Nations close to agreement on payments as climate talks near end

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — Governments around the world were close to a deal on a proposal for paying the most vulnerable nations for the damage they’re suffering from climate change, a European official said as nearly two weeks of negotiations neared their end Saturday.

Such a deal would be a significant reversal from the United States, which for decades has opposed the idea of paying countries for climate damage out of concern it would expose the world’s largest climate change driver to legal action. But it capitalizes on President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, which has sought to ensure that those most vulnerable to pollution and rising seas, hotter temperatures and deeper drought receive assistance.

Delegates at the U.N. climate summit had paved the way for a deal by agreeing to focus on the most vulnerable countries as recipients of the fund, the European official said, speaking on condition of anonymity before a final deal had been agreed. Crucial details for any agreement include what mix of public and private money would go into the fund and whether countries like China and Saudi Arabia would pay — special sticking points for the United States.

The talks in Egypt set the stage for more conclusive negotiations at the next U.N. climate summit, scheduled for late 2023 in the United Arab Emirates. Those talks will try to develop more details on the design of the new fund.

But with major aspects of the negotiations still ongoing in Sharm El-Sheikh, particularly on a program to encourage steeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who is leading the talks, cautioned against banking any single aspect of the agreement.

“I don’t want to speculate or to prejudice the ongoing discussions and negotiations,” he said.