Around 35,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries are expected to convene in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss collective action to tackle the climate emergency.

Ahmad Gharabli | Afp | Getty Images

As talks at the COP27 climate summit enter the final stretch, government ministers and negotiators from nearly 200 countries are scrambling to build consensus on an array of issues critical to tackling the climate emergency.

The U.N. climate agency on Thursday published a 20-page first draft of a hoped-for final agreement. It is highly likely to be reworked in the coming days as climate envoys in Egypt’s Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh strive to reach an overarching deal before Friday’s deadline.

The so-called “non-paper” repeats many of the goals in last year’s Glasgow Climate Pact, including pursuing efforts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and calling for continued efforts to “phase down” unabated coal power.

It does not, however, push for a phase-down of all fossil fuels, as India and the European Union had requested.

The U.N. paper said it “welcomes” the agreement to include “loss and damage” payments on the agenda for the first time, but does not include details on how to establish a loss and damage funding facility — a highly divisive and emotive issue that is seen as a fundamental question of climate justice.

Environmental campaigners reacted to the contents of the paper, which is likely to be markedly different from the final political agreement, with deep concern.

“As climate impacts and injustice accelerate, lives, livelihoods, cultures and even whole countries are lost, the latest draft cover note from the COP27 Presidency pushes the pedal to the metal on the highway to climate hell,” Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said in a statement.

It echoes a stark warning from U.N. chief Antonio Guterres earlier this month. Speaking at the outset of the two-week-long COP27 conference, Guterres said humanity is “on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

“We came to Sharm el-Sheikh to demand real action on meeting and exceeding climate finance and adaptation commitments, a phase out of all fossil fuels and for rich countries to pay for the loss and damage done to the most vulnerable communities within developing countries by agreeing a Loss and Damage Finance Fund,” Saño said.

“None of that is on offer in this draft. Climate Justice will not be served if this sets the bar for a COP27 outcome.”

Nearly 200 countries ‘must agree’

The success of the U.N.-brokered talks is seen as likely to hinge on whether policymakers can agree to establish a new funding stream to support victims of climate disasters and slashing planet-warming emissions.

It comes amid growing calls for rich countries to compensate vulnerable nations as it becomes harder for many people to live safely on a warming planet.

Rich countries, despite accounting for the bulk of historical greenhouse gas emissions, have long opposed the creation of a fund to address loss and damage.

Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during the COP27 climate conference in Egypt’s Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Ahmad Gharabli | Afp | Getty Images

It is thought that slow progress on building consensus could see talks continue through the weekend, although host country Egypt has previously insisted talks remain on track — and warned countries must reach a deal.

“The future of humanity, without exaggeration, is at stake,” said Wael Aboulmagd, Egypt’s special representative to the COP27 summit, according to Reuters.

“So, we can just push and encourage and use all the tools in our toolbox. But at the end of the day, 190-something sovereigns must agree.”

World leaders took to the stage at COP27 last week to insist that geopolitical issues, such as Russia’s onslaught in Ukraine, must not derail urgent and collective climate action.

It comes as Russia’s war in Ukraine has threatened to derail the European Union’s decarbonization goals.

Indeed, some European governments have been prompted to reconsider coal, one of the dirtiest and most polluting ways of producing energy, following a sustained period of reduced flows of Russian gas.

‘Hold polluters to account’

Tzeporah Berman, international program director at grassroots environmental organization Stand.Earth, said Thursday that the U.N.’s non-paper “ignores the science” of capping global heating to the critical temperature threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Berman said via Twitter that the document fails to mention oil and gas, does not mention fossil fuel expansion and warned that while “phase down unabated coal” is in, the term “unabated” was “a loophole big enough to drive a drill rig through.”

“Climate agreements & policy are complicated but what’s not is 86% of emissions trapped in our atmosphere & causing climate change & air pollution come from 3 products: oil, gas & coal. These 3 things are the greatest cause of premature death globally just due to air pollution,” Berman said.

“Our failure to recognize this in 27 COPs is a result of the power of the fossil fuel incumbents, especially the big oil and gas companies out in force at this COP who have made their products invisible in the negotiations.”

Degrowth: Is it time to live better with less?

To be sure, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, is the chief driver of the climate crisis.

Analysis from campaign groups published earlier this week showed more than 600 fossil fuel industry delegates were registered to attend COP27, reflecting an increase of over 25% from last year.

The sharp jump in attendees associated with some of the world’s biggest polluting oil and gas giants at the U.N.’s climate conference raised questions about the fossil fuel industry’s ability to shape the debate.

Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network, which includes more than 1,500 civil society groups, told CNBC that meaningful progress at COP27 would not be achieved unless the conference adopted measures to tackle the root cause and consequences of the climate emergency.

“If you look at loss and damage and fossil fuels, both have not been on the agenda and both are the key issues at the heart of everything — one is the cause and the second is the consequence. We have never talked about the cause and the consequence in the UNFCCC space, we have talked something, somewhere in the middle. That’s why we are not there,” Singh said.

“Now is the time, when people are suffering, to hold polluters to account because they are the ones making money and yet they are responsible for the climate crisis, health crisis, energy crisis,” he added. “They are profiting from every crisis.”

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