COP26 agrees on new global climate deal

    14 Nov 2021

    Negotiators took the two-week U.N. climate talks in Scotland into an extra day on November 13, wrestling with a fresh draft of an agreement intended to give the world a realistic shot at avoiding the worst effects of global warming.

    A deal aimed at staving off dangerous climate change has been struck at the COP26 summit in Glasgow on November 13, BBC reports.

    The Glasgow Climate Pact is the first-ever climate deal to explicitly plan to reduce coal, the worst fossil fuel for greenhouse gases.

    The final deal also promises more money for developing countries – to help them adapt to climate impacts.

    But the pledges don’t go far enough to limit temperature rise to 1.5° C.

    And an earlier commitment to phase out coal was watered down after India raised last-minute objections to the wording and replaced it with the phrase “phase down”.

    After the new wording was agreed amid expressions of disappointment by several nations, COP26 President Alok Sharma said he was “deeply sorry” for how events had unfolded.

    But he said it was vital to protect the agreement as a whole.

    As part of the agreement, countries have pledged to meet next year to pledge further major carbon cuts so that the goal of 1.5° C can be reached.

    If global temperatures rise by more than 1.5° C, scientists say the Earth is likely to experience severe effects such as millions of more people being exposed to extreme heat.

    The key achievements in the agreement are: the inclusion of the commitment to phase down coal, re-visiting emissions-cutting plans on a more regular basis, and increased financial help for developing countries.

    But developing nations were unhappy about the lack of progress on what’s known as “loss and damage”, the idea that richer countries should compensate poorer ones for climate change effects they can’t adapt to.



    Wait, what just happened on coal?

    Well, that was a last minute twist – so what happened?

    Countries have been wrangling over fine details all day – but in the final moments India and China both pushed to water down of the wording around coal.

    The previous draft said countries would “phase out” the use of unabated coal – that’s coal-burning which is carried out without some form of carbon capture and storage to counteract the emissions it produces.

    But that wording has now been changed to “phase down”.

    The move prompted angry responses from European nations and several island states.

    However, every party still agreed to the deal, as many said the overall package was better than no deal at all.


    What we should now about the final days of COP26:

    • COP26 conference had been due to end on November 12.
    • New draft retains call for phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies.
    • Nations at odds over how to keep the 1.5° C goal alive.
    • Poor countries seek funds to tackle climate change.



    Summary by BBC:

    A deal has been reached at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

    India and China asked for a crucial last minute-change to the agreement, calling for the “phase-down” not the “phase-out” of coal power.

    It was approved but many countries said they were deeply disappointed.

    COP President Alok Sharma earlier told delegates: “This is the moment of truth for our planet”.

    US envoy John Kerry says the text “raises ambitions” globally, and adds, “we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

    The summit is seen as a key moment to try and keep temperature increases to 1.5° C and limit the worst impacts of climate change.



    Britain suggests climate funding plan as UN negotiators go into overtime

    A deal appears to be in sight at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, with delegates in the final sessions.

    But India asks for a crucial last minute-change to the agreement, calling for the “phase-down” not the “phase-out” of coal power.

    COP President Alok Sharma earlier told delegates: “This is the moment of truth for our planet”.

    He reiterated that the summit – which has already run a day overtime – must end today (on November 13).

    US envoy John Kerry says the text “raises ambitions” globally, and adds, “we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

    The summit is seen as a key moment to try and keep temperature increases to 1.5C and limit the worst impacts of climate change.

    Alok Sharma, the British conference president, said Reuters he expected COP26 to close on Saturday afternoon with a deal between the almost 200 countries present, ranging from coal- and gas-fuelled superpowers to oil producers and Pacific islands being swallowed by the rise in sea levels.

    Like earlier versions, the latest draft attempted to balance the demands of climate-vulnerable nations, big industrial powers, and those whose consumption or exports of fossil fuels are vital to their economic development.

    Britain tried to unblock one of the thorniest issues by proposing mechanisms to ensure that the poorest nations finally get more of the financial help they have been promised to prepare for and manage increasingly frequent extreme weather.



    China, the biggest current emitter of the greenhouse gases responsible for manmade global warming, and Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, were seeking to prevent the final deal including language that opposes subsidies for fossil fuels, two sources told Reuters on Friday. 

    However, Saturday’s draft, published by the United Nations, continued to single out fossil fuels – something no U.N. climate conference conclusion has yet succeeded in doing.

    It also urged rich countries to double finance for climate adaptation by 2025 from 2019 levels, offering funding that has been a key demand of small island nations at the conference.



    ‘Keeping 1.5 C° alive’

    Developing countries want to ensure that rich nations, whose historical emissions are largely responsible for heating up the planet, pay more to help them adapt to its consequences.

    Adaptation funds primarily go to the very poorest countries and currently take up only a small fraction of climate funding.

