Alok Sharma has warned that hopes of limiting global warming to 1.5C is “on life support”, after negotiators secured a last-minute deal at Cop27 in Egypt.
The UK Government representative at the conference and the outgoing Cop26 president criticised elements of the deal, in his speech at the closing plenary session of the UN climate summit.
While he said that progress on loss and damage has been “historic”, he warned that it was not a moment for “unqualified celebration”.
Officials and negotiators agreed a deal in the early hours of Sunday that will create a fund for compensating poor nations that are victims of extreme weather worsened by rich countries’ carbon pollution.
It is a big win for poorer nations which have long called for cash because they are often the victims of climate worsened floods, droughts, heat waves, famines and storms despite having contributed little to the pollution that heats up the globe.
But Mr Sharma indicated that the deal did not go far enough, as he told the closing session: “Many of us came here to safeguard the outcomes that we secured in Glasgow, and to go further still.
“In our attempts to do that, we have had a series of very challenging conversations over the past few days.
“Indeed those of us who came to Egypt to keep 1.5 degrees alive, and to respect what every single one of us agreed to in Glasgow, have had to fight relentlessly to hold the line.
We cannot backslide on the #GlasgowClimatePact
We must emerge from #COP27 with a package of outcomes that keeps 1.5 alive and protects the world’s most vulnerable
— Alok Sharma (@AlokSharma_RDG) November 19, 2022
“We have had to battle to build on one of the key achievements of Glasgow.”
Mr Sharma’s speech, delivered after what appeared to be fraught and last-minute efforts to broker a consensus, pointed out the gaps in the agreement.
“We joined with many Parties to propose a number of measures that would have contributed to this. Emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us is necessary.
“Not in this text.
“Clear follow-through on the phase down of coal. Not in this text.
A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels. Not in this text.
“And the energy text, weakened, in the final minutes.”
He continued: “Friends, I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak.
“Unfortunately, it remains on life support.
“And all of us need to look ourselves in the mirror, and consider if we have fully risen to that challenge over the past two weeks.”
After two weeks of extensive negotiations, #COP27 has concluded with a hallmark implementation plan #SHIP, and a historic deal for agenda item and outcome on #LossAndDamage funding. pic.twitter.com/clEmx0TV7x
— COP27 (@COP27P) November 20, 2022
The slogan of “keeping 1.5 alive” dominated discussions at the summit in Glasgow last year, as Mr Sharma and the UK steered efforts to limit global warming.
The target comes from the Paris Agreement, the global treaty on climate change negotiated in 2015, where there was a strong and ultimately successful push by nations such as low-lying islands to include the 1.5C target in the deal because they felt letting temperatures go any higher would threaten their survival.
On Sunday, Cabinet minister Steve Barclay said the Government would need to look at the detail of the agreement reached at Cop27.
The Health Secretary told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “The UK, through its overseas aid budget, has always supported action in terms of climate change and I’m sure we will continue to do so.”
Governments and experts will now closely consider what the deal means in the fight against climate change.
Labour’s Ed Miliband accused countries of “kicking the can down the road” in Egypt as he criticised the “complete absence” of leadership from Rishi Sunak at the summit.
The shadow climate change secretary said: “Yet again we hear the unmistakable sound of the can being kicked down the road on the necessary actions to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees – and as a result it is now at grave risk.
“Too many countries were clearly resistant to what is required, including on fossil fuels.”
On Sunday morning, many campaigners praised the breakthrough on the loss and damage fund, which according to the agreement will initially draw on contributions from developed countries and other private and public sources such as international financial institutions.
But it came alongside warnings that time was running out to curb global warming.
Friends of the Earth’s international climate campaigner Rachel Kennerley said: “Wealthy countries must now support the setting up of this fund – and crucially its financing – to ensure it reaches the frontline communities hardest hit by the climate crisis.
“Countries like the UK must now provide the necessary cash, and ensure the scheme isn’t undermined by nations trying to avoid their obligations,” she said.
But she accused rich countries of also using the talks to “avoid ending their addiction to coal, oil and gas – instead favouring dangerous and ineffective distractions, like offsetting, over cutting emissions”.
Yeb Sano, who headed up the Greenpeace delegation at Cop, said that the agreement of the fund marks a “new dawn for climate justice”, adding that it proves “if we have a long enough lever, we can move the world”.
Katie White, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF, said: “While a deal on loss and damage finance is a positive step, it risks becoming a down payment on disaster unless emissions are urgently cut in line with the 1.5C goal.”
Catherine Pettengell, director of Climate Action Network UK, echoed these warnings.
While she said it was a “historic moment”, she stressed that the “outcomes are not perfect”.
“There is much work to be done to ensure we get a fund that is fit for purpose.”