A stream of newly arrived delegates has injected a fresh buzz into the cavernous conference halls of COP27 during the second week of climate talks in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, but behind-the-scenes negotiations are in disarray, with talks running well behind schedule.
Discussions on key areas, such as loss and damage – payments from the most polluting nations to those dealing with the worst effects of climate change – and strengthening emissions cuts, reached a political impasse on 14 November, but ministers aren’t due to intervene to force progress until the middle of the week.
Meanwhile, talks on the cover text – a political agreement traditionally struck at the end of a UN climate conference – are still in the very early stages.
“The negotiations are facing a backlog,” says Jen Allan at Earth Negotiations Bulletin, an independent reporting organisation.
The cover text is seen as a key document to send a political signal from the talks, showing the world’s progress on climate change since last year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow, UK.
But instead of a draft text for countries to work from, on 14 November, the Egyptian presidency of the event circulated only a “summary of possible elements” that set out requests made by parties last week.
It is still a “laundry list” of possible options, says Eddy Pérez at the non-governmental organisation Climate Action Network. “We’re still far from really concretely being able to start discussions about the different options that are most suitable.”
Language on temperature targets, loss and damage and wider climate finance matters are seen as the major sticking points dividing nations, New Scientist understands. There is currently no language on the “phase-out” or “phase-down” of fossil fuel use in the document, which Greenpeace said in a statement was “scarcely credible”.
Overall, the mood in Sharm El Sheikh is one of “uncertainty”, says Pérez. There is a “sense of delay, that we are taking too much time on other things”, he says, “that we risk being distracted when we need to focus on landing this as soon as possible.”
However, a positive sign was that on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, on 14 November, US president Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to restart formal talks on climate issues, after a three-month hiatus following US politician Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
The White House released a statement saying the two leaders “agreed to empower key senior officials to maintain communication and deepen constructive efforts” on “climate change and other issues”.
China and the US are the world’s two biggest emitters and their co-operation on decarbonisation efforts is crucial for achieving the global temperature goals set out in the Paris Agreement in 2015.
The tone set by G20 leaders in their joint statement this week will play a decisive role in the outcome of COP27, analysts believe. A strong signal on climate action from the G20 communiqué would send a message to ministers at COP27 to push for more ambitious agreements, says Pérez. “If leaders at that level talk, then ministers would want to follow that kind of guidance.”