By Kate Abnett, Sarah McFarlane and Aidan Lewis
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) -U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry tested positive for COVID-19 in the final hours of the COP27 climate talks in Egypt, the State Department said on Friday, as tough negotiations for a final deal headed into overtime.
Kerry had been conducting bilateral meetings, including recently with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua, and was expected to use his trademark shuttle diplomacy to help bridge wide differences in the last hours of the summit.
"He is fully vaccinated and boosted and experiencing mild symptoms," State Department spokesperson Whitney Smith said in an email. "He is working with his negotiations team and foreign counterparts by phone to ensure a successful outcome of COP27."
Kerry had held a three-hour closed-door meeting with Xie on Thursday evening, after public appearances and meetings with other counterparts earlier in the day, including from the European Union, Canada, the United Arab Emirates.
During a speaking event at the conference on Thursday, Kerry opened his remarks by saying: "As you can tell from my profoundly low voice today, I have a cold. But I tested so I’m OK."
During past UN climate summits, the final days of negotiations have been marked by a flurry of in-person meetings between high-level officials before a deal is agreed.
Efforts to reach the Chinese delegation at the summit were not immediately successful.
The United States and China, the world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters, had resumed cooperation on climate change earlier this week after a months-long hiatus caused by tensions over Taiwan.
A European Union proposal on Friday had buoyed hopes. The bloc said it would back one of the toughest agenda items: financing for countries wracked by climate-fuelled disasters. But with other sticking points dogging the talks, host country Egypt said a final deal was not expected before the weekend.
"I remain committed to bring this conference to a close tomorrow in an orderly manner, with the adoption of a series of consensus decisions that will be comprehensive, ambitious, and balanced," COP27 President Sameh Shoukry told reporters.
The two-week conference at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh has tested international resolve to combat warming that has contributed to ever-worse storms, floods, droughts and wildfires.
DEAL IN SIGHT?
On Friday morning, the U.N. climate agency published its first official draft of the final summit deal, reaffirming past commitments to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times to avert climate catastrophes.
But the text showed little in the way of new action like funding or guarantees that countries will act faster to slash emissions. Global temperatures are already near the 1.5C threshold, and are projected to zoom past it unless greenhouse gas emissions are cut dramatically.
In a potential breakthrough, the European Union said late on Thursday it would back the demand of the G77 group of 134 developing countries to set up a fund to help them cope with "loss and damage" already wrought by climate change.
Rich countries have for years resisted the idea for fear it could lead to limitless liability.
But it was unclear Friday if developing countries would accept the EU's stipulation that the fund aid only "the most vulnerable countries", rather than all developing countries, as they had requested.
In the EU proposal, China - a crucial member of the developing nations bloc - would help fund the aid instead of benefit from it. Delegates were still waiting to learn how the United States and China would respond.
The climate minister for the Maldives, which faces inundation from rising seas, welcomed the proposal.
"As the lowest-lying country in the world, we are heartened by the goodwill in this room," Shauna Aminath said.
Later on Friday, a draft proposal presented by the United Kingdom was under discussion, according to multiple sources.
But it was seen as a step backward.
“According to this proposal we wouldn’t see the fund actually operationalised until COP29 in two years time," said Mohamed Adow of Kenya-based thinktank Powershift Africa.
"That does nothing for the victims of loss and damage who are already suffering."
Deals at COP27 must be made with support from all of the nearly 200 countries present.
Some countries, including the EU and Britain, have pushed for the overall deal in Egypt to lock in country commitments for more ambitious climate action.
Ireland's environment minister, Eamon Ryan, said countries needed to ratchet up their emissions-cutting efforts.
"It's important that we get a strong cover text," he told Reuters. "The responsibility very much will lie now with the Egyptian presidency in trying to get something that we can rally behind."
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(Reporting by Kate Abnett and Aidan Lewis in Sharm el-Sheikh, and Sarah McFarlane in London; Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici, Gloria Dickie, Dominic Evans, Shadia Nasralla and William James in Sharm el-Sheikh; Writing by Katy Daigle; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and David Gregorio)