Updated Nov 20, 2022 - Energy & Environment

COP27 summit yields historic deal on climate damage fund

Young people hold up signs urging countries to take bold action against climate change at COP27 in Egypt.

Participants in a demonstration at COP27 advocate for the 1.5°C temperature target. Photo: Christophe Gateau/picture alliance via Getty Images

A chaotic UN climate summit in Egypt has produced a groundbreaking agreement for wealthy industrial countries to compensate poor nations for the ravages of climate change, but the talks failed to strengthen commitments to curb the use of fossil fuels.

Why it matters: It's the first formal deal to create a fund for "loss and damage," or payments to nations that played almost no role in causing global warming, yet face harm from encroaching seas, stronger storms and other escalating effects.

  • The summit went far past its scheduled Friday close, into the morning hours on Sunday local time, reflecting the difficulty of talks over compensation, emissions targets, energy policy and more.

Between the lines: The agreement for a fund exceeds expectations going into the summit.

Yes, but: The COP27 agreement among almost 200 countries in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt leaves most details to be filled in during subsequent rounds of fraught negotiations. For example, the text lacks targets for how much money should be provided in the climate damage fund for poor nations.

  • "There is a lot of work still to be done on the detail, but the principle is in place and that is a significant mindset shift as we deal with a world in which climate impacts cause profound loss," said Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation and one of the Paris Agreement's architects, in a statement.

Zoom in: While the agreement went further than expected on climate damages, it did not create a new consensus position on another key topic: moving away from using all fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

  • The agreement omits calls to phase down the use of all fossil fuels, rebuffing India, the EU, the U.S. and other nations pushing for this language.
  • Instead, the final summit text reiterates last year's outcome at COP26 in Scotland by calling for phasing down the use of coal, and does not address oil and gas.

By the numbers: It also largely repeats language in the COP26 text concerning the 1.5°C temperature limit, which is the more ambitious target set by the Paris Agreement in 2015.

  • The world has already warmed by an average of about 1.2°C. Current emissions and policies put the globe course to exceed 2°C of warming by 2100, but studies show that the odds of potentially catastrophic consequences increase significantly once warming exceeds 1.5°C.
  • The final text does not contain language calling for a peak in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, which would be needed to meet the long shot 1.5-degree goal.

The intrigue: The final hours of the talks featured negotiators from small island countries, EU nations and others trying to strengthen the 1.5°C-related wording.

The bottom line: The COP27 agreement is in some ways historic, since all countries for the first time agreed that the present-day consequences of global warming are severe enough to require financial assistance from the nations that caused much of the problem so far.

  • Yet it also failed to advance climate mitigation, potentially making it more likely that the 1.5-degree target will be significantly exceeded.

What they're saying: "COP27 has done what no other COP has achieved and created a loss and damage fund to support the most impacted communities of climate change," said Mohammed Adow of Power Shift Africa, in a statement.

"However on a global fossil fuel phase down it’s sad to see countries just copying and pasting the outcome from last year’s COP26 in Glasgow," he said.

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