Big Fights Remain in Final Hours of COP26 in Glasgow
Negotiators at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow are closing in on an agreement, though the final stretch is — as always — set to be the hardest. New drafts published on Saturday morning show what battles remain.
Environmental groups said the proposed framework for a global carbon market is markedly better than previous versions, though there are still many loopholes. If the negotiations end with weak rules, there’s a risk that it will allow countries and companies to greenwash and give them a license to pollute while claiming to offset those emissions.
The other major point of contention is how to get rich countries to pay more to help developing nations cut emissions and cope with rising global temperatures. Developing country blocs were furious to see that their suggestion of creating a facility to assess claims for loss and damage caused by climate impacts, a topic that’s routinely overlooked at COP talks, was deleted from the latest draft.
“Whether Glasgow delivers a proper finance facility is how this summit will be judged by the world's most vulnerable countries,” Mohamed Adow, director of think tank Power Shift Africa, said on Twitter.
Still, there may be some wins in Glasgow. Contentious lines about moving away from coal, eliminating fossil-fuel subsides and upgrading official climate targets by next year look likely to survive, albeit with significant qualifications to get reluctant countries on board.
Climate diplomacy has always been a slow-moving beast. From that perspective, 197 countries potentially agreeing that they should move away fossil fuels — the foundation of the modern global economy — is groundbreaking. If a line calling for the phase out of “unabated” coal power and “inefficient” fossil-fuel subsidies stays in the final document, it will be the first time a COP text makes such a reference in 25 years, even with those concessions.
The latest version of the agreement also “recognizes the need for support towards a just transition,” which should help placate large fossil-fuel consumers and producers who are worried that rapid transition away from carbon-heavy industries could mean unmanageable job losses.
Crucially, the text is more aligned with the science than ever before. It contains language that mirrors a UN science report published in 2018 that showed why keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather than the Paris Agreement’s weaker target of 2°C, is crucial for maintaining a liveable planet.
The latest draft recognizes that keeping 1.5°C alive would mean “reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century.” Even though the Group of 20 communique published just before COP26 highlighted the importance of reaching 1.5°C, it didn’t specify how quickly emissions will have to be cut to meet that goal.
The draft text also says that countries should recognize there’s still a gap between their climate pledges and how much further emissions need to fall to meet goals of the Paris Agreement. It “requests” countries submit new, more ambitious pledges before the end of 2022, but adds a qualifier that would mean “taking into account different national circumstances.”
“This text is still pretty good and one I hope that all countries can embrace,” Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change. “It is time for countries to stop arguing over the text and to start taking the action that has been promised.”
The U.K. COP26 Presidency has said there will be a plenary meeting later today. That’s where any last remaining objections to the text can be made publicly. There’s also a chance that we might see yet another update on the text before the session begins.
Already delegates and journalists are making bets on when they think the gavel on the COP26 will come down, with many wagers for a Sunday morning finish. Only five out of the past 25 COP meetings have gone all the way to Sunday, with COP25 in Madrid running the latest and closing at 2pm.
Although none of what comes out of these annual UN summits is enforceable in the strict legal sense, they are a public declaration of intention signed on by global consensus. The decisions made will send an unmistakeable signal about how serious governments are about tackling the climate crisis.
Akshat Rathi writes the Net Zero newsletter, which examines the world’s race to cut emissions through the lens of business, science, and technology. You can email him with feedback.
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