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what the draft climate agreement says – and why it’s being criticised

what the draft climate agreement says – and why it’s being criticised

Three people in front of a sign

After leading the delegates at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow to believe the first draft would be published at midnight on Tuesday, the UK presidency won’t have made many friends by delaying publication until 6 am Wednesday morning. There will have been plenty of negotiators – not to mention journalists – who will have needlessly waited up all night.

Alok Sharma, COP26 president will not have made many new friends with the text itselfEither. As the host and chair of the summit, it is the UK’s responsibility to pull together all the negotiating texts which have been submitted and agreed over the last week into a coherent overall agreement.

But the widespread consensus among delegates I have spoken to is that the draft they have produced is not sufficiently “balanced” between the interests and positions of the various country groupings. This is a grave error for the chair of delicate negotiations.

Let’s recap. This COP (the conference among the parties to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) marks the moment when countries must make stronger commitments to take action under the 2015 Paris Agreement. There are two main areas that can be used to achieve this. One is emissions cuts by 2030, the so-called “nationally determined contributions” or NDCs. The other is financial assistance for the least developed countries.

The problem facing the COP is that we know already that, when added together, countries’ emissions targets are not nearly enough to keep the world to a maximum warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial times, as the Paris Agreement aims for. And the financial promises don’t even reach the US$100 billion (£74.1 billion) a year that was meant to be achieved in 2020, let alone the much larger sums the most vulnerable countries need.

Three people in front of a sign

Indigenous activists from the Andes (Amazon), and Patagonia are represented in Glasgow.
Robert Perry / EPA

So what have the poorest countries – and the vociferous civil
society organisations demonstrating in Glasgow – been demanding?

NDCs must be strengthened before 2025. Second, that at least US$500 billionClimate finance should be provided for the five-year period from 2025 to 2025. Half of this should go to countries that are attempting to adapt to climate change.

Urging – not requiring

What does the UK draft text mean? It merely “urges” countries to strengthen their NDCs, proposing a meeting of ministers next year and a leaders’ summit in 2023. But “urges” is UN-speak for: “You may do this if you wish to, but you don’t have to if you don’t.” That is not enough to force countries to get onto a 1.5℃-compatible path. They must comply with the text.

The text is even weaker on finance. The US$500 billion demand is not mentioned, but it does call for adaptation funding being doubled. It is not mentioned that the use of the special drawing rights(a form of global money supply) issued by the IMF recently for climate-compatible growth. It is not clear that the most vulnerable countries require better access to the available funds.

However, the developing countries are not expecting to get all of their way in the negotiations. But commenting on the overall balance of the text between different countries’ positions, one European delegate said to me: “This looks like it could have been written by the Americans.”

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It is true that, as Alok Sharma highlighted in his afternoon press conference. However, the text can still have changes. Negotiations are still ongoing on several issues and the text does not reflect these developments. Sharma has asked all parties for their suggestions to amend the draft and to meet him for their reactions. He will be asked to meet with many people.

It is important to know how the early text was drafted for two reasons. The first is that the lack of balance means it will be the least developed countries that will have to work the hardest to make it better. In Paris, the French presidency did the opposite. They drafted a bold text and challenged the largest emitters to support it.

The second is that the perceived imbalance could undermine the trust in British hosts. Sharma has built a strong reputation during the preparations for the COP. Sharma will not allow that to slip in the crucial final days.


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