Delegates to the COP26 climate summit have begun debating a new version of a comprehensive agreement to cut carbon emissions in a last-ditch bid to conclude the conference on Saturday.
The draft was released Saturday morning by conference organizers and delegates will meet later in the day to thrash out any remaining differences. COP26 President Alok Sharma has said that he hopes the summit can wrap up Saturday evening but it could continue into Sunday if objections to the latest version of the text emerge.
The goal of the summit is to get roughly 200 countries to agree to cut carbon emissions enough to cap global warming at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, a threshold scientists say is crucial to limiting the worst effects of climate change.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks has been how far developed nations should go in helping vulnerable countries recover from excess flooding, prolonged droughts, lost coastline and other impacts of climate change. This kind of reparation, known as “loss and damage”, has been a controversial topic for years at United Nations summits and it has never been included in a COP agreement.
Leaders from several developing countries have ratcheted up the pressure in Glasgow and they’ve been pushing for the creation of a reparation fund. The United States and other developed countries have resisted the idea of covering climate change costs which according some studies could reach US$400-billion a year by 2030.
Saturday’s draft agreement doesn’t mention a fund but it does include a lengthy section on loss and damage. The draft called on national governments as well as “multilateral institutions, including non-governmental organizations and private sources, to provide enhanced and additional support for activities addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.”
The wording is the “start of a breakthrough in the demands of vulnerable countries,” said Yamide Dagnet, director, climate negotiations at the World Resource Institute.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon became the first leader from any country to contribute to a reparation fund. This week Ms. Sturgeon said her government would pledge £2 million, a largely symbolic gesture that she hoped would encourage other leaders.
Canada’s Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault refused to commit Ottawa to a similar contribution. “I really don’t think we are at the stage where we can start talking about separate funds,” Mr. Guilbeault said during a press conference in Glasgow on Friday. He added that Canada was “happy to see conversation move forward.”
Developed nations have also faced criticism for failing to meet a deadline to mobilize US$100-billion annually to help poor countries develop plans to mitigate global warming. The pledge, which is separate from reparations, was supposed to have been met by 2020, but won’t likely happen until 2023.
Saturday’s draft re-commits countries to the financial pledge and calls for meetings to take place every two years to discuss financial support. It also urges developed countries to “at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation to developing country parties.”
A further concern among developing countries is that the money will be in the form of loans that poor countries will have to pay back.
Canada has pledged $5.3-billion over the next five years in climate finance, however Mr. Guilbeault acknowledged that most of the money will come in the form of loans. He said loans will make up 60 per cent of the funding, but that was down from 70 per cent a few years ago. “We’ve made some progression in the right direction. I think there’s still room for improvement as far as Canada’s position is concerned,” he said.
Another stumbling block for delegates has been how far the agreement should go in phasing out coal and fossil fuels. An early version of the deal released on Thursday called for nations to “accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels.” That has been changed in the updated version on Saturday to a commitment to phase out “unabated coal power” and “inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels, recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.”
Unabated coal refers to coal power generation that doesn’t use technology to reduce emissions such as carbon capture and storage. Energy companies have argued that using that technology means they can burn coal and control carbon emissions, but environmentalists say the technology has yet to fully develop and it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to continue emissions now.
Environmental campaigners argued the new draft was too weak and that the final agreement, called a cover decision, should explicitly call for an end to coal and fossil fuels. “We want a strong cover decision,” said Eddy Pérez of Climate Action Canada. “I am concerned that that is the furthest we can go on fossil fuels.”
Mr. Guilbeault said Canada supports stronger language on coal and fossil fuels. He added that the federal government has called for the end to all fossil fuel subsidies by 2023 and Canada joined with more than 40 other nations at COP26 in a pledge to phase out coal-fired power by 2040.
“Canada is in favour of having a text that states that we need to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and we would agree that a timeline should be put in there,” he said.
Specific mention of coal and fossil fuels has never been part of a COP agreement and British officials had conceded that the language was likely to face opposition from countries such as Australia and Saudi Arabia. However, officials will view even the milder language as something of a victory.
As delegates thrashed out details of a new agreement, hundreds of climate activists walked out of the conference on Friday in frustration over what they said was a lack of progress. Shouting “power to the people” and “climate justice now”, the group also issued a “people’s decision” for COP26: “People are tired of waiting for governments to prioritize people and the planet over profits while so many lives are being impacted and lost. We are out of time and out of patience.”
“We do our best to put as much pressure as we can on the negotiators but also we know that our real power is not here. Our real power is in our communities,” said Daniel Voskoboynik, a delegate from Argentina, as he walked with the protesters. “The richest countries in the world continue to not deal with the reality of the crisis which is being caused due to of their accumulation of power through pollution.”
Martin L’Abbée, a delegate from Montreal who works for the United Steelworkers Canada, said the voice of climate activists was growing louder. “I don’t know if it’s going to come to something,” he said as he marched through the conference centre. “But it’s getting heard.”
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