COP26: Last Draft Of Climate Agreement Looks Weakened And "Depressing," Say Critics

“It could be better, it should be better, and we have one day left to make it a lot, lot better,' - Greenpeace. Image credit: Anton River/Shutterstock.com

A new draft of the COP26 climate agreement has been published early this morning ahead of the final day of negotiations. Overall, it’s a mixed bag with lots of points of contention still left hanging in the air. The document has an emphasis on the limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C (2.7°F) target — beyond which the worst impacts of climate change will be unleashed — but critics argue the draft is significantly weaker than the first draft released earlier this week, and could be watered down even further. 

The negotiations are due to end by the end of Friday, November 12, but it will almost certainly overrun and the final report is not expected to be released until at least the early hours of Saturday, perhaps even later. COP25 in 2019, for instance, did not conclude until the Sunday afternoon.

The changes in the new draft involve subtle exchanges in wording that might appear insignificant to laypeople but not to negotiators. For example, the first draft of the agreement "urged" countries to come back with stronger emissions-cutting targets by the end of 2022, but the latest draft only "requests" them to do so.

The earlier draft also asked countries "to accelerate the phase-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels.” However, this reportedly faced heavy opposition from big fossil fuel exporters, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, so has now been amended to say countries should accelerate the phase-out of "unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels." The addition of just a couple of words effectively serves as a loophole to allow countries to continue certain subsidies for fossil fuels and coal power. 

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The text also mentions a “deep regret” that a pledge by higher-income countries to provide $100 billion a year of climate finance to poorer nations by 2020 will not be met and is likely to be three years late.

Another important element is Article 6. In the words of the Climate Council, it’s an “obscure and highly technical part of the Paris Agreement” that details rules around the trade in emissions reductions between countries. This means countries can meet their individual pledges to reduce emissions by providing other countries with financial support to meet their pledges. Critics argue this effectively allows developed nations to avoid meaningful emission slashing by passing the buck onto developing nations. The precise details of this are yet to be unresolved and some fear that there are efforts to subtly twist the article into "a charter for cheating." Ed King from the European Climate Foundation said in an email on Friday morning: “Confusion reigns in Article 6: technicalities reached absurdity on Thursday.“

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“We’re witnessing a deliberate and cynical effort by a few nation states to turn Article 6 into a charter for cheating, greenwash, and loopholes,” Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, said in a statement. “Today is an absolutely critical day in the fight to defend the 1.5°C goal from vested interests who’ll do anything to dodge their responsibility for the climate crisis. Anything less puts the essence of Paris in peril.”

Another day of negotiations lays ahead where over 200 nations will hammer out the details. Many are skeptical, however, that the final text will be sturdy enough. 

“It could be better, it should be better, and we have one day left to make it a lot, lot better. Right now the fingerprints of fossil fuel interests are still on the text and this is not the breakthrough deal that people hoped for in Glasgow,” added Morgan. 

IFLScience will update with any new information as it becomes available.

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