Negotiations are expected to run through the night Friday at the COP26 climate summit, as stark divisions remain on several key issues.
A second draft of a potential COP26 agreement was published Friday morning but there was clear opposition from many countries on language concerning temperature rise and fossil fuels, whether the developed world should pay liabilities to the developing world for climate crisis impacts and the rules of carbon markets.
A note from COP26 President Alok Sharma on Friday night said that a new draft of the agreement would likely be published at around 8 a.m. local time on Saturday. His schedule shows that a feedback session will follow, but he expressed hope that the version would be adopted in a Saturday afternoon session.
Jennifer Tollman, a senior policy advisor from the climate think tank E3G, has been observing the talks and warned that the next iteration could easily be rejected.
“If everything goes amazingly well, you’d just see minor adjustments to the next version,” Tollman told CNN. “If things are a bit tougher, then you might need to see that kind of second version, or iteration, of text. But I do think that we’re moving in the right direction. This is definitely going into, well, it’s already in overtime.”
Negotiators have been in talks for 12 days, including in some heated sessions this week.
All 197 parties in attendance will need to agree on each and every word of the final agreement, so further watering down of the current draft, which was published early Friday, is entirely possible.
A group of climate analysts attending the summit noted in a briefing email that “battles over loss & damage, carbon markets and finance” were flaring.
“This is a test of COP President Alok Sharma’s nerve and whether he can deliver ambitious outcomes where there isn’t obvious consensus,” the group wrote.
COP conferences typically run over time, but there had been an expectation that a full agreement could be reached Friday night or early Saturday. Sharma had optimistically said all week he hoped for a deal by 6 p.m. Friday.
There is a clear split between developed and developing nations around whether a new “loss and damage” fund should be established through which wealthy countries would pay liability to developing countries for the impacts of the crisis on their countries.
Developing nations believe wealthy countries are historically more responsible for the climate crisis, but the impacts are disproportionately felt in the developing world.
A senior US official said Thursday does not support the creation of a loss and damage compensation fund.
An EU spokesperson declined to confirm the bloc’s position, but pointed to remarks by its climate policy chief Frans Timmermans made earlier Friday, saying that loss and damage “is a key part of our conversation.”
“It’s time to move and find the solutions that will help vulnerable countries respond to the damage and destruction the climate crisis has already caused,” he said. “We can find a way out of this, I’m sure, together in a cooperative atmosphere.”
‘Tuvalu is literally sinking’
In moving remarks, Seve Paeniu, minister of finance of the atoll nation Tuvalu and Chair of Pacific Islands Forum, said Friday he “had high hopes” and “high optimism” in the first few days of the conference.
“However, since that time and through the corridors of this marvelous facility and in the negotiating rooms, we are not seeing that level of optimism being translated, as we now see in the cover decisions before us,” he said, referring to the draft agreement published Friday morning.
“We would like a stronger language under loss and damage for a dedicated financing facility,” he said, adding that he was encouraged by recent comments made on the issue by some developed nations, but that those remarks were still not translating into the agreement.
“Tuvalu is a low lying atoll nation. Like many of the small island developing states, we are at the forefront of the climate change. It is an existential threat. Now as Senator (John) Kerry from the US has said, it is not fiction. It is not projected to happen in the future. Our land is fast disappearing. Tuvalu is literally sinking. We must take action now.”
As a next version of the agreement is expected Saturday, here’s where the current draft stands:
Fossil fuels get a mention
The fact that any mention of fossil fuels survived the editing cull is a win for the COP26 presidency, particularly in its current form, which calls for the phasing out of unabated coal and an end to fossil fuel subsidies.
There is a huge chance fossil fuels may not make the final text at all, or be further weakened, but having it in the second draft so close to the final agreement puts enormous pressure on major fossil fuel producers. Saudi Arabia, China, Russia and Australia were trying to have the article on fossil fuels either weakened or removed, according to two sources familiar with the talks. Saudi officials declined to comment on the issue, while Chinese, Australian and Russian officials have not responded to CNN’s request for comment sent Thursday.
If the language makes it into the final text, it will be the first time a Conference of the Parties climate agreement makes any mention of the role of coal, oil and gas, the biggest contributors to the human-made climate crisis.
However, the new version of the paragraph is weaker than the initial draft published on Wednesday, indicating just how tough the fight over its inclusion was. The new text calls for the acceleration of “the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.”
The added word “unabated” essentially means countries could continue to use coal if they are able to capture large amounts of the carbon dioxide they emit. The concept is controversial as the technology to fully capture greenhouse gases is still in development. And “inefficient” was also added, leaving that part of the agreement fairly open to interpretation.
“It’s always a bit of a tradeoff. The fact that we’ve got the phaseout of fossil fuel subsidies and the phaseout of coal in the text is really new and important,” Helen Mountford, vice president of climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, said in a briefing.
“The fact that they’ve added in ‘unabated’ in front of coal and ‘inefficient’ in front of fossil fuel subsidies, compared to the text a couple of days ago, is definitely going back to some more comfortable negotiated language in other fora. So I would expect that some countries like Saudi Arabia would have been pushing for adding the inefficient in front of the fossil fuel subsidies.”
Chris Littlecott, associate director at E3G, said the addition of the word “unabated” doesn’t necessarily create a new loophole. He said it reflects the current thinking on emissions.
“We’ve seen that a well crafted regulatory framework calls the bluff of the coal industry. It says, okay, if you really want to use coal, you’ve got to invest in carbon capture and storage … and what we’ve seen over the last 15 years is that the coal industry has not been willing to do that,” he told CNN.
Bolder emissions deadline is retained but some watering down
To limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees, as agreed under the 2015 Paris Agreement, every country needs to have a plan that aligns with that goal.
Under Paris, all signatories were required to submit new, more ambitious plans this year. But while there have been some improvements, a key analysis by Climate Action Tracker published this week showed the world is on track for 2.4 degrees of warming. That would mean the risks of extreme droughts, wildfires, floods, catastrophic sea level rise and food shortages would increase dramatically, scientists say.
The draft agreement “requests” that countries go back to the drawing board and come back with stronger plans by the end of next year. That is a positive development, because it gives a precise deadline on when these should be delivered. Under Paris, countries were only required to do this by 2025.
However, this new draft gives countries some wiggle room by adding that “different national circumstances” would be taken into account. That comes after a group of developing countries suggest they should not be held to the same standards as wealthy nations, which historically have a much greater role in the climate crisis than developing ones.
The Friday draft agreement, published by the COP26 presidency, also retains language saying the world should be aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The document “recognizes that the impacts of climate tchange will be much lower at the temperature increase of 1.5 °C compared to 2 °C and resolves to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.”
To do that, “rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions” are required, the document says. That language is in line with the latest science, which shows the world must limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid the climate crisis worsening and approaching a catastrophic scenario.
While it’s progress on the political level, the agreement is far weaker than what scientists say is necessary for the world to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The most recent UN climate science report showed that the world needs to nearly halve emissions over this decade to keep that limit within reach.
A doubling on funding for developing nations to adapt to the crisis
A divide remains between developed and developing nations, which is common at these annual conferences. This year that centers around one key issue – who should pay for the developing world to adapt to the climate crisis. Also issues of funding for the Global South’s green transition and the possibility of a type of climate compensation for the impacts vulnerable nations are dealing with.