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Egypt takes heat for hosting chaotic U.N. climate summit

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Below we have an exclusive look at new spending by environmental groups in the Georgia Senate runoff race. But first:

Egypt faces criticism for presiding over a climate summit characterized by delays and shouting matches over human rights

Alden Meyer has attended 26 of 27 United Nations climate change conferences, crisscrossing the globe each year to pressure diplomats to strike deals that will slow the Earth’s catastrophic warming. But he has never seen a summit this chaotic and behind schedule.

Meyer, a senior associate at the independent climate think tank E3G, laid blame squarely on the Egyptian hosts of this year’s conference, known as COP27, for failing to anticipate and address some of the thorniest issues facing negotiators, such as the contentious debate over whether wealthy nations should compensate poor countries for the costs of coping with disasters fueled by climate change.

“They got off to a slower start, and all the big negotiating issues are still on the table,” Meyer said in an interview from the bustling conference venue in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. “So they are a little behind the curve and playing catch-up to try to get an acceptable outcome.”

Unlike past hosts, Egypt has taken a haphazard approach to organizing the high-stakes negotiations, according to interviews with half a dozen diplomats, activists and other longtime observers of the talks, Maxine and our colleague Siobhán O'Grady report this morning. The approach threatens to undermine global progress on climate action at a critical time — top scientists say the world has only nine years to stave off the dire consequences of unchecked global warming, from vanishing coral reefs to intensifying extreme weather events.

From the outset, observers had lower expectations for this summit, which comes as Russia’s war in Ukraine squeezes global energy markets and the fossil fuel industry experiences a remarkable rebound. But veteran negotiators say Egyptian diplomats have further eroded the prospects for progress by failing to communicate their top priorities or anticipate the issue of “loss and damage” — the irreversible, unavoidable impact of climate change — that has dominated the discussions.

“To be an effective COP president, you have to be clear on what you want to achieve,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the former environment minister of Peru who served as president of the COP20 climate talks in Lima.

“That has not been clear this COP,” said Pulgar-Vidal, who is now the global lead for climate and energy with the World Wildlife Fund. “So we are suffering from a lack of clear vision.”

Race against the clock

At last year’s U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the British hosts started consulting other countries on the “cover decision” — a political document that signals a consensus among nearly 200 nations — in the first few days of the talks. 

By contrast, the Egyptians began these consultations on Saturday and had still not unveiled a draft of the cover decision as of Wednesday evening, midway through the second week. (A 20-page “non-paper” was published Thursday morning. More on that below.)

A Latin American delegate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely, said the “Egyptians seem to have used the COP as a PR opportunity” aimed at bolstering their standing on the global stage.

“I don’t see them pushing for strong language in line with science,” the delegate said. “They won’t do [it] for language on the [phasing] out of fossil fuels in the cover decision, and they won’t do it for loss and damage.”

When past conferences have culminated in successful outcomes, the hosts have typically spent at least a year preparing for the negotiations, meeting with key world leaders and ironing out any differences. In 2015, when France hosted the summit that produced the landmark Paris climate accord, then-President François Hollande took a “total-government approach for months in advance,” said Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, who has attended more than a dozen U.N. climate summits.

In 2010, when the talks were in Cancún, Mexico, then-President Felipe Calderón and his top diplomat Patricia Espinosa worked for months to lay the groundwork for the creation of the Green Climate Fund, which funnels money from wealthy nations to poorer ones to cope with the ravages of climate change.

In an interview, Calderón recounted how he flew to Ethiopia before the summit to attend the Assembly of the African Union and “talked one by one with all the leaders of the African Union” about his vision for the Green Climate Fund. By the time he flew back, he said, every leader was supportive of the idea.

Today, however, Calderón said he worries that the more ambitious goal of the Paris agreement is slipping out of reach, as prospects fade for any significant deal at the talks in Egypt and the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues to climb.

“We are completely far away from the goal of 1.5 degrees from Paris,” he said. “It is not going to be said in the final document, but that’s the reality.”

