IEMA's CEO Sarah Mukherjee MBE writes from Sharm El-Sheikh about the final discussions being held, the general feeling from delegates, and how decisions made could filter into legislation and regulation around the world.


Weary delegates, some rubbing their eyes as they leave the plenary session, have just been listening to the latest round of comments, on the latest version of the cover text, the document that expresses the intent and future direction of the Parties to the Convention on Climate Change. Negotiators from the European Union and other developed nations have expressed concern that the current text is a step back from the agreement made at Glasgow, and have said they cannot support a text that in any way dilutes the ambition to keep global heating to 1.5 Celsius.

I understand Russia and Saudi Arabia have questioned references to fossil fuels in the text, arguing that this is an agreement about emissions, not energy. Other developing nations say the developed world cannot carry on living on energy largesse and expect the developing world to do all the mitigation.

This is an Implementation COP - one that aims at delivery. Whilst bit by bit, elements of the negotiation have been agreed - on capacity building, for example, and brackets (which are put around sentences where there is disagreement) are slowly being removed on some of the more contentious issues, there is still, patently, a wide range of views on the central arguments. Should fossil fuels be phased down? Which are the “vulnerable” countries that should be able to access money that could be made available through funding for loss and damage?

Earlier in the day, EU Vice President Frans Timmermans announced that the EU has offered to set up a fund to support mitigation and adaptation for vulnerable countries. It amounted to “huge steps forward” by the EU, he said, and was expected that there would be a quid pro quo for this “final offer”. There’s been no update so far on progress.

Some arguments come down to the use of words. Should countries be “requested” or “urged” to do something? It might seem like pointless wordsmithing, but each change of nuance has diplomatic and legal ramifications. Everyone talks of ambition, but sometimes this ambition is for another country rather than their own.

The climate activists and the states at the frontline of climate change are palpably frustrated at the lack of progress. But this is not uncommon for COP talks. Often, they go through the night and there is a resolution over the weekend. Once, in 2000, there wasn’t, and parties had to meet again in the middle of the following year to reach an agreement.

Meanwhile, time marches on, and the COP President, Sameh Shoukry, looking increasingly harried, is trying to be everywhere at once and get an agreement. But everything is overrunning as the comments, proposed text changes and fundamental differences pile up.

At the end of it all, though, does any of this matter? Well, it does. This meeting could set intentions for change that will filter into legislation and regulation around the world, providing the framework for green technology and new jobs. It could provide funding for a host of projects that will really make a difference to those most vulnerable to global heating.

So the talks carry on into the night, with everyone hoping there’s still enough give and take left for a resolution.

Photo of Sarah mukherjee
Sarah Mukherjee MBE

CEO of IEMA, IEMA

Sarah Mukherjee MBE is the CEO of IEMA. She was the BBC's Environment Correspondent for many years, presenting on national and international BBC radio and television news, working – and winning awards - across the world.