Cop26 chief hopeful of deal as fossil fuel tensions keep outcome in suspense

Draft agreement tones down language on phasing out coal, oil and gas

Cop26 president Alok Sharma struck a hopeful note on Friday about the prospects for agreeing a deal in the climate summit’s final hours.

Mr Sharma said all-night talks had led to draft agreements that "bring us another step closer" to the summit's goal of turning the tide against climate change.

But he said “a small number of key issues remain”, which mean a Friday evening finish for the talks is not yet certain.

The two-week negotiations were heading for a rocky climax as tensions over finance, fossil fuels and carbon trading stalled progress in Glasgow.

Under pressure from fossil-fuel reliant countries, negotiators have toned down calls to phase out oil, coal and gas.

The latest draft agreement calls on countries to scrap unabated coal power and inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels, adding qualifications to a previous text.

An earlier version that circulated on Wednesday had urged parties to “accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuel".

The amendments cast doubt on whether the UK summit hosts would succeed in their aim of “consigning coal to history” at Cop26.

But Mr Sharma said talks on financing the green transition had gathered pace after he bemoaned a lack of progress on Thursday.

He urged negotiators to seize the final hours of Cop26 as a "chance to forge a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous world" and come forward with pragmatic solutions so the summit could finish on time.

"Across the full suite of the draft decisions, a small number of key issues remain which require our urgent collective attention," he said.

"It has been my sincere intention throughout Cop26 to bring this conference to a smooth and orderly close at the end of today. We need that final injection of that can-do spirit which is present at this Cop so we get this shared endeavour over the line."

After Mr Sharma spoke, dozens of countries took the floor to make their final pleas to the summit, with some lamenting the stalemate on carbon markets which has remained unresolved since the Paris Agreement.

Final hours

The 12-day talks have produced a string of promises by batches of individual countries to cut methane emissions, curb deforestation and turn their backs on coal power.

But the final texts, which will sum up the progress made in Glasgow, require negotiations between all of the nearly 200 delegations.

"It was a late night for us yesterday, and we expect there might be a couple of hours left before we can conclude," said Sweden's chief negotiator Mattias Frumerie, who expressed hope of leaving on time. "Let’s say that Friday is a long day."

Leonore Gewessler, Austria’s Minister for Climate Action, revealed there was a group of states who were "lobbying hard for fossil fuel energy".

“There are attempts to weaken every concrete element," she said. "They are also reluctant for the ambitious declarations of recent days to be in the final text.”

Although some were cheered by the fact fossil fuels were mentioned in the text at all, activists said even the initial version did not go far enough.

"The new final decision text could be better, it should be better, and we have one day left to make it a lot, lot better," said Jennifer Morgan, the head of Greenpeace International. "Right now the fingerprints of fossil fuel interests are still on the text and this is not the breakthrough deal that people hoped for in Glasgow.

"The key line on phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies has been critically weakened, but it’s still there and needs to be strengthened again before this summit closes."

Britain had hailed a breakthrough last week when dozens of countries agreed to phase out coal, which is regarded as the dirtiest fossil fuel.

In another agreement, more than 100 nations promised to cut their emissions of methane, which is highly potent in warming the planet.

The draft text published on Friday “invites parties to consider further actions to reduce by 2030 non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions, including methane”.

A second draft agreement called on countries to revisit their 2030 pledges by the end of next year, sooner than required by the Paris Agreement.

The provisional texts, which may change again before a final version is agreed, said rapid CO2 reductions were needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Changes to the text can include the subtleties of whether countries are urged, requested or invited to take the steps that activists say are essential.

The Paris deal set the goal of limiting global warming to 2°C, or preferably to 1.5°C, above pre-industrial levels, to prevent catastrophic effects on the climate.

But UN chief Antonio Guterres told delegates that the current suite of national climate plans would actually lead to emissions increasing by 2030.

“We need pledges to be implemented. We need commitments to turn concrete. We need actions to be verified,” he said.

Mr Sharma, the summit president, told negotiators that “we still have a monumental challenge ahead of us” as talks entered their final stretch.

He insisted the summit could finish as planned on Friday evening, but there were concerns that talks could stretch deep into the weekend.

Jochen Flasbarth, the head of the German delegation, told German radio his team was making preparations to stay into the weekend if necessary.

The question of finance continues to loom over the talks, with the draft text expressing concern that money for adaptation “remains insufficient”.

“Negotiations on finance really need to accelerate and they need to accelerate now,” Mr Sharma said on Thursday.

Investors with $130 trillion of assets promised in the first week of talks to manage their funds in accordance with the Paris goals.

Rich countries who missed a 2020 deadline to provide $100 billion in annual climate finance are now promising to do so by 2023.

Negotiators were also working on the so-called Paris Rulebook, the agreed rules for how the global climate deal should be implemented.

"We’re seeing texts coming out which will probably be revised during the course of the day," said Mr Frumerie, the Swedish delegate.

"There have been some developments which we think are positive but we also want to see further action being taken in these last couple of hours."

A letter by the official Friends of Cop – expert advisers appointed by the UK government – said the same urgency was needed on finance and adaptation as on cutting emissions.

They told Mr Sharma that countries should be pressed harder into improving their climate plans by Cop27 in Egypt next year, or at the latest by Cop28 in the UAE.

"Today's draft is an improvement but still falls short of where we need to get," said Justin Adams, one of the advisers.

"Finance remains the thread that links it all together and is essential to restore trust in the broader process."

Updated: November 14th 2021, 4:36 AM
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