International climate

As climate talks wind down, nations feud over how to pay for damage

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries on Wednesday struggled to draft an agreement amid the many unresolved issues at the COP27 climate talks in Egypt, as nations remained deeply divided over financing to help poor countries cope with climate change, The Washington Post’s Sarah Kaplan, Timothy Puko and Brady Dennis report. 

Earlier in the negotiations, some delegates feared that countries would backslide on the more ambitious goal of the 2015 Paris agreement. But their concerns were rendered moot by a communique issued at the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, where leaders of the world’s largest economies reiterated their commitment “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

On Thursday morning, the United Nations published a 20-page document labeled a “non-paper,” indicating it is far from the final version, William James and Katy Daigle report for Reuters. The document does not call for a phasedown of all fossil fuels, as India and the European Union had requested. It also does not include details on creating a fund to help developing nations deal with ”loss and damage” from climate change.

It remains unclear whether delegates will ultimately adopt the language that calls for phasing out all fossil fuels, not just coal. In an interview with Bloomberg News on Wednesday, U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry said the United States would support calls for nations to “phase down” the use of fossil fuel projects that are “unabated” —  or those that don’t rely on carbon capture or other technology to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

At COP27, Brazil’s incoming president vows to be a global climate leader

Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Wednesday declared that “Brazil is back” at COP27, promising to restore the nation’s status as a leader on climate change after four years of rampant deforestation of the Amazon under President Jair Bolsonaro, The Post’s Michael Birnbaum and Sarah Kaplan report. 

Lula received a rock star’s reception at the summit, with some attendees waiting for hours to glimpse the leftist leader. Climate activists have taken heart in his pledge to preserve the Amazon, a massive carbon sink that has the potential to help the world avoid about 1 degree Celsius of warming.

“There is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon. We will spare no effort to bring deforestation and degradation of our biomes to zero by 2030,” Lula said in a speech to a rapturous crowd. “The fight against climate change will have the highest profile in the structure of my government.”

While the Bolsonaro administration formally represented Brazil at the talks, top officials including U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry and China’s top climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, met with Lula in a sign of urgency to engage with the incoming Brazilian leader.

On the Hill

Exclusive: Green groups invest $1.8 million to boost Warnock in Senate runoff

The League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund and the New American Jobs Fund, a joint effort of the league fund and the United Steelworkers, are investing $1.8 million to support Democratic Sen. Raphael G. Warnock of Georgia in his runoff race against Republican Herschel Walker, according to details shared exclusively with The Climate 202. 

LCVVF is launching a major field program with offices in Lawrenceville and Smyrna, as well as running digital ads touting Warnock’s role in passing the Inflation Reduction Act. Both groups plan to scale up their canvassing efforts, with LCVVF organizers aiming to knock on 105,000 doors in the coming weeks. 

The push comes after Walker said over the weekend that “what we need to do is keep having those gas-guzzling cars, 'cause we got the good emissions under those cars,” prompting head-scratching from climate advocates.

“Herschel Walker is an anti-environment serial liar making nonsensical remarks about climate on the campaign trail while Senator Raphael Warnock is helping bring multi-billion dollar job-creating electric car plants and other clean energy jobs to Georgia,” Pete Maysmith, the league fund’s senior vice president of campaigns, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the youth-led Sunrise Movement will establish a phone-banking and texting program in Georgia to reach young voters who rank climate change as a top priority. The renewed push comes after youth turnout in the midterm elections helped Democrats beat back an expected red wave, Sunrise spokeswoman Ellen Sciales said in an email.

Agency alert

Interior unveils proposed wind energy areas in central Atlantic

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Management on Wednesday announced eight new draft wind energy areas, totaling 1.7 million acres, off the coasts of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. 

The four states have all set targets for deploying more clean energy, with Maryland requiring 50 percent of its energy to come from renewables by 2030. The eight areas, which represent a subset of the original 3.9 million acres that Interior announced for public comment in April, are intended to help the Biden administration reach its ambitious goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. 

In the atmosphere


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