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The final day of COP26’s draft agreement includes weak but unique language regarding fossil fuels
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The final day of COP26’s draft agreement includes weak but unique language regarding fossil fuels


Although the draft was completed after 12 days of negotiations over the last day of the almost two-week-long climate conference, it is still not final. The final agreement will require all 197 parties to reach an agreement on every word. The most important divisions remain around who should pay for the consequences of the climate crisis. However, further watering down may be possible.

It is a victory for the COP26 presidency that any mention of fossilfuels survived the editing cull, especially in its current form which calls for the phasing-out of unabated coke and the end of fossil fuel subsidies.

There is a high chance that fossil fuels won’t make the final text, or may be further weakened. However having it in the second-drafted so close to final agreement puts tremendous pressure on major producers of fossil fuels. Two sources familiar with the talks claim that Australia, China and Russia were trying to get the article on fossil fuels removed or weakened. Saudi officials declined to comment, while Chinese, Australian, and Russian officials did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

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If the language is included in the final text, it will mark the first time that a Conference of the Parties climate accord mentions the role of oil, coal, and gas, the largest contributors to the human-made global climate crisis.

The new paragraph is, however, weaker than the original draft published Wednesday. This shows how difficult the fight for its inclusion was. The new text calls to accelerate “the elimination of unabated coal power and inefficient subsidies of fossil fuels.”

The added word “unabated”, which basically means that countries could continue to use coal, if they are able capture large amounts of carbon dioxide they emit. This idea is controversial because the technology to fully capture greenhouse gasses is still in development. A “inefficient” part was also added, which left that part of the agreement open to interpretation.

“It’s always a little bit of a tradeoff. Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at World Resources Institute, stated that the fact we have the phaseout or fossil fuel subsidies and the elimination of coal in the text is really important.

“The fact that they have added in ‘unabated’ in front of coal and inefficient in front of fossil fuel subsidy, compared to the text just a few days ago, is clearly going back to more comfortable negotiated language at other fora. So it is not surprising that Saudi Arabia, for example, would have pushed to add the inefficient to the fossil fuel subsidies.

Chris Littlecott is associate director at E3G. He said that adding the word “unabated,” doesn’t necessarily create an additional loophole. He stated that it reflects current thinking on emissions.

“We’ve seen that well-crafted regulatory frameworks call the bluffs of the coal industry. It states, “Okay, if you really want coal, you have to invest in carbon storage and capture… and what we’ve witnessed over the past 15 years is that coal industry has not been willing…” he said to CNN.

Bolder emissions deadlines are not lowered, but some watering down is necessary

Every country must have a plan to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius, as per the 2015 Paris Agreement.

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All signatories to Paris were required to submit ambitious plans for the year ahead. Although there have been some improvement, Climate Action Tracker’s key analysis this week revealed that the world is still in dire need of new and more ambitious plans. on track for 2.4 degrees of warming. Scientists warn that this would increase the risk of extreme droughts and wildfires, floods as well as catastrophic sea level rise and food insecurity.

The draft agreement “requests” that all countries return to the drawing boards and come up with stronger plans before the end of next fiscal year. This is a positive change, as it specifies when these documents should be delivered. Paris stipulated that countries would only have to comply with this obligation by 2025.

This new draft allows countries to have some flexibility by allowing for “different national circumstances” to be considered. This is after a group from developing countries suggested that they shouldn’t be held to the same standards of wealthy nations, who historically have played a greater role in climate crises than developing ones.

The Friday draft agreement, which was published by the COP26 presidency on Friday, still contains language that states the world should aim for global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels.

The document “recognizes that the impacts of climate change will be much lower at the temperature increase of 1.5 °C compared to 2 °C and resolves to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.”

According to the document, this is possible only by reducing global greenhouse gas emissions in a rapid, deep, and sustained manner. This language is in line the latest science which shows that the world must limit global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels to avoid a climate crisis worsening.

It’s a good start on the political side, but it’s far less than what scientists think is necessary to limit global warming by 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels. To keep this limit within reach, the UN climate science report shows that the world must nearly halve its emissions in the next decade.

Increased funding for developing nations in order to adapt to the crisis

There is still a divide between developing and developed nations, as this is a common theme at these annual conferences. This year’s conference is focused on one important issue: who should pay to help the developing world adapt to the crisis. There are also issues surrounding funding for the Global South’s green transition as well as the possibility of climate compensation for the countries most affected by the climate crisis.

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Diego Pacheco, Bolivia’s chief negotiator, stated that his country and 21 other allied countries, including major emitters such as China, India, and Saudi Arabia, would oppose the entire section on reducing carbon emissions. He said this Thursday due to a lack of finance from the developed nations.

Over ten years ago, rich nations agreed to transfer $100 million a year to developing countries in order to aid their transition to low carbon economies and adapt to the climate change. Adaptation may include building sea walls to prevent flooding or moving communities away from the coast, as well as retrofitting homes so that they can withstand extreme weather conditions.

The $100 billion deadline has been missed by the rich world. But the developing nations claim it’s not enough. They also want a 50-50 division between mitigation (measures to reduce emissions) and adaptation. More money has been given to measures that reduce emissions.

Currently, the draft agreement states that $40 billion should be allocated to adaptation. This gap is closing.

Helen Mountford from the World Resources Institute was the vice president of climate economics and said that overall the text is more balanced for some of the issues the developing countries are pushing for.

It also mentions a new system for paying for “loss or damage”, which basically means that wealthy countries will be financially responsible for the effects of the climate crisis. This measure is opposed by the US and EU.

The first draft “noted serious concern” about the insufficient amount of money being provided to developing countries to address the climate crisis. However, the latest draft omits the word “serious.”

What does it all mean?

There has been much progress in this area, but the devil is always in the details. The draft agreement weakens several key sections. This is quite common in the negotiation process.

The new language regarding fossil fuels opens up loopholes that allow coal, oil, and gas producing countries to continue doing business as usual, provided they use technology to capture carbon dioxide emitted or offset emissions. Another loophole could be created by taking into account the country’s circumstances.

Although the agreement is more a starting point than a finished deal, the addition of stronger money targets and the recognition that there must be more loss- and damage-finance financing are both wins for developing countries.

The draft text reflects climate action’s political reality — countries with the most to lose are often small and powerless when compared to the biggest fossil fuel producers or the richest nations in the world.


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