Finance and fossil fuels: grappling with toughest issues as talks wind down

References to coal bolster hopes for resolution but most left disappointed by new text draft

Protesters at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, November 12, 2021. Reuters
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Eco-protesters captured the overwhelming mood when they targeted the tyres of gas-guzzling cars parked close to the UN’s climate change conference venue – largely deflated, but still with an opportunity to rectify the damage.

While motorists were left whining on social media about protesters letting down the tyres of 60 cars in Glasgow, negotiators were still shuffling along the blue carpet in the makeshift corridor. For the officials it was a case of returning to thrash out outstanding issues in talks that have pivoted on the same essential issues, but now with just hours of talks left on the schedule.

There was little immediate sense inside Glasgow Cop26 that its end was nigh. A disconnect between the sequestered negotiating rooms and the mass event with global attention has been a feature of the two-week meeting. On what was supposed to be the last day that divide was palpable.

Campaigners on Friday welcomed a new summit summary that referenced the phasing out of coal, even if most were left underwhelmed by a text that appears not to enshrine the UK government’s headline target of keeping alive the target of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

At the heart of the problem reaching the target is a failure to secure sufficient support in terms of money pledged. At the start of the week, Guinea said that the conference could “never be successful” without a concrete outcome on finance for poorer countries. The latest draft suggested that the gap was yet to be crossed between donor nations and countries most affected by climate change.

The draft “notes with deep regret” that the pledge to use $100 billion a year by 2020 had not been met.

"The revised draft has gone backwards in key areas,” said Vanessa Perez-Cirera of the conservation charity WWF. “In the face of the climate emergency, we had considered the previous text the absolute floor and expected it to be stronger and more concrete in the crucial areas.”

Talks went on through the night and look set to overrun their finish time on Friday evening as negotiators come under pressure to resolve issues around finance for poor countries, fossil fuels, the efforts of countries to cut emissions in the 2020s and rules on carbon markets and transparency. All those issues were identified as key sticking points at the start of the week.

The first draft of the summary of the summit’s possible agreement called for countries “to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”. In a new draft produced on Friday morning, that has changed to calling on countries to accelerate the shift to clean energy systems, “including by rapidly scaling up clean power generation and accelerating the phase-out of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”.

The inclusion of a direct reference to coal and fossil fuel subsidies was thought to be a first for a UN decision document of this type but it was expected to face fierce opposition from some countries and may not make it into the final text.

Analysis by E3G, a European climate change think tank, suggested there were sufficient developments that will require negotiating teams to consult with leaders.

The “text will breach many countries’ red lines, requiring them to go back to capitals for new instructions”, the group said. “It’s now the leaders who need to do heavy lifting.”

Updated: November 12, 2021, 1:55 PM