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Climate Conference to Debate Whether Rich Nations Will Pay for Damage

SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt — International climate talks, known as COP27, began Sunday in Egypt with a small, symbolic breakthrough amid warning of geopolitical tensions and the grim certainty of science.

The World Meteorological Organization said Sunday that the last eight years were on track to be the warmest on record, citing the effects of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere from the start of the industrial age. The Paris climate accords signed in 2015 were meant to deal with that issue and to slow rising temperatures.

The average global temperature is 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than it was 150 years ago, the agency said in a report, exacerbating heat waves and extreme weather on every continent.

Alongside that sobering data came what counts as progress on the contentious issue of who will pay for the irreversible damage that climate change is wreaking on the world’s most vulnerable. For the first time, the topic of “funding arrangements” for loss and damage was included on the conference’s formal agenda, overcoming longstanding objections from the United States and the European Union.

That’s a win for a bloc of poor countries and emerging economies, backed by China, that say they have lost money, land, livelihoods and human lives because of climate hazards disproportionately caused by the greenhouse gas emissions of rich, industrialized countries.

Those countries, led by the United States and Europe, have long said they cannot agree to a separate pot of money that could open up endless claims for compensation. They softened their stance this year in agreeing to put loss and damage on the agenda.

The issue is far from settled. There is no agreement on whether to set up a compensation fund and certainly no allocation of money itself. “Space has been created for discussion,” said Simon Stiell, the head of the United Nations climate change agency, which is leading these talks.

In a measure of how high frustrations are running, an organization of vulnerable island nations appealed for “solidarity not charity.”

“We are not asking for favors,” a statement from the Alliance of Small Island States said. “We will not be silent victims to the cost of pollution created by others, for the profit of the few.”

Compounding crises loom over these talks, prompted by the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s war with Ukraine. Energy prices have skyrocketed, whetting appetites to develop more fossil fuel projects. Food prices have spiraled upward, too, plunging poor people deeper into hunger.

The world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the United States and China, are barely speaking to each other, and the tensions between them are pitched on everything from trade to Taiwan. These strains will complicate efforts to achieve progress at the conference.

But none of those problems will have the long-lasting impact of climate change, Mr. Stiell said. “Climate change is ever-present and will only get worse,” he warned at a news conference.

The World Meteorological Organization report plainly laid out the catastrophic threat of climate change. Sea levels are rising at twice the rate they were 30 years ago. The ocean is hotter than ever. The concentrations of planet-warming carbon dioxide and methane are at their highest levels. This is exactly what scientific projections had been warning of for decades, the group’s secretary general, Petteri Taalas, said.

“The projections were right,” Dr. Taalas said.

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