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COP26 talks focus on damages while end of coal remains in sight

Negotiators were locked in overtime talks on the thorniest issue of who should pay for the damage to countries from climate change, while the end of coal and fossil fuels remained in the sights of the UN COP26 summit.

The issue of climate compensation moved firmly to the centre of the talks overnight on Friday, as the scheduled deadline for the summit passed and discussions stretched into the weekend.

Rich countries stopped short of making a commitment to provide “loss and damage” funding for vulnerable countries dealing with climate change, a key demand from developing countries in particular, in the latest set of draft texts issued Saturday morning.

Instead wealthy countries, such as the US, offered a “dialogue” and to fund the skeleton operation of the so-called Santiago network, a UN group that will publish information about affected countries can access funding.

Access to funding was a cause for plaintive speeches at the UN session on Friday, where nations as diverse as Kenya, Gabon, Tuvalu and the Marshall Island made an emotional case.

The latest text from COP26 upheld the reference to curbing coal unless it involves carbon capture technology, as well as reducing “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies. However it added a further clause about needing to help workers in the fossil fuel industry make a “just” transition into other jobs.

The inclusion of fossil fuels in the text for the first time is regarded as major milestone if passed.

Another key area being discussed is how countries will measure and report their emissions to the UN so that it gets an accurate assessment of their climate plans. A group including Saudi Arabia are understood to be resisting transparency through a detailed emissions reporting programme.

Disaster relief for climate-related events was also proposed by a group of developing countries through a financing facility but was blocked by countries including the US, EU and Australia, and is not in the draft text.

Progress on loss and damage was the “key” to unlock the negotiations, said Jennifer Morgan, head of Greenpeace International. “If we don’t have more money on loss and damage, and on finance, the we won’t get the ambition accelerated.”

Seve Paeniu, Tuvalu minister, made the case for loss and damage payments to his small island nation on Friday, to applause from the UN plenary attendees © AP

Gabon, as the chair for the Africa group, said negotiators were “not even at the point where we’re talking about the money for loss and damage”.

We’re talking about how we get to the point where we have money,” said Lee White, Gabon’s minister of water and forests, the sea, the environment.

The refusal by rich countries to create a new loss and damage facility was “a clear betrayal” of the world’s vulnerable nations, said Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network, a global network of more than 1,500 civil society organisations in more than 130 countries.

The differences are expected to be aired on Saturday afternoon when country representatives will make statements during a lengthy plenary session. If enough progress is made, a final closing plenary may be held on Saturday night.

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