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Global crises undermine efforts to get climate talks back to normal

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BONN, Germany — Climate negotiators crave a return to “normality” when global warming dominated the agenda — but war, hunger and disease overshadowed the beginning of talks in Bonn, Germany Monday.

“We all know that the world of COP27 will look nothing like it did for COP26,” said U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa, referring to the COP26 conference held in Glasgow seven months ago and the next U.N. talks in Egypt this November. “It is a world beset with conflicts, energy, food and economic crises … and the global pandemic is still with us.”

Amid those challenges, countries began talks Monday aimed at landing deals at COP27.

The Norwegian co-chair of the talks, Marianne Karlsen, said the return of the annual meeting to the banks of the Rhine after three pandemic-interrupted years was “a sign that we are returning to normality and predictability for our process.”

But Espinosa, who gave a valedictory address to diplomats before she steps down from the U.N. post next month, said she was “concerned” by the war in Ukraine and the impact it might have on efforts to cut emissions and raise finance for developing countries.

On Monday evening, Russia’s delegates were upbraided in public by negotiators over their government’s aggression in Ukraine. Swiss delegate Franz Perrez told the meeting Russia’s invasion was “a threat to humanity’s goal to tackle climate change in a timely manner.”

Alok Sharma, the U.K. minister in charge of the COP26 talks, urged countries to show that the war “has increased, not diminished, our determination to deliver on climate action.”

The Bonn discussions will focus on setting new goals for financing poorer countries to help them cope with climate change and cut emissions; whether China should become a donor country; goals for adapting to climate change and shifting the money needed; and a push from vulnerable countries to set up a financing facility to help rebuild climate-impacted communities.

These money issues have divided rich and poor countries and have proved unresolvable for years or even decades.

“We urgently require political-level interventions and decisions,” said Espinosa.

Hopeful messaging from Washington, London and Brussels that the energy crisis might spur the shift to renewable energy ignores the financial realities in developing countries. There, Espinosa said, “resources may be shifting away” from what’s needed to green their economies. 

“That’s where the real crunch comes,” said Alden Meyer, senior associate with the E3G think tank. “It always comes down to money. And the reality is there’s a lot of demands on the system right now for financial resources.”

Alexey Dronov, Consul General of the Russian Federation in Bonn attends with his colleagues the opening day of the UNFCCC’s SB56 climate conference | Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

But, Meyer added, it was also a “matter of political will … We saw with Ukraine how the U.S. and other Western countries could mobilize tens of billions of dollars almost overnight,” he said. “And yet, for example, the U.S. can’t figure out how to meet our $2 billion arrearages to the Green Climate Fund.”

Egyptian hosts of the COP27 conference have indicated that they will focus their conference on finance. 

The most contentious issue is cash to repair the loss and damage caused by climate change. Rich countries have consistently resisted an approach they view as opening them up to claims for compensation over their historic role in causing climate change.

That continued on Monday morning after discussions on a financing facility for loss and damage were not included on the official agenda — something that disappointed campaigners.

“We cannot wait any longer,” said Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate. “People on the frontlines of the climate crisis are already losing livelihoods and lives. We need to stop talking and start helping people. We need to put people on the agenda — now.”

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