Boris Johnson warns of backlash if Glasgow ends in failure

UK prime minister concedes that climate change won't be fixed in one go

Boris Johnson warned world leaders they faced a backlash of criticism and opprobrium if they "sat on their hands" and failed to get an agreement on climate action at the Cop26 meeting in Glasgow.

After a last minute dash to the Scottish city to put the pressure on the negotiations, the UK prime minister said it was very frustrating to see countries edging towards allowing vulnerable nations dropping by default into the grips of climate change. A deal could be done.

"We just need to reach out and grasp it," he said. "My question to world leaders as we enter the last hours of Cop is 'Will you help us do that?"

An overnight first draft of the Cop26 headline agreement asked countries to "revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions, as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022.

Mr Johnson said the talks needed to go further before a Friday night deadline to wind up the talks. "The risk of sliding backward is disastrous," he said. "The line is in sight but if we are going to get over that line we need a determined push."

Officials leading the Cop26 talks hope to present a series of “near final” drafts of agreements overnight on Wednesday after a UK template for a deal at Glasgow set out a framework for countries to make commitments by the end of 2022.

Alok Sharma, the Cop26 president, called on delegates to come “armed with the currency of compromise” on Wednesday as he looks for final concessions that would straddle the most contentious gaps.

The current set of pledges for emissions reductions by the end of the decade do not meet the Paris Agreement target of capping the global temperature rise at 1.5°C. A baseline for success is that the meeting has "kept alive" the prospect of meeting that target before it is too late.

The UK draft called on countries to “revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their Nationally Determined Contributions [NDCs] as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022".

Documents from the UK also "[note] with regret that the goal of developed country parties to mobilise jointly $100 billion per year by 2020 in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation has not yet been met".

Frans Timmermans, the head of the EU delegation, told the meeting that with extra effort, the UK framework could be the means to “close the gap within the year".

Swiss Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said on Wednesday that there were three views on how often countries should set targets, as negotiators weigh a change from the five-year cycle laid out by the Paris Agreement. Vulnerable nations want an annual process whereas a “very small” group of nations want to extend the time frame to every decade.

“Views still differ widely, of course, as to what should be the preferred time frame for NDCs to be applied from 2031 onwards,” she said.

Proponents say the push for more regular reviews of climate plans is seen as necessary because countries' current 2030 pledges would lead to 2.4°C of warming.

Also still in the balance is a deal on carbon credits.

“The text has narrowed and the choice is clear,” said Mr Sharma.

Espen Barth Eide, the Norwegian foreign minister, said that burden of financing the adaptation of vulnerable economies remained one of the most contentious issues.

In his press conference, Mr Johnson predicted finance would be the "solvent" that unlocked the differences. Archie Young, the UK's chief negotiator, said three main issues on accounting for credits, grandfathering previous 2015 entitlements and how to share the proceeds remained sticking points, but that imaginative solutions were being hashed out.

As a general overview, he said the documents were evidence that countries were raising their ambitions for what could be agreed to at Glasgow.

Mr Young is due to meet delegations on Wednesday to circulate the latest version of the agreements.

A separate topic is the so-called transparency of how countries account for their carbon pledges and here, the feedback was more positive, with a high level of agreement between delegations, but a political decision is still needed on the sequencing of an agreement.

For the first time in the UN climate negotiation process, the text would call for countries to phase out coal and fossil fuel subsidies — if the current language makes it into the final document.

“It’s quite helpful to have those sectors named very specifically and those types of actions named very specifically,” said David Waskow, director of the International Climate Initiative at the World Resources Institute.

The text sends messages on particular areas in which new offers are desired, including the issue of financing for countries vulnerable to climate change.

The presidency “notes with serious concern that the current provision of climate finance for adaptation is insufficient to respond to worsening climate change impacts in developing country parties [and] urges developed country parties to urgently scale up their provision of climate finance for adaptation so as to respond to the needs of developing country parties".

The most vulnerable nations have called on developed nations to do more and to strengthen the language.

“We won't get the ambition on emissions we need for 1.5°C if we don't scale up the provision of finance, and this includes the long-overdue recognition of a separate and additional component for loss and damage,” said Aubrey Webson, chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States Group.

“Urging, calling, encouraging and inviting is not the decisive language that this moment calls for.”

Updated: November 10th 2021, 5:37 PM