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COP26 Climate Summit Continues in Overtime

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People gather during a stocktaking plenary session at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, Nov. 13, 2021. Going into overtime, negotiators at the talks are still trying to find common ground on phasing out coal.

Negotiations are continuing Saturday at the COP26 climate summit in Scotland after delegates failed to agree on a final statement before the original deadline of 6 p.m. Friday. The text of a deal must be agreed to and signed by all parties to the conference.

A third draft agreement was released Saturday morning following talks that went late into the night before.

“This is the moment of truth for our planet and the moment of truth for our children and grandchildren. The world is willing us on to be bold, to be ambitious. So, much rests on the decisions which we collectively take today. ...We will succeed or fail as one,” COP26 President Alok Sharma told delegates Saturday afternoon in Glasgow. He said he was determined that a deal be signed Saturday.

Amid continuing disagreements over the content of the final text, it remains possible the summit could extend into Sunday. The previous COP25 meeting in Madrid in 2019 also overran by two days.

Delegations from 197 countries are trying to agree on a deal to combat climate change and keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the target agreed to in Paris in 2015 and seen as crucial to avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

Pushback

During a ‘stock-taking’ plenary session in the afternoon, India strongly criticized the inclusion of a paragraph calling for the phasing out of coal and fossil fuels. About 55% of India’s electricity is generated by coal, and mining remains an important economic sector.

India’s environment minister, Bhupender Yadav, said, “Developing countries have a right to their fair share of the carbon budget. How can anyone expect that developing countries can make promises about phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies when developing counties have still to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication?”

China also requested edits to the section on fossil fuels. “China hopes that all parties will show maximum flexibility and constructiveness at this final stage,” the Chinese delegate said.

South Africa – which also is highly dependent on coal – added its support to the Chinese statement. “We don't believe that one size fits all is a good approach when it comes to this particular issue. We plead with you to hear our voice and accommodate our voice on that particular issue.”

The European Union’s representative, Frans Timmermans, urged countries to put their differences aside. “Don't kill this moment by asking for more texts, different texts, deleting this, deleting that. Everyone's been heard by the presidency over the last months. So, I implore you. Please embrace this text so we can bring hope to the hearts of our children and grandchildren,” Timmermans said.

Third draft

The latest draft of the final text, known as the cover decision, modified the language around key commitments in several areas.

Signatories to the deal have pledged to come back every year with improved plans on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. However, the third draft adds to that commitment the phrase “taking into account different national circumstances,” suggesting there may be some room for maneuvering.

The third draft also weakens the language on commitments from richer countries to increase so-called climate finance payments to poorer nations, to help them adapt to and mitigate climate change. The previous draft committed richer signatories to double the financial support but the latest draft only urges them to do so.

Performers from the Blue Rebels conduct a mock funeral ceremony at the 'Glasgow Necropolis' to symbolize what they see as the failure of the COP26 process, in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, Nov. 13, 2021.
Performers from the Blue Rebels conduct a mock funeral ceremony at the 'Glasgow Necropolis' to symbolize what they see as the failure of the COP26 process, in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, Nov. 13, 2021.

Helen Mountford of the World Resources Institute said key areas of the agreement have so far survived the negotiation process – despite strong objections from some delegations.

“So, for example, there is still language around countries coming back next year with enhanced ambition on their 2030 targets and also on coming back next year with a long-term strategy, for those who have not submitted them yet,” Mountford told reporters Saturday.

Developing countries also are demanding that richer nations should help pay for the loss and damage they suffer through climate change, since rich countries are responsible for most historical greenhouse gas emissions. Several developed countries, including the United States, have raised objections.

“The one big issue that’s really concerning most negotiators now is ensuring we take action on loss and damage. It’s sufficiently set up in the text to really move forward on this agenda item,” Mountford said.

Fossil fuels

Language around the phasing out of fossil fuels has also been weakened in the third draft under pressure from some delegations.

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, strongly criticized the changes.

"Right now, the fingerprints of fossil fuel interests are still on the text and this is not the breakthrough deal that people hoped for in Glasgow,” Morgan said in a statement. “The key line on phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies has been critically weakened, but it’s still there and needs to be strengthened again before this summit closes.”

Climate finance

The new draft also strengthens language around climate finance — the amount that rich countries will pay poorer nations to adapt to climate change and decarbonize their economies. Richer nations are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions, but climate change tends to have a bigger impact on developing countries.

The issue of climate finance will be crucial in securing a final agreement, said Cassie Flynn, the United Nations Development Program’s strategic adviser on climate change.

“We knew going into this that there was this outstanding promise of $100 billion that was meant to go from developed countries to developing countries to be able to help them tackle this climate crisis that is at their doorsteps. And it was supposed to happen by 2020 — and the year came and went. So now in 2021, a lot of [developing] countries are looking at the countries that made this promise and saying, you have to fulfill it or else we're in real jeopardy of not fulfilling the goals of the Paris Agreement,” Flynn told VOA.

She added that the joint declaration this week by the United States and China to work together to cut emissions and try to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius had given added momentum to COP26 negotiations.

“To have the two biggest emitters in the world come together and say, we are in it, we are going to work together, and we have big plans, I think set a really good signal to the rest of the world.”

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

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