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Biden urges leaders to fight for an equitable world at climate summit

US president Joe Biden closed the first week of the COP27 climate talks in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, with a call for countries to fight for “a more equitable, prosperous world” at the summit.

“The climate crisis is about human security, economic security, environmental security, national security and the very life of the planet,” he told delegates.

In a 3-hour stopover on his way to a G20 meeting in Indonesia, Biden said the US is on track to meet its 2030 climate targets and called on other nations to come forward with tougher plans to cut emissions.

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“If we are going to win this fight, every major emitting nation needs to align to [the] 1.5°C [target]. We can no longer plead ignorance about the consequences of our actions,” he said.

However, although Biden was confident the US would meet its domestic commitments, he acknowledged that it may struggle to fulfil international promises after the midterm elections held this week, with control of Congress still in the balance.

Key among those promises is a pledge made last year to quadruple climate finance by 2024, which was seen as important for unlocking progress at COP26 in Glasgow, UK. A Republican-controlled House of Representatives would make that commitment next to impossible to deliver, although Biden promised to “fight” for it.

Biden’s appearance ends a week that has seen little in the way of new financial commitments from world leaders, which observers warn threatens to stall progress at the talks.

Joe Biden speaking at COP27

Joe Biden speaks at the COP27 climate summit

Alex Brandon/AP/Shutterstock

The issue of finance has dogged the summit from the start, says Tom Evans at climate think tank E3G. “This question of finance has led to quite a lacklustre leaders’ summit and a real absence of the sense of how countries are delivering on their commitments or coming up with new commitments,” he says.

Meanwhile, negotiations have reached a deadlock as delegations await the arrival of ministers next week. Talks on doubling adaptation funding and a “work programme” to accelerate emissions cuts this decade are causing particular concern, New Scientist understands.

There is an air of “unease” and “uncertainty” as talks head into their second week, says Evans.

Logistical issues haven’t helped the mood. Food and drink were scarce and expensive for the first few days of the summit, while the sprawling venue, baking sunshine and poor signage have left delegates tired and disorientated.

After a number of official complaints by national delegations, the summit’s Egyptian hosts slashed food prices and started handing out free soft drinks on 10 November in an effort to quell the rising discontent.

The week ahead

Over the weekend, attention will shift to the “cover text”, the final political agreement to mark the end of the summit. Discussions on what this year’s document should include will begin on 12 September.

At COP26 last year, the final text – known as the Glasgow Climate Pact – broke new ground, calling for a “phase-down” of global coal use, a doubling of adaptation financing and for countries to return with updated climate plans at COP27.

The challenge in Sharm El Sheikh will be to deliver something at least as ambitious. For a summit like COP27, where key decisions on issues such as “loss and damage” won’t come until next year, the cover text is a vital tool for communicating progress at the summit to the wider world.

Already lobbying is under way for the text to include stronger language on fossil fuels, perhaps upgrading the “phase-down” of coal use to a “phase-out” or expanding the commitment to include all fossil fuels – but India and China, which successfully torpedoed the “phase-down” language at COP26, are expected to push back.

Also seen as key is a fresh commitment to cutting emissions and holding global warming to 1.5°C. “We would certainly expect to see a section on mitigation that builds on the signals in the Glasgow Climate Pact,” the European Union’s head of delegation, Jacob Werksman, told a press briefing.

Alongside wrangling over the final cover text, next week will see ministerial delegations descend on the conference to thrash out details on the technical negotiations.

Meanwhile, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the newly elected president of Brazil, is expected to arrive at the summit on 15 November, raising hopes he could make fresh commitments on Amazon deforestation.

A “Just Energy Transition Partnership” could also be revealed next week that would see higher-income countries, including the US, Japan and the UK, provide funding to help Indonesia retire coal power plants early, echoing a deal agreed with South Africa last year.

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