New COP26 deal draft weakens language on fossil fuel phaseout

A new draft of the deal that could be agreed at the COP26 climate talks appears to have watered down its push to curb fossil fuels.

The first draft of the “cover decision” for the overarching agreement at the summit called for countries “to accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”.

But in a new draft produced on Friday morning, that has changed to calling on countries to accelerate the shift to clean energy systems, “including by rapidly scaling up clean power generation and accelerating the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”.

The inclusion of a reference to fossil fuels was a first for a United Nations decision document of this type, but was expected to get fierce pushback from some countries – and still may not survive to the final text.

Talks went on through the night and look set to overrun their Friday evening deadline, as negotiators come under pressure to resolve issues around finance for poor countries, fossil fuels, the efforts of countries to cut emissions in the 2020s and rules on carbon markets and transparency.

The latest draft appears to have strengthened language on getting countries to “revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets” in their national action plans by the end of 2022 to align with global goals to limit temperature rises to “well below” 2C and try to limit them to 1.5C.

The new version “requests” countries do so, compared to the previous version which “urges” them to do so.

Michael Jacobs, former climate adviser to Gordon Brown and veteran of COP talks, said UK, EU and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change lawyers were saying that “requests” was stronger language than “urges”.

He said: “I see this as a strengthening of the language which effectively means countries are being told to come back next year with nationally determined contributions aligned to the 1.5C temperature goal.”

However, David Waskow, international climate director of the World Resources Institute (WRI) think tank, said the move from “urges” to “requests” is “in international legal terms a weakening”.

His view was echoed by his colleague Helen Mountford, WRI vice-president for climate and economics.

But she said: “Overall, on balance this is definitely a stronger and more balanced text than we had a few days ago.”

She said sections on adaptation finance and loss and damage appear stronger but the reference to “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies “does weaken that a little”.

She said a gap remains on the pledge from developed nations to mobilise $100bn a year from 2020, with no reference to making up the current shortfall.

Scientists have warned that keeping temperature rises to 1.5C – beyond which the worst impacts of climate change will be felt – requires global emissions to be cut by 45% by 2030, and to zero overall by mid-century.

But current action plans known as nationally determined contributions for emissions cuts up to 2030 leave the world well off track to meet the goal, and could see warming of 2.4C over the long term.

So countries are under pressure to rapidly increase their ambition for emission cuts in the 2020s to stop the 1.5C goal slipping out of reach.

There is now a date, missing from the first draft, for when developed countries should double the provision of finance to help developing countries adapt to climate change, by 2025.

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Separately, the First Minister has called on the Prime Minister to return to Glasgow to help push the world on to a path “where we avoid climate catastrophe”.

Nicola Sturgeon said Boris Johnson should use his position to “really drive progress and push people as far as we can get them”.

Johnson made a brief visit on Wednesday, during which he urged leaders not to sit on their hands as the world asks them to act.

Sturgeon told BBC Breakfast: “My message to the Prime Minister is come back here. Use your position as president of this COP to really drive progress and push people as far as we can get them.

“Because every inch forward that this text takes is of course another inch towards getting the world on to a path where we avoid climate catastrophe, and nothing, literally nothing, is more important than that.

“The reason I’m singling out Boris Johnson is not just because we’re in the UK – well, it is actually because we’re in the UK, because the UK is the COP presidency, and that puts a particular onus on the shoulders of the UK Government.”

Sturgeon said the new draft deal is “slightly better”, but it “still has way to go”.

She added: “On the upside, there’s a clear recognition that 1.5C is the goal in terms of limiting global warming, there seems to be movement on adaptation finance, there is wording on loss and damage.

“On the downside, still not a delivery of the $100bn financial commitment, the expression of regret and disappointment – but the people who are expressing regret are the people who can deliver it.

“And still the fact that, although there is a recognition that 1.5C is the goal, we are way off track to actually meet that, we’re still on a track for a world of 2.4C global warming – for many parts of the world that is a death sentence.”

Meanwhile, she told Sky News she would not bet on Friday being the last day of the summit.

She said: “I certainly hope that finishing at 6pm tonight, which is the plan, would be possible.

“Equally, I would not be surprised to know that it was going into tomorrow – that’s not unusual at COP, so nobody should read anything particular into that if it does happen.”

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