COP26 in extra time, as climate negotiators struggle for deal

Thorny issues including funding, cutting gas emission pledges and phasing out coal were unresolved as deadline passed.

Climate activists wearing masks of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden protest outside the COP26 venue in Glasgow. on what was supposed to be the final day of negotiations [Robert Perry/EPA]

Negotiators at COP26 were due to meet again on Saturday, after failing to conclude a deal on the climate crisis to rein in rising temperatures that threaten the planet.

A draft of the final deal of the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference was released early on Friday, which was supposed to be the final day of the two-week conference.

But a final agreement on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) remains stuck over issues from coal and other fossil fuels to financial support for poorer nations from rich countries.

Alok Sharma, the COP26 president, called on negotiators from the nearly 200 countries at the conference in the Scottish city of Glasgow, to come together and conclude an agreement.

“We have come a long way over the past two weeks and now we need that final injection of that ‘can-do’ spirit, which is present at this COP, so we get this shared endeavour over the line,” Sharma said.

The draft deal includes a requirement that countries set tougher climate pledges next year in an attempt to bridge the gap between their current targets and the much deeper cuts scientists say are needed this decade to avert catastrophic climate change.

Talks were at a “bit of a stalemate,” and the United States, with support from the European Union, was holding back talks, said Lee White, Gabon’s minister for forests and climate change.

White said there was a lack of trust between rich and poor nations over payments from rich countries to the poor for damage from the worst effects of global warming – funds for adapting to climate change and carbon markets.

A police officer monitors protesters during a climate change demonstration outside of the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 12, 2021 [Andy Buchanan/AFP]

COP26 began on October 31 amid dire warnings from leaders, activists and scientists that not enough was being done to curb global warming.

An agreement was supposed to be finalised 6pm local time (18:00 GMT) on Friday.

“The negotiating culture is not to make the hard compromises until the meeting goes into extra innings, as we now have done,” said longtime climate talks observer Alden Meyer of the European think-tank E3G.

“But the UK presidency is still going to have to make a lot of people somewhat unhappy to get the comprehensive agreement we need out of Glasgow.”

Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest oil producer and considered among the nations most resistant to strong wording on fossil fuels, said the latest draft was “workable”.

The Saudi delegate, Ayman Shasly, said the country would guard against any changes that “skew the balance” of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

A final deal will require the unanimous consent of the nearly 200 countries that signed the Paris accord.

Cutting fossil fuel subsidies

Friday morning’s draft proposals from the meeting’s chair called on countries to accelerate “the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”.

A previous draft on Wednesday had been stronger, calling on countries to “accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuel”.

US climate envoy John Kerry said Washington backed the current wording.

“We’re not talking about eliminating” coal, he told fellow climate diplomats. But, he said: “Those subsidies have to go.”

A protester holds a placard displaying a ‘Stop Climate Crime’ slogan during a climate change demonstration outside of the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 12, 2021 [Andy Buchanan/AFP]

There was a mixed response from activists and observers on how significant the addition of the words “unabated” and “inefficient” was.

Richie Merzian, a former Australian climate negotiator who directs the climate and energy programme at the Australia Institute think-tank, said the additional caveats were “enough that you can run a coal train through it”.

Countries like Australia and India, the world’s third-biggest emitter, have resisted calls to phase out coal any time soon.

Scientists agree the use of fossil fuels must end as soon as possible in order to keep the rise in global temperatures at 1.5C.

Rewording of some crucial text of the draft agreement around coal and fossil fuels is “very unfortunate”, Danish Environment Minister Dan Jorgensen told Al Jazeera.

“Some of the very strong wording that was in there, for instance, with regards to fossil fuels and coal … is being watered down,” he said.

Funding issues

Another crunch issue is the question of financial aid for poor countries to help them cope with, and adapt to, climate change.

Rich nations failed to provide them with $100bn annually by 2020, as agreed, causing considerable anger among developing countries going into the talks.

The latest draft reflects those concerns, expressing “deep regret” that the $100bn goal has not been met and urging rich countries to scale up their funding.

The sum, which falls far short of what the UN says countries would actually need, aims to address “mitigation”, to help poor countries with their ecological transition, and “adaptation”, to help them manage extreme climate events.

The new draft says that, by 2025, rich countries should double from current levels the funding they set aside for adaptation – a step forward from the previous version that did not set a date or a baseline.

Of roughly $80bn rich countries spent on climate finance for poor countries in 2019, only a quarter was for adaptation.

A more contentious aspect, known as “loss and damage”, would compensate them for the ravages they have already suffered from global warming, although this is outside the $100bn and some rich countries do not acknowledge the claim.

Updating emissions target

Updating emissions targets is another thorny issue as nations were asked to come back with new emissions-cutting targets that they were supposed to submit before the Glasgow talks.

The draft calls on the nations to submit another tougher target by the end of 2022, but some nations, such as Saudi Arabia, are baulking at the proposal, said the World Resources Institute’s David Waskow.

In 2015 in Paris, there was debate about whether targets should be updated every five or 10 years, so updating them one year after Glasgow is a big deal, said the Environmental Defense Fund’s Vice President for Global Climate Kelley Kizzier, a former EU negotiator.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies