Update: A final agreement has been reached at COP26.
India and Iran expressed fierce opposition to the inclusion of fossil fuels in any final agreement at the COP26 climate talks on Saturday, potentially thwarting what would have been a major breakthrough in the history of climate action at the 11th hour.
In all 25 COPs before Glasgow, never has an agreement made even a mention of fossil fuels as drivers of the climate crisis, despite clear science and data showing that coal, oil and gas are the biggest contributors to human-made climate change.
The draft text had called for the phasing out of unabated coal and fossil fuel subsidies, with several caveats added between drafts as major fossil fuels had it watered down, as multiple sources told CNN.
In an informal session to give feedback on the draft Saturday, delegates from dozens of countries listed their grievances with the potential agreement, but most – even Bolivia, which had several complaints – said they would ultimately accept the draft as a compromise.
Indian Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said that “consensus remains elusive” and that fossil fuels had allowed parts of the world to achieve wealth and high living standards.
“How can anyone expect developing countries to make promises about phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies?” he asked, adding that developing countries had to deal with poverty eradication.
“Subsidies provide much-needed social security and support,” he said, giving the example of how India uses subsidies to provide liquified natural gas to low-income households.
Yadav also questioned a key measure on requesting countries come forward with updated plans on slashing emissions by the end of next year, a centerpiece in the draft text. That brings the deadline for new ambitions forward three years than the 2015 Paris Agreement requires.
He complained that the same sense of urgency hadn’t been given to climate finance.
Iran’s delegation also said it backed India’s stance on fossil fuels.
“We are not satisfied on paragraph 36 on the phaseout of fossil fuel subsidies,” an Iranian delegate said.
Stay informed on the climate
An agreement requires getting all 197 parties in attendance to reach consensus on each and every word of the final text, a painstaking effort that involves compromises and frank discussions about the world’s structures of power and who is most responsible for the climate crisis.
The comments followed late-night marathon talks in which slow progress was made, but still, some 24 hours after that deadline, an agreement hasn’t been struck.
COP26 President Alok Sharma had earlier made an impassioned plea to delegates to back the draft, saying it was a “moment of truth” for the planet as talks went deep into overtime without clear sign that consensus was near.
In an effort to avert failure at the talks, Sharma called on countries to seize the moment, saying negotiations had “reached a critical juncture where we must come together.”
“The world is watching us,” he said, urging them to “reach an agreement here for the sake of our planet and for present and future generations.”
The COP26 climate talks seemed to have reached boiling point on Saturday – at one point, Sharma struggled to convene all delegations in a room.
Divisions stalled Friday and went into overtime, largely around money that developed nations would give the Global South to help it adapt to the climate crisis, as well as requests for a new system for the developed world to pay “damages” from the climate crisis.
What the draft says
The UN published a third draft of the agreement Saturday morning that retained reference to phasing out coal and ending subsidies for fossil fuels, albeit watered down.
The draft urges countries to rapidly scale up the use of clean power generation while it phases out coal power and “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” It also recognizes “the need for support towards a just transition” – money to support jobs and livelihoods as the world moves away from fossil fuels. Both additions leave the text more open to interpretation than the original.
Major coal, oil and gas producers were showing opposition to the language around fossil fuels. Multiple sources close to the negotiations told CNN that the Australian delegation was generally being quiet in talks but was blocking progress on language around coal and even the measures to update its emissions plans by the end of 2022. Ultimately, an Australian delegate said in the feedback session it would adopt the draft as it stands.
There was also some dissatisfaction with language on just how much the world should allow the Earth to warm and rules for carbon markets to avoid double counting emissions reduction, or “cheating” on credits.
Developing countries appear to be conceding on the lack of strong progress around their calls to set up an dedicated “loss and damage” fund, in which wealthy nations would pay developing ones for climate crisis impacts, implicitly acknowledging wealthy nations’ outsized role in causing the climate crisis.
The issue had pitted the developed and developing world against each other, a characteristic typical of COP conferences.
A delegate from Guinea, representing a group of 77 nations including China, said: “The group expresses its extreme disappointment …. on a dialogue related to loss and damage. This is a far way from the concrete core for loss and damage facility that the group came together to make and seek an answer here in Glasgow,” he said.
“But in the spirit of compromise, we’ll be able to live with this paragraph, as is in the understanding that it does not reflect nor prejudice the inner key vocal outcome that we seek on finance for loss and damage to reach the most vulnerable.”
But outside the discussions, climate activists say the deal is weak.
Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network (CAN), said that the draft text was a “clear betrayal by rich nations” to poor and vulnerable countries.
By blocking progress on a dedicated facility for loss and damage, “rich countries have once again demonstrated their complete lack of solidarity and responsibility to protect those facing the worst of the climate impacts,” Essop said. “We urge developing countries to act in the interest of their citizens and stand strong in the face of bullies.”