U.S. climate envoy John Kerry met Tuesday with his Chinese counterpart at annual United Nations climate negotiations in Egypt in a further hint of improving relations between the world’s top two polluters, seen as vital for substantial progress against global warming.
The meeting between Kerry and China’s top climate official Xie Zhenhua raised prospects for a full-fledged resumption of climate talks between the two countries, which Beijing put on hold three months ago in retaliation for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan.
Kerry and Xie met for about 45 minutes at the Chinese delegation’s offices in the COP27 conference zone. Neither side revealed much after it was over. The Chinese officials left without commenting.
“We had a very good meeting,” Kerry said. It was “much too early” to talk about any remaining differences, he said. “But we’re gonna go to work.” A day earlier, Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed in talks with U.S. President Joe Biden to resume the talks.
Government officials in Sharm el-Sheikh since Monday are pushing for a substantial climate deal by the time the meeting is supposed to wrap up on Friday. Officials from developing nations, meanwhile, have been increasingly lashing out in anger and frustration at wealthy countries at the gathering, known as COP27, condemning them for not doing enough to cut back emissions or help them cope with a warming Earth.
The Associated Press obtained a first draft of the overarching decision proposed by Egypt, which touches on many of the points that delegations say are important to them, including reducing emissions, adapting to climate change, providing funding for poor nations suffering loss and damage caused by extreme weather, and sticking to the limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.
It doesn’t explicitly mention a proposal from India calling for a phase down of fossil fuel use, disappointing green groups. Last year’s Conference of the Parties, or COP, ended with a call to phase down coal.
“While this is merely a skeleton of the Egyptian presidency’s draft of a COP cover note, Greenpeace is shocked that it has no backbone,” the environmental group said in a statement.
EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said the bloc’s position is that “obviously we’re all in favor of phasing down any fossil fuels” but this shouldn’t undermine the goal of ending use of coal, the most polluting fossil fuel.
Egyptian diplomat Wael Aboulmagd, speaking for the chair of the meeting, said a more detailed draft of the so-called cover decision would be circulated following consultations with delegations later Tuesday. He didn’t rule out including a call to end fossil fuel use in the final text.
Another major sticking point has been the issue of “loss and damage,” with developing countries demanding richer industrialized nations — whose emissions have been the main cause of climate change — pay for damages already being wreaked on them by climate-related disasters.
China and a broad group of developing countries known as the G77 put forward a proposal to create a such a fund into which developing nations would pay. The draft proposal, seen by The Associated Press, calls for the fund’s rules to be finalized by the next U.N. climate talks in 2024.
The U.S. and other developed countries have made clear they won’t agree to a fund that implies legal liability for climate change.
A string of officials from poorer countries — particularly island nations — expressed their fury at the reluctance in speeches or in remarks to journalists Tuesday.
Delaying tactics anger “people like ourselves who are at the frontline, in the front of the impact of climate change and sea level rise, when in fact we do not cause climate change,” Seve Paeniu, the head of the delegation of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, told the Associated Press.
The ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the U.N. said his nation won’t leave the summit without the establishment of a “loss and damage” fund, and he slammed developed nations for continuing to use or even ramping up fossil fuels.
“The system is being gamed at our expense … and the expense of future generations,” Conrod Hunte said, denouncing “the inaction of many developed countries.”
The climate change minister of Nauru, another Pacific nation, denounced what he called pressure on vulnerable countries to compromise.
“We have allowed ourselves to become props in environmental campaigns,” Rennier Gadabu said, in one of the more powerful speeches to delegates.
“The decision makers, those with real powers, simply do not care,” Gadabu said. “They do not care about the communities that will be displaced and destroyed. They do not care about the food and water shortages that ravage poor countries. All they care about is power, pure and simple.”
Samoa’s prime minister appealed to countries to respond as strongly to the threat of global warming as they did to the coronavirus pandemic.
Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa said her country and other Pacific states are “at the mercy of climate change and our survival hangs in the rush of the climate hourglass.” She praised those major emitters who have made commitments to sharply cut their greenhouse gas emissions, but said those are still too few.
“Why is it not possible to apply the same level of urgency of action witnessed for the COVID-19 pandemic to the meeting of the 1.5 degree Celsius promise?” she asked.
Timmermans said the EU is willing to address demands for “loss and damage” money “including new funding arrangements,” he said, but indicated this would take time.
There were also some pledges for improved greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets, which didn’t satisfy green groups.
Timmermans said the EU is raising its target for emissions reductions by 2030, albeit slightly to 57%, from the existing 55% pledge, compared with 1990 levels. He said the increase showed the EU was not “backtracking” on its commitments because of the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Environmental groups compared the EU’s increased target to breadcrumbs, saying the bloc’s fair share should be cuts of at least 65% by 2030.
Turkey’s environment minister Murat Kurum, meanwhile, said its target is rising to 41% from the existing 21% goal. Green groups said while the numbers look good that’s because Turkey had been proposing to raise its emissions by a third in the same time frame, so the higher amount would need a bigger cut.
Also Tuesday, Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate slammed world leaders who persist in backing new fossil fuel projects despite science warnings that this will push temperatures across the planet to dangerous highs.