COP26: Climate change negotiators rush to get deal

COP26 President Alok Sharma released early on Friday morning the second draft of a Glasgow agreement on climate action, which included an expression of “deep regret” over climate finance failures and adjusted language on coal and fossil fuels.

Sharma then engaged in a maelstrom of mediation, visiting dozens of national delegations in a bid to get the agreement over the line on the final day of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, or COP26.

The new draft included several important tweaks to an earlier version and included for the first time a call to phase out coal use and end fossil fuel subsidies this decade. The latest version of the text softened this language, and now applies to “inefficient” fuel subsidies and “unabated” coal projects. Unabated means that a plant has not invested in abating technology, such as carbon capture and storage.

Several campaigners took issue with this updated language, arguing that the qualifier “inefficient” presents loopholes and that abated coal projects still produce emissions. Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said the agreement is now “critically weakened”.

However, negotiators from several developing nations contend that the first draft unfairly shifted responsibility onto poor nations from rich ones, at a time when climate finance commitments remain unfulfilled.

A group of more than 20 nations, including China, which have formed the Like Minded-Group of Developing Countries, or the LMDC, had questioned how countries without well-developed clean energy infrastructure were supposed to make a rapid low-carbon transition when rich countries still had not delivered on a promise to raise $100 billion in annual climate finance.

“Under the Paris Agreement finance is an obligation, finance is not charity to developing countries from the developed world,” Bolivian negotiator Diego Pacheco Balanza said on Thursday, speaking on behalf of the LMDC.

China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, said last week that the missed target had severely impacted mutual trust between negotiators.

The new draft of the agreement expressed “deep regret” that finance goals had not been reached and “urged” rich nations to deliver the annual $100 billion “urgently” through 2025.

The draft also called on nations to raise their emissions reduction targets by 2022, a recognition that current pledges are not sufficient to keep the average rise in global temperature to within 2 C and 1.5 C, a target laid out in the Paris Agreement six years ago. The agreement urged action from nations that have not done so to deliver in 2022 updated emissions reduction targets and netzero plans.

On Thursday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said governments need to step up action heading into the last day of COP26.

COP26 has delivered some notable deals on deforestation, fossil fuel subsidies, coal and methane reduction, and engagement with the private and finance sectors.

“But they are far from enough,” Guterres said on Thursday. “The emissions gap remains a devastating threat. The finance and adaptation gap represents a glaring injustice for the developing world.”

Negotiations over Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which concerns carbon markets and remains unfinished, continue to cause controversy.

In a carbon market, countries that have exceeded emissions reduction targets can sell carbon credits to other nations or firms.

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