The First Draft of the COP26 Climate Agreement Shows How Far Apart Rich and Poor Nations Are On What Needs to Be Done

GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — Governments are poised to express “alarm and concern” about how much Earth has already warmed and encourage one another to end their use of coal, according to a draft released Wednesday of the final document expected at U.N. climate talks.

The early version of the document circulating at the negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland, also impresses on countries the need to cut carbon dioxide emissions by about half by 2030 — even though pledges so far from governments don’t add up to that frequently stated goal.

In a significant move, countries would urge one another to “accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels” in the draft, though it has no explicit reference to ending the use of oil and gas. Although there has been much pressure from developed countries to close down coal-fired power stations, they are still a significant source of heat-trapping gases. However, the fuel is still a crucial and inexpensive source of electricity in places like China and India.
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While the language about moving away from coal is a first and important, the lack of a date when countries will do so limits the pledge’s effectiveness, said Greenpeace International Director Jennifer Morgan, a long-time climate talks observer.

“This isn’t the plan to solve the climate emergency. This won’t give the kids on the streets the confidence that they’ll need,” Morgan said.

The draft doesn’t yet include full agreements on the three major goals that the U.N. set going into the negotiations — and may disappoint poorer nations because of a lack of solid financial commitments from richer ones. To ensure half of the money is used to reduce global warming and adaptation, rich countries must give $100 billion to poor countries each year.

However, the draft provides insight into some of the problems that will need to be solved in the final days of the conference. It is expected that the conference will end on Friday, but it could extend beyond that date. There is still much to negotiate and to make decisions. The nearly 200 countries attending the conference must approve any outcome.

The draft says the world should try to achieve “net-zero (emissions) around mid-century.” That means requiring countries to pump only as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as can be absorbed again through natural or artificial means.

It also acknowledges “with regret” that rich nations have failed to live up to the climate aid pledge.

Poorer nations, which need financial help both in developing green energy systems and adapting to the worst of climate change, are angry that the promised aid hasn’t materialized.

“Without financial support little can be done to minimize its debilitating effects for vulnerable communities around the world,” Mohammed Nasheed, the Maldives’ parliamentary speaker and the ambassador for a group of dozens of countries most vulnerable to climate change, said in a statement.

He claimed that the draft failed to address key issues such as financial aid and severe emission cuts.

“There’s much more that needs to be done on climate finance to give developing countries what they need coming out of here,” said Alden Meyer, a long-time conference observer, of the European think-tank E3G.

The document reaffirms the goals set in Paris in 2015 of limiting warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, with a more stringent target of trying to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) preferred because that would keep damage from climate change “much lower.”

Highlighting the challenge of meeting those goals, the document “expresses alarm and concern that human activities have caused around 1.1°C (2°F) of global warming to date and that impacts are already being felt in every region.”

Small island nations, which are particularly vulnerable to warming, worry that too little is being done to stop warming at the 1.5-degree goal — and that allowing temperature increases up to 2 degrees would be catastrophic for their countries.

“For Pacific (small island states), climate change is the greatest, single greatest threat to our livelihood, security and wellbeing. We do not need more scientific evidence nor targets without plans to reach them or talking shops,” Bruce Bilimon, the Marshall Islands’ health and human services minister, told fellow negotiators Wednesday. “The 1.5 limit is not negotiable.”

On other matters being considered at the talks were released separate proposals. They included international carbon market rules and reporting frequency for countries.

The draft calls on nations that don’t have national goals that would fit with the 1.5- or 2-degree limits to come back with stronger targets next year. The provision may apply to all countries, depending on the way it is read. World Resources Institute analysts deemed this an advantage for countries that are vulnerable.

“This is crucial language,’’ WRI International Climate Initiative Director David Waskow said Wednesday. “Countries really are expected and are on the hook to do something in that timeframe to adjust.’’

Greenpeace’s Morgan said it would have been even better to set a requirement for new goals every year.

In a nod to one of the big issues for poorer countries, the draft vaguely “urges” developed nations to compensate developing countries for “loss and damage,” a phrase that some rich nations don’t like. However, there is no financial guarantee.

“This is often the most difficult moment,” Achim Steiner, the head of the U.N. Development Program and former chief of the U.N.’s environment office, said of the state of the two-week talks.

“The first week is over, you suddenly recognize that there are a number of fundamentally different issues that are not easily resolvable. The clock is ticking,” he told The Associated Press.


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