Nov 10, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Draft COP26 deal targets fossil fuels, aims to strengthen Paris plan

COP26 President Alok Sharma speaks at a podium in Scotland.

Alok Sharma, president of COP26, delivers a speech in Glasgow, U.K., on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo: Emily Macinnes/Bloomberg via Getty Images

GLASGOW, Scotland — A draft COP26 agreement released early Wednesday morning would, for the first time in a formal U.N. climate agency text, call for a coal phase out and end to fossil fuel subsidies. It would also reaffirm the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting human-caused global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.

Why it matters: The agreement that emerges from Glasgow will help determine what future people will experience for the next several decades. Studies show every increment of global warming raises the odds of deadly extreme weather events, increases sea level rise and destabilizes polar ice sheets.

  • Scientific evidence indicates countries are already off course to meet the Paris Agreement's goals.
  • The draft, written by COP26 President Alok Sharma in consultation with ministers he assigned to resolve certain outstanding issues, lays down a marker and kicks off a frenzied period of diplomacy during the next 72 hours or more.

Between the lines: In calling for a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, the draft agreement breaks new ground. The Paris Agreement never even mentioned the term.

  • Major coal and fossil fuel producers, such as China, Saudi Arabia and Australia may push back against language calling for an accelerated phaseout of such energy sources and subsidies for them, which is unprecedented for a COP text but has been in G8 and G20 statements before.
  • "I think it's gonna be one hell of a fight this week," said Alden Meyer, a senior associate at E3G and a longtime participant in COP negotiations, on a press call Wednesday.
  • Developing countries are likely to seek to bolster sections dealing with flows of money from industrialized nations.

Details: The draft text also direct countries to offer more ambitious plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Specifically, it invites the UN secretary-general to convene countries in 2023 to consider their plans for emissions cuts prior to 2030.

  • It adopts a provision sought by the U.S. and other nations to ask every country to step up with new emissions reduction commitments by the end of next year. Under the Paris Agreement, the next review was not slated to occur until 2025.
  • This would help address the gap between current emissions pledges and where the world needs to be in order to hit the Paris Agreement's 1.5-degree target.

The intrigue: The text is lighter on details when it comes to securing more money to flow from industrialized countries to the developing world in order to help people adapt to the effects of global warming and take steps to be more resilient to climate disasters.

  • The draft does recognize the need for "significantly enhanced support for developing country parties" in addition to the $100 billion annually already promised to them beginning in 2020, though that full sum has not yet been reached.
  • It also contains open brackets, indicating no agreement reached yet, in a key section on "loss and damage," which would have the U.S. and other historically large polluters pay developing countries for damage incurred from global warming those countries did not cause.
  • For the first time, the U.S. and other industrialized nations are taking the step of acknowledging losses and damage are occurring, but they are leery of establishing a precedent for potentially large claims.

What they're saying: The draft is more heavily weighted toward climate mitigation actions to reduce the severity of global warming, and more vague on ambition and finance, says Jennifer Tollman of E3G, a European climate-focused think tank.

  • The text actually asks countries to "at least double" their financial commitments for adaptation, but gives no date associated with it. It raises the question, Tollman says, of "What are we actually aiming for when we talk about adaptation long-term?"

What's next: Diplomats, including ministers, UN Secretary-General António Guterres and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, will work to fill in missing details in the text, and also lock in current wording while managing a potentially contentious debate.

  • "This is the text that everyone is going to fight over," Tollman says.
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