Tensions Rise at UN Climate Conference Over Softened Global Warming Pledge

If the document is approved as is, it would greatly harm the humanity's chances at preventing the most severe effects of the climate crisis

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
Sharm al-Sheikh
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Climate activists take part in a protest, during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Saturday.
Climate activists take part in a protest, during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Saturday.Credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/ REUTERS
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
Sharm al-Sheikh

SHARM AL-SHEIKH – A draft agreement released by the United Nations Climate Change Conference Saturday evening softens the commitment to prevent the Earth from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius – a pledge made at last year's conference in Glasgow.

The draft for this year’s Sharm al-Sheikh conference sets a vaguer goal of 1.5 to 2 degrees. Moreover, despite demands from several countries, the document includes no commitments to reduce the use of fossil fuels in general. Instead, it merely commits to a gradual reduction in coal use.

Also missing from the document is a previous commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030. This was intended to prevent warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees, the level that scientists deem a red line.

Warming beyond this temperature significantly increases the dangers of climate change, exacerbating wildfires, droughts, floods and extreme heat waves and other phenomena. Scientists say the next seven years are critical for the effort to prevent warming of more than 1.5 degrees.

If the document is approved as is, it would greatly harm the humanity's chances at preventing the most severe effects of the climate crisis.

Sources involved in negotiations on the draft accused Egypt, the host country, of sabotaging the talks and concealing information. They said the draft was not sent to negotiators; instead, they had to go to the president’s office that morning to view it.

After reading the document, European Union ministers threatened to quit the climate talks and accused China and Saudi Arabia of weakening the agreement. Ireland’s environment minister, Eamon Ryan, said that according to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an additional 420 million people will suffer from extreme heat and 270 million more from water scarcity if the Earth warms beyond two degrees rather than 1.5.

The draft does offer progress on a compensation fund that developed countries will finance to help poorer ones, which have done less to cause climate change but are suffering more from its ravages. This is the first time some of the most polluting countries have accepted the demand to establish such a fund. Developing countries had threatened not to sign the agreement without this commitment.

Under the draft, all developed countries would have to contribute to the fund, which would also raise money from private donors and international financial institutions. However, it does not require major polluters like China and India to contribute, despite demands from Europe and the United States.

At the 2009 Copenhagen conference, wealthy countries had promised that by 2020, they would be giving developing countries $100 billion a year in compensation. This promise wasn’t kept; wealthy countries like the United States, Canada, Japan and Western European states contain just a tenth of the world’s population, but are responsible for roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, all of Africa is responsible for just 4 percent.

Sources involved in the negotiations said the proposed concessions on limiting emissions are unacceptable to many countries, including EU members and the United States. Tensions rose throughout the day, thwarting hopes of finalizing an agreement at Saturday’s session.

The EU’s climate policy czar, Frans Timmermans, said on Saturday that he would rather have the conference end without an agreement than have an agreement that softens the commitment to keep global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees. But he said he still hoped a deal could be reached.

The conference chairman, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, said Saturday morning that negotiators had worked throughout the night but failed to reach a consensus on key issues, like the 1.5 degree target and compensation payments.

The conference operates by consensus, so 197 countries would have to sign off on any new agreement.

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