welcome inclusion are plans to scale climate adaptation finance to $40bn per year by 2025.

1.5C and net-zero

The overarching aim of these negotiations is to meet the 1.5C limit of the Paris Agreement, a feat that cannot be achieved without ironing out details on the aforementioned subjects.

Following COP26 and the issuance of the Glasgow Climate Pact, experts at Carbon Brief took a deep dive into whether the Pact could keep 1.5C alive. It found that current policies will “lead to a best-estimate of around 2.6C to 2.7C warming by 2100”, but this can be reduced to 2.4C if countries meet their nationally determined contributions (NDCs). If national net-zero pledges are met, however, average warming could be reduced to 1.8C by 2100.

The Pact featured a commitment for nations to revisit climate commitments, called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), ideally in the build-up to COP27, and strengthen as necessary. But 30 or so nations have submitted updated NDCs, and only Australia’s was noteworthy as being much stronger in ambition. Many nations that have resubmitted climate plans, including Egypt and UK, haven’t substantially increased ambition, research suggests.

This time around, the draft text states that nations will maintain the collective goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”. The draft also states that there should be no backsliding on this top-level commitment and “deep and rapid” emissions cuts. Additionally, nations are called upon to update their NDCs before COP28 in Dubai next December.

There is some confusion amongst delegates at COP27 as to the inclusion of coal in the draft texts. The document mentions a “coal phase-out”, which would be a monumental first for UN climate negotiations.

Indeed at COP26, phase-out was changed to “phase down” – much weaker language in UN jargon – at the last minute. Instead, some experts believe the current draft to be a typo or mistake and that phase out will be watered down again to “phase down”.

Some nations had been pushing for a specific mention of other fossil fuels than coal. This has not made it into the cover text at this stage, despite warning after warning for nations to avoid going down a “gas bridge” to “nowhere”. The cover text does mention the need for the energy transition to be accelerated this decade.

Biodiversity 

There had been high hopes for strong wording on the relationship between nature and climate in the text. World leaders are due to meet in Montreal, Canada, next month, for what should be the last part of the UN’s 15th Biodiversity COP. This COP is being used to develop a ‘Paris-style’ treaty for nature, with an overarching vision of ending nature depletion and bringing the world into an era of widespread nature restoration. The treaty is now more than two years overdue due to Covid-19-related delays and international disagreements, with nature NGOs warning that urgent decision-making and implementation is needed due to the scale and pace of nature loss.

It has been argued that a strong commitment on nature would help set the foundation for meetings in Montreal. Sighs of relief were doubtless breathed when the G20 communique for this year was published in Bali earlier this week, with wealthy nations welcoming developments relating to the treaty such as the pledge to conserve 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030.

Yet nature has been given less of a prominent role at COP27, at least in the cover text. Flora and Fauna International’s Zoe Quiroz Cullen said there is “growing concern” that parties cannot agree to recognise the treaty in the cover text.

What happens next?

Negotiations on the wording of the final text will continue, with round-the-clock discussions set to take place in the Blue Zone.

It isn’t unusual for negotiations to spill over. In fact, the same thing happened one year ago in Glasgow and it is quite common for COPs to need an extra day or two to finalise the language and remove the littering of brackets that make their way into draft documents. In total, 20 out of 26 past COPs have over-run to some extent.

At the time of writing, COP27 does not have a definitive end time, but some reporters and delegates have been told “indications are that the COP will extend to Saturday with the possibility that the final plenary may be around midnight (Saturday)”.

What if no agreement is made?

It seems likely that a final text will be agreed, but one that fails to meet the demands and requirements of green groups, activists and the scientific community. But, that’s not to say that every COP has finished with a final text.

COP6 took place in 2000, in The Hague, Netherlands. Talks at the summit were heading for a breakthrough, with the UK, US and EU agreeing on compromises in relation to the scope of ambition of the agreement. However, in the final hours, the deal collapsed and the COP Presidency at the time suspended the summit without an agreement.

In that situation, negotiations resumed as part of a “COP 6 bis” follow-on event in Bonn, Germany in July the following year.

So, on the slim chance that this draft text does fall through, expect world leaders to convene next summer to try and finalise some of the key details.

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