    Britain also said a U.N. committee should report next year on progress towards delivering the $100 billion in overall annual climate funding that rich nations had promised by 2020 but failed to deliver, and that governments should meet in 2022, 2024 and 2026 to discuss climate finance. read more

    The meeting’s overarching aim is to keep within reach the 2015 Paris Agreement’s target to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

    Scientists say that to go beyond that limit would unleash extreme sea level rise and catastrophes including crippling droughts, monstrous storms and wildfires far worse than those the world is already suffering.

    But national emissions-cutting pledges made so far would cap the average global temperature rise at only 2.4 Celsius. While there is little chance of that gap being closed in Glasgow, Sharma said he hoped the final deal would pave the way for deeper cuts.

    Liberian Nellie Dokie, 37, who lives in Glasgow and has been making a daily two-hour trip to cook for conference delegates, ventured her first peep into the main conference area on Saturday before delegates began a noon stock-taking session.

    “I want to be a part of history,” she said. “I played a small part.”


    ‘Wait and see’

    U.S. climate envoy John Kerry also struck a positive note when asked late Friday whether he agreed with climate campaigner Greta Thunberg that COP26 was a “festival for ‘business as usual'”.

    “Obviously, I don’t agree,” he replied, “and I think you will see that when you see what happens.”

    Kerry helped to revive flagging hopes for the conference when he and Chinese negotiator Xie Zhenhua on Thursday announced the countries would boost efforts to preserve forests, needed to soak up and hold in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and to cut output of the second-most important greenhouse gas, methane.

    The White House said on Friday that U.S. President Joe Biden, who has succeeded in pushing $555 billion in climate measures through Congress in a post-pandemic recovery programme, will hold a virtual meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Monday night, U.S. time.

    The newest draft of what many hope will be the final Glasgow agreement retained a significant demand for nations to set tougher climate pledges next year, rather than every five years, as they are currently required to do.

    The European Union and Italy were drawing up a proposal to use Special Drawing Rights provided by the International Monetary Fund to help make sure the target of $100 billion in climate finance is met next year, an EU official said.

    But $100 billion a year is far short of poorer countries’ actual needs, which could hit $300 billion a year by 2030 in adaptation costs alone, according to the United Nations, in addition to economic losses from crop failure or climate-related disasters.



    The good, the bad and the Irn-Bru: how Cop26 played out

    The climate summit is winding down after 12 days of talks, protests, deals, frustration and a fizzy drink, The Guardian reports.

    On November 12 youth campaigners, indigenous leaders and Extinction Rebellion members raised a cacophony of chants and drum beats outside Cop26, and civil society groups inside the conference complex staged a walkout to join them.

    Within the UN-controlled blue zone, delegates darted through the endless meeting halls or hunched around laptops as the clock counted down tense minutes to the end of the 12-day conference that is widely understood to be crucial to the future of humanity.

    The deals already reached

    The ragged final hours of Cop26 are a distinct contrast to the carefully choreographed first days, when world leaders arrived with bustling entourages to deliver a flourish of eye-catching pledges and, in the case of Boris Johnson, eye-watering analogies, as the host nation’s prime minster likened the climate crisis to a football game and then a James Bond movie in his welcome address.

    As locals adapted to the sound of their city being mispronounced “Glaz-cow” by visiting news anchors, Joe Biden’s first-day promise that “the United States is not only back at the table but hopefully leading by the power of our example” was a reassertion of American credibility after Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, but notable too were the absences of the leaders of Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China, all major contributors to the crisis.

    Those who endured the chaotic queues for entry into the tightly secured and Covid-regulated blue zone were boosted by India’s announcement that the country would go net zero by 2070, albeit several generations hence but one of the last remaining major economies to have held out on such a commitment.

    Then came the domino run of pledges: a declaration on Tuesday on ending deforestation by 2030 and a plan to coordinate the global introduction of clean technologies in order to rapidly drive down their cost; a commitment on Wednesday to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by the end of the decade; an agreement on Thursday to phase out coal-fired power between 2030 and 2040.

    While artfully scripted, these declarations did leave lingering questions of credibility given all were agreed outside the main UN framework, and not by all nations. The heavy spinning did not help either.


    The failures and sidesteps

    Over the past fortnight, richer countries have been repeatedly challenged on their failure to hit the longstanding $100bn (£75bn) targets for providing climate finance to the developing countries struggling with a climate crisis not of their making. That was not resolved here, and the final draft agreement published on Friday morning still grossly underestimates the necessary amounts, according to global debt campaigners.

    Although the former Bank of England governor Mark Carney, now UN special envoy on finance and Boris Johnson’s finance adviser for Cop26, told the summit on finance day that $130tn of private capital was waiting to be deployed for just transition in the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (Gfanz), many are sceptical of how plausible it is to rely on big business to step into the breach. Many also concluded that further analysis of that huge figure would be necessary.

    There were low points for individual nations. A few days after the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, refused to sign the methane pledge during his brief and grudging attendance, his government’s policy response to the climate crisis was ranked last in an assessment of 60 countries by the Climate Change Performance Index.

    And this week it became embarrassingly apparent that the UK hosts were not joining the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, founded by Denmark and Costa Rica as a club of countries committed to phasing out oil and gas production.


