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UN climate talks drag into extra time with scant progress



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SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — With tempers and temperatures rising, United Nations climate talks slogged into overtime Saturday, looking increasingly deadlocked over key issues such as funds for poor vulnerable countries smacked by extreme weather.

“We’re in limbo land,” said David Waskow, international climate director for the World Resources Institute.

One of the few issues uniting all sides, rich and poor, is frustration with Egypt’s handling of the delicate negotiations. More than one diplomat resorted to asking reporters for a crucial negotiation document coming out the Egyptian presidency’s office.

“The presidency circulated a text which has been received quite poorly by pretty much everybody,” New Zealand’s Climate Change Minister James Shaw told The Associated Press, as he prepared to go into another round of talks to haggle over the deal’s fine print.

Shaw said the latest draft of the agreement issued by Egyptian officials ignores much of the EU proposal. “It’s highly unsatisfactory and in particular, it abandons, really, any hope of achieving 1.5 (degrees Celsius),” and was unacceptable to small island nations and other countries most vulnerable to rising seas and other devastating impacts of climate change.

“The fossil fuel industry is still running this conference,” said Zeina Hajj of the advocacy group 350.org, saying the oil industry was having way too much sway with the Egyptian presidency.

The heat is rising in Sharm el-Sheikh — literally. Many of the air conditioning units cooling the prefabricated buildings erected under the Red Sea sun have been switched off. Delegates who previously complained about the chill inside were now sweating, and not just because the negotiations were going down to the wire.

Ratcheting up the brinksmanship, the European Union’s top climate official, Frans Timmermans, threatened to walk away if the bloc didn’t get what it wanted.

“The European Union wants a positive result, but we don’t want a result at any price. We will not accept the result if it takes us back. We need to move forward,” Timmermans said.

“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.”

The EU made a surprise proposal days earlier tying a fund for climate disasters to emissions cuts that go beyond what the 2015 Paris climate agreement calls for. That landmark deal aims to limit global temperature increases to an ambitious 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), and no change this year could be interpreted as not strengthening efforts.

The meeting known as COP27 opened two weeks ago and had been scheduled to wrap up on Friday but looks set to drag on through the weekend.

Government delegations and the meeting’s Egyptian hosts pointed fingers at each other.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said responsibility for the fate of the talks “now lies in the hands of the Egyptian COP presidency.”

She said the European Union had made clear overnight that “we will not sign a paper here that diverges significantly from the 1.5 Celsius path, that would bury the goal of 1.5 degrees.”

“If these climate conferences set us back then we wouldn’t have needed to travel here in the first place,” she said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, speaking as the summit’s chair, deflected blame.

“The issue now rests with the will of the parties,” Shoukry said at a press conference. “It is the parties who must rise to the occasion and take upon themselves the responsibility of finding the areas of convergence and moving forward.”

He added that “all must show the necessary flexibility” in reaching a consensus, and that Egypt was merely “facilitating this process.”

In another setback, top U.S. climate envoy John Kerry tested positive for COVID-19 though he only has mild symptoms and is working by phone with his negotiating team and foreign counterparts, his spokesperson said late Friday.

Throughout the climate summit, the American, Chinese, Indian and Saudi Arabian delegations have kept a low public profile, while European, African, Pakistan and small island nations have been more vocal.

A key sticking point remains over the issue called loss and damage. The world’s poorest nations are insisting that western carbon polluting nations establish a fund to compensate nations hurt by climate extremes, such as Pakistan and its devastating flooding, as the developing world put little of the heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

“These negotiations won’t work if it’s pitching one country against the other, one block against the other,” said Irish Environment Minister Eamon Ryan, one of the lead negotiators on loss and damage. “The only way it will work is if we sit down in collaboration and recognize we have common cause because we are in common peril and the only solution can be a good solution.”

Climate advocacy group Power Shift Africa’s Mohamed Adow blamed the United States and the European Union, saying “they’re the two groups of parties that are currently blocking and delaying the delivery of our solidarity outcome out of Sharm el-Sheikh.”

“We’re now, I must say, very close to getting a loss and damage fund,” Adow said. “And because of that we’re seeing one of the biggest historic polluters threatening to walk out.”

The United States may have moved a bit on its stance and seems more willing to accept the establishment of a loss and damage fund, but the division now is on where and how that fund is administered and who puts money into it, Waskow said.

Many of the more than 40,000 attendees have left town, and workers started packing up the vast pavilions in the sprawling conference zone.

COP meetings have evolved over the years to resemble trade fairs, with many countries and industry groups setting up booths and displays for meetings and panel discussions.

At many stands, chairs were stacked neatly ready for removal, and monitors had been taken away, leaving cables dangling from walls. Pamphlets and booklets were strewn across tables and floors. Snack bars, which the Egyptian organizers said would remain open through the weekend, were emptied out.

At the youth pavilion, a gathering spot for young activists, a pile of handwritten postcards from children to negotiators was left on a table, in what was perhaps an apt metaphor for the state of play as the talks bogged down.

“Dear COP27 negotiators,” read one card. “Keep fighting for a good planet.”

An occasional gust of wind from the open doors nearby blew some of the cards onto the floor.

Frank Jordans and Theodora Tongas contributed to this report.

Follow AP’s climate and environment coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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