US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry attends a session on the Global Methane Pledge at the COP27 Climate Summit. Image Credit: AP

SHARM AL SHEIKH, Egypt: US Climate Envoy John Kerry has tested positive for COVID-19 at the UN climate talks in Egypt, a spokeswoman said late Friday night, the latest setback for what appeared to be stalled negotiations that were already going into overtime.

“He is fully vaccinated and boosted and experiencing mild symptoms. He is working with his negotiations team and foreign counterparts by phone to ensure a successful outcome of COP27,” spokeswoman Whitney Smith wrote in a statement late Friday.

Kerry’s illness was sure to add to worries about the negotiations, which were scheduled to end Friday but were continuing with no clear end in sight. A former US senator and secretary of state, Kerry has deep relationships with leaders around the world and carries a lot of weight in international talks.

Negotiations, at least those in public, hit a lull Friday afternoon into the evening, as press conferences and plenaries were postponed or cancelled. Diplomats said they hoped for late night progress as they changed airline reservations for talks going into extended overtime in Egypt.

Delegates said there was some headway being made, especially on the most difficult sticking point. That’s the issue of ‘loss and damage,’ which is the idea of some kind of compensation — a dedicated fund or something less formal — from rich nations to help out poor nations already hit hard by extreme climate events worsened by decades of burning of fossil fuels by developed nations.

“I think we’re in for a bit of a long haul,” World Resources Institute international climate director David Waskow said. “Loss and damage sits at the center in terms of what needs to be done to get this over the finish line.”

“We are very busy and they’re making some progress and they’ve gotten some clarity on all positions,” Molwyn Joseph, who spoke on behalf of small island states, told The Associated Press.

Act faster

“There is the possibility that we could get an outcome, but also it could fall over at the last minute,” said New Zealand’s Climate Change Minister James Shaw. “And I think if that happened, it would be a real shame because this is as close (on loss and damage) as we’ve ever been before.”

Nakeeyat Dramani Sam of Ghana chided delegates at this year’s UN climate talks, saying they would act faster to rein in global warming if they were her age.

“It is an emergency,” she told negotiators, holding a sign that read “Payment Overdue”. “If all of you were to be young people like me, wouldn’t you have already agreed to do what is needed to save our planet?”

But after her standing ovation, it was back to nations squabbling over several thorny issues, with the Egyptian presidency acknowledging that the talks will go into overtime on Saturday, if not longer.

“Time is not on our side,” said Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. Speaking as the summit’s chair, he pledged to try to find common ground on key issues Friday and Saturday. “The global community is looking to us to be bold and ambitious.”

The biggest fight is over what the 10-year-old activist and author alluded to. Nations are split over a few competing options on loss and damage. Pakistan’s climate minister, Sherry Rehman, told her fellow negotiators that two of the proposed options that don’t immediately provide a fund “are not tenable” for the 77 poorest nations and China.

A new draft cover decision from the Egyptian presidency came out Friday morning, half the size of Thursday’s 20-page document that was criticized for being vague and bloated. But this new 10-page one still has little new compared to previous years and plenty of places with yet-to-be-decided options. And some of the most talked about proposals, from the European Union, Barbados and India aren’t in it, reflecting the Egyptian presidency’s priorities.