    Voice beyond the blue zone

    After an expletive-strewn speech on arrival in Glasgow, the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg pledged to go “net zero on swearing”, but she made no apology for the force of her fury at the school strikes rally last Friday. “This is no longer a climate conference,” she told the crowd of 10,000 young people in George Square. “This is now a global north greenwash festival, a two-week-long celebration of business as usual and blah blah blah.”

    Her rage and frustration was shared by other activists who arrived over the first week, having struggled with Covid travel restrictions and overpriced accommodation. Many questioned why the green zone – where civil society, charities and campaigners meet – was set up across the river from the main conference site, and why there was so little public space directly outside the blue zone, meaning protests held there were regularly corralled by police.

    The “saturation” policing presence across the city – as well as reported instances of harassment of activists – had a chilling effect on protests, according to campaigners, with the anticipated disruptive direct action at a minimum during the first week.

    Regardless – and despite buffeting winds and heavy rain – about 100,000 took to the streets in Glasgow, joining others across the world in a global day of action.

    As the summit has progressed, the stunts and actions have become more inventive – a troupe of giant Pikachu protesting against Japan’s refusal to reduce coal consumption; “Emotional Rebellion” activists screaming out their climate anxiety in the drizzle by the River Clyde; and emissions campaigners deflating SUV tyres across the city.

    The responses became more inventive too: on Tuesday evening a guerilla protest projected slogans such as “Ban fracking now” on to the summit venue, only to find their words covered over as the official projectionist beamed “go away” across the arched roof of the Clyde auditorium.


    The fight to be heard

    The legitimacy of the entire summit was called into question at the start of the second week, as observers representing hundreds of environmental, indigenous and women’s rights organisations revealed they were being excluded from negotiating areas, given limited tickets and prevented from joining online due to technical glitches.

    Despite UK government boasts that this summit would be the “most inclusive ever”, a combination of Covid restrictions, travel costs and the UK’s hostile immigration system has meant about two-thirds of civil society organisations who usually send delegates did not travel to Glasgow, resulting in a summit dismissed as the “whitest and most privileged ever”.

    The focus on gender equality on Tuesday heard warm words acknowledging that women and girls often bear the brunt of the climate crisis, but a rally outside the summit put things more bluntly: for indigenous women “femicide is directly linked to ecocide”.


    The star speakers and celebrity interventions

    The former US president Barack Obama nearly lost the crowd when he described Scotland as “the Emerald Isle” on Monday, but recovered sufficiently to be awarded a lifetime membership of the local student union.

    Other celebrity visitors included the Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio, who reportedly took a commercial flight to Glasgow to visit, and Idris Elba, who had the good grace to admit in his speech at the summit that he understood why “people might be a little irritated” to see celebrities weighing in on the climate crisis. The actor Emma Watson and singer Ellie Goulding detailed their meetings with campaigners on Instagram.


    A good week for Irn-Bru

    The marketing people at AG Barr, makers of Scotland’s beloved, bright orange fizzy drink Irn-Bru, may have had an inkling they were on to a good thing thanks to their sponsorship deal with the SEC convention centre where Cop26 was held.

    But the intense love it/loathe it debate among delegates during the first week of the summit reached stratospheric proportions when the US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez documented her first taste of the uniquely flavoured beverage on Wednesday. The verdict? “Love it.” Showing admirable restraint, Irn-Bru simply tweeted back: “We’re glad you liked it.”


    China, Saudi seek to block anti-fossil fuel language in UN climate deal – sources

    China and Saudi Arabia are among a group of countries seeking to prevent the UN climate deal in Scotland from including language that opposes fossil fuel subsidies, according to two sources close to the negotiations.

    The issue of subsidies for oil, gas, and coal has become a major sticking point at the summit, where negotiators have already blown past a Friday deadline to strike an agreement aimed at keeping alive a goal to limit global warming to 1.5 ° С.

    Existing drafts of the agreement negotiated over the past two weeks would request that governments unwind public financial support for fossil fuels, which scientists say are the primary drivers of human-caused climate change.

    U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry told the summit on Friday that trying to curb global warming while governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars supporting the fuels that cause it was “a definition of insanity”.

    Other Western nations, including members of the European Union and Britain, are also pushing to keep the reference to removing fossil fuels subsidies.

    The two sources, who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the talks, said China and Saudi Arabia were pushing to have the language removed.

    Efforts to reach the Saudi and Chinese delegations Friday evening were unsuccessful, Reuters states.

    China, the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, is a significant oil and coal producer.

    Earlier this week, China announced a joint agreement with the United States at the Glasgow summit to ramp up its ambitions to fight climate change, including by accelerating its phase down of coal this decade and by curbing methane emissions.

    Saudi Arabia is a major crude producer and the de facto head of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

    Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud told the conference earlier this week that a deal to fight climate change should not target any one particular source of energy, arguing emissions can be brought down by other means.


    Read our author’s column about what matters more in COP26 news: climate pledges of the world leaders or their private flights, here.

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