Takeaways from Thursday at COP26: A fight is brewing over a critical piece of the final agreement

Takeaways from Thursday at COP26: A fight is brewing over a critical piece of the final agreement
PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

With just over 24 hours before the COP26 climate summit comes to a close, it’s all hands on deck.

A new version of the draft agreement text is expected to be published at some point Thursday night, but COP26 President Alok Sharma made it clear the negotiations are far from over — so don’t be surprised if they continue past the deadline.

Here’s what happened on Thursday.

Sharma urges a ‘gear shift’

Sharma is pressing hard for the forthcoming Glasgow agreement to have substance, knowing well that history will judge the summit based on the final text. Speaking to delegates on Thursday, he said he was concerned about the number of issues still not agreed on.

“I know just how hard you’re all working. But today must represent another gear shift when negotiators finalize outstanding technical work and ministers dial up their engagement,” he told the delegates. “And I remind colleagues again, COP26 is scheduled to close at the end of tomorrow.”

The first iteration of the draft agreement was published on Wednesday, and it did not go down particularly well with many climate experts and advocacy groups, who have criticized it as vague and not ambitious enough — and that was before negotiators from some of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producing countries ratcheted up efforts in trying to water it down.

Climate finance — getting wealthy countries to help developing nations cut emissions and adapt — is shaping up to be one of the main sticking points, with Sharma urging the delegates to find common ground.

“Our leaders were clear at the start of the summit. They want us to show ambition and build consensus and yet we still see that in the finance rooms we are struggling to make progress even with some routine technical issues. This my friends cannot be the case today,” Sharma said.

Fight brews over critical section

A group of nations known as the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC), which include China and India, asked for the entire section on the mitigation of climate change be removed from the draft COP26 text, in a sign of the struggle that remains a day before talks are due to close.

The mitigation section in the draft includes language on reducing greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as opposed to the 2-degree Celsius upper limit in the Paris Agreement. It also urges countries to fast-track updates to their emissions pledges by the end of 2022.

Bolivia’s chief negotiator, Diego Pacheco, who represents the LMDC group, said on Thursday that the countries felt the developed world was trying to transfer its responsibilities for the climate crisis onto the developing world.

“We requested the presidency remove completely the section on mitigation,” Pacheco said at a press conference in Glasgow. The LMDC group does not believe that developing countries should have the same deadlines and ambitions on emissions as wealthy nations.

Some civil society groups at the conference have criticized the LMDC’s stance, calling it a deliberately overblown request to gain leverage in talks.

The suggestion to delete the mitigation section “is clearly a punch in the face of people suffering from the climate crisis,” said Teresa Anderson, a climate policy coordinator for Action Aid International.

Frans Timmermans, the EU Commission’s vice president, ridiculed the demand as illogical.

“I’m trying to follow the logic of that position,” he said, acknowledging that he understood developing nations’ calls for more money to adapt to the climate crisis.

“But then to say let’s remove that mitigation — there is no amount of money on the planet, there’s no great technical solution for adaptation good enough to have to get us where we need to be on adaptation if we don’t do mitigation. Look at what’s happening with 1.1 degrees now. Just imagine we shoot through the two degrees and two-and-a-half degrees. What are you going to do on adaptation?”

New alliance on fossil fuel phaseout

Costa Rica and Denmark officially launched the “Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance” on Thursday. The group includes France, Sweden, Ireland, Wales, Greenland and Quebec, while California, Portugal and New Zealand have joined as associate members, and Italy expressed its support for the group.

Denmark’s Climate Minister Dan Jorgensen said all members of the group have committed to ending all new concessions, licensing, and leasing for oil and gas projects, and they have also pledged to set a Paris-aligned date for ending oil and gas production and exploration.

The UK, which is hosting the climate conference and has spearheaded many of the agreements announced in the past two weeks, has not joined the alliance.

Jorgensen said some of the countries that have joined have significant oil and gas production and reserves. He said that one of the key goals of the alliance is to put the issue of ending oil and gas exploration and drilling on the agenda.

“How can you defend wanting to be carbon neutral in 2050,” Jorgensen asked, “but still wanting to produce oil and gas and selling it to others? That, in our view, does not add up.”

Negotiations on carbon markets

The COP26 presidency is still pressing for a deal on the details of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which sets out the need for carbon markets. Previous COPs have failed to find a consensus on rules that should govern emissions trading, and the talks in Glasgow are proving to be just as difficult.

The idea is that countries that struggle to meet their emissions cutting targets could, in the future, purchase emissions reductions from the countries that have already cut their emissions by more than they pledged to.

But there are some major sticking points, such as how to avoid double counting and how to prevent the world’s biggest polluters from relying on emissions trading instead of focusing on actual reductions. Some developing countries have also argued for taxing the markets, saying the proceeds should go into climate funding.

Indigenous peoples’ groups have been campaigning for any agreement to include strict human rights protections and clauses that would protect their lands.

Some countries are pressing ahead on the issue: Switzerland announced Thursday it reached an agreement on emissions trading with several countries, including Peru, Ghana, Senegal, Georgia, Vanuatu and Dominica.

US gives thumbs down to climate reparations

The US does not support the creation of a loss and damage compensation fund, an idea being pushed at COP26 by developing and smaller countries particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, a senior US official told reporters.

Vulnerable countries argue that wealthy countries are more responsible, historically, for climate change. Some countries on the frontlines of the crisis feel nations that have polluted the most should be held liable, and even pay reparations.

Even though the US signed onto a recent statement from a group of 61 countries, known as the “High Ambition Coalition,” which agreed to increase resources for particularly vulnerable countries, the senior official said the US still has a lot of questions about how that would work in practice.

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