The sun is beating down mercilessly on the tent city in the desert, but the Egyptian host has solved the problem of overheating in his own way: with battalions of air conditioning units. They blow cold air into the tents from huge pipes, allegedly powered by solar power. Nobody breaks a sweat at the climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh. From the afternoon, when the sun is gone, negotiators preferably meet in sweaters. Which doesn’t mean that things aren’t getting hot in Sinai. Because the conference is running out of time.
This Wednesday the conference will enter the decisive phase. The last important ministers arrive, including Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) in the afternoon. They then have two, maybe three days to clear up the final points of contention. So questions that could not be clarified in the first ten days in the group of climate diplomats. There are plenty of that kind. In some cases, the talks have ended – but with the result that the joint result “does not reflect a consensus”. Other texts teem with square brackets, the indicator of disagreement. “There is progress,” says Egypt’s chief negotiator Wael Aboulmagd. “But to say that they live up to political promises would be an exaggeration.” There are negotiations for that.
There is a lot to clarify. For example, the question of how states can step up their game in terms of climate protection, and do so immediately. At the summit in Glasgow last year, they agreed to draw up a “work program” at this conference on how higher targets can quickly reduce more emissions. Only recently, the UN environmental program Unep drew a devastating interim balance: Emissions would have to fall by 45 percent by 2030 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But the new national climate targets since Glasgow do not even correspond to an additional reduction of one percent. At best, the states are currently heading for a catastrophic 2.4 degrees plus, warns Unep.
In the negotiation text there are square brackets in 765 places – negotiations are still ongoing here
But the negotiations drag on. Analysts from the British think tank Carbon Brief recently counted square brackets in 765 places in the negotiation texts. China is also a difficult partner to talk to here: The People’s Republic would like to limit the work plan to one year. But there is little to suggest that the problem will be less severe in a year than it is now. So this problem goes unresolved into the next phase of negotiations.
This also applies to the major topic of the conference, dealing with the damage that climate change is already causing today. Developing countries in particular have been demanding compensation for years. The topic was repeatedly postponed, and in Sharm el-Sheikh it is officially on the agenda for the first time. It is already clear that at the summit in Sinai there will be no new mechanism for rich countries to shoulder the damage caused by poorer ones. But the further procedure already leads to arguments: Should the states only plan to somehow solve the problem by 2024 – or should they agree now that there should be a pot for such damage?
The ditch is deep. Developing countries don’t want anything to do with a postponement, they think it’s an escape from responsibility. On the other hand, many industrialized countries, above all the USA, reject a preliminary decision on a new pot. After all, such a pot wants to be filled. And above all there is the question of who should actually pay in as the cause of climate change. This debate is particularly uncomfortable for what is now the largest producer of greenhouse gases: China.
The 1.5 degree target is only mentioned in passing in the final document
Host Egypt, on the other hand, has to fear that all the air-conditioning effort in the desert will evaporate if disputes thwart any progress. The only option left for the presidency would then be to try to get the states to commit to more climate protection by means of a joint final document. The first cornerstones for this are now available. But the 1.5-degree target is only mentioned marginally, and farewell to fossil fuels is not mentioned at all – although India has recently advocated this, at least in Sharm el-Sheikh. The draft is still only a “skeleton,” says Yeb Saño, who heads the Greenpeace delegation. “But we are shocked that the skeleton has no backbone.”
Meanwhile, the good news isn’t coming from the Red Sea, it’s coming from the Indian Ocean. Since US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met there, on the fringes of the G-20 summit in Bali, the chance of the two nations working together on climate protection has increased again. In the course of the conflict over China’s Taiwan policy, both countries had put their cooperation on hold.
Even more important, however, could be a new partnership that a group of industrialized countries – basically the G 7 – agreed on Tuesday with Indonesia, one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world. According to this, the country is to reduce emissions from electricity generation to zero by 2050 – ultimately this means phasing out coal. Emissions from Indonesian coal power are expected to peak by 2030, after which they will decline. The industrialized countries want to raise 20 billion euros for the switch to green energies, partly public loans, partly private funds. Until a few years ago, Indonesia had invested heavily in coal.
But is good news from Bali enough for success in Sharm el-Sheikh? In the cool tents of Sinai, confidence is also bottoming out. He has been negotiating at climate summits since 2010, says Swiss chief diplomat Franz Perrez. “And I’ve never had such a bad feeling.”