A call to phase down all fossil fuels, including gas and oil, was blocked by Saudi Arabia, Russia and other big emitters.
The European Union is not hiding its disappointment with the climate deal struck at COP27, criticising its lack of ambition and warning of an increasingly distant possibility to keep global warming under the 1.5 °C target.
"We have treated some of the symptoms but not cured the patient from its fever," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a short reaction statement.
Her deputy, Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who led the negotiations on the EU's behalf, was more scathing and left no doubts as to his frustration.
The final deal "does not bring enough added efforts from major emitters to increase and accelerate their emissions cuts. It does not bring a higher degree of confidence that we will achieve the commitments made under the Paris Agreement and in Glasgow last year," Timmermans said at the summit's closing plenary.
"It does not address the yawning gap between climate science and our climate policies."
Loss and damage
The summit's main outcome was a historic agreement to set up a brand-new fund for loss and damage, the financial compensations for the countries hardest hit by the climate crisis.
The breakthrough capped over 30 years of demands by vulnerable nations, who disproportionally suffer from extreme weather events despite their limited role in the release of greenhouse gas emissions.
"The establishment of a fund is not about dispensing charity. It is clearly a down payment on the longer investment in our joint futures," said Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's climate minister.
The European Union arrived at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, with the intention to oppose the creation of a separate fund for loss and damage, fearing it would open the doors for endless legal claims.
But as frantic talks neared their end with no resolution in sight, the EU extended a surprising olive branch: it would lift its long-held red line on loss and damage only if all other countries updated and strengthened their climate policies, including reaching peak emissions by 2025.
But that was not the case.
What the bloc got in return was, in the words of Ursula von der Leyen, a "small step forward" towards climate justice that falls short of tackling the root cause of the crisis: the widespread burning of fossil fuels.
Countries did not offer any new major commitments on mitigation compared to those made last year in Glasgow, despite an ominous report released last month by the United Nations that concluded there was no "credible pathway" to maintain the 1.5°C target.
Global temperatures are already about 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels and current pledges are expected to bring them all the way to 2.5°C, a threshold that would unleash catastrophic events of unthinkable scope.
The EU's last-minute offer to finance loss and damage was not reciprocated as diplomats were expecting. The 2025 peak in emissions demanded by the bloc fell flat, leaving the 1.5°C goal hanging by a thread.
"We are disappointed by the lack of ambition on the essential issue of reducing greenhouse gases," said Agnes Pannier-Runacher, France's energy minister.
Meanwhile, a call to phase down all fossil fuels – not only coal, as it was agreed in Glasgow, but also oil and gas – that was supported by the EU and India was eventually blocked by big emitters, like Saudi Arabia and Russia, and other developing nations wishing to exploit their untapped resources.
"It is more than frustrating to see overdue steps on mitigation and the phase-out of fossil energies prevented by some major emitter and oil-producing countries. As a result, the world loses precious time toward the path of 1.5 degrees," said Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign affairs minister.
To the surprise of many analysts, the final text speaks of "low-emission" technologies to slash emissions, a vague term that might be used as a loophole to protect future investments in gas projects.
In his speech at the closing plenary, Timmermans struck a critical tone, saying the final deal puts "unnecessary barriers" in the way to 1.5°C and allows countries to "hide from their responsibilities."
The Commission vice president then urged the international community to "seize the opportunity" over the following 12 months to ensure COP28 in Dubai yields a more powerful result.
Next year's summit will be key to determining who pays into the loss-and-damage fund and who benefits from it. The EU and the US are determined to make China, the world's largest emitter, foot part of the bill.
"We know that the cost of inaction is so much higher than the cost of action," Timmermans said. "We wasted a lot of time already. And our people and planet have no more time to lose."