COP26 talks go down to the wire as negotiators try to hammer out deal

Negotiators were racing to get a deal to tackle climate change over the line on Friday at the UN climate summit but divisions remained on the phase-out of fossil fuels, and between rich and poor nations.

After almost two weeks of discussions, the focus of the UN COP26 in Glasgow has narrowed to a number of significant issues on coal, oil and gas and financial support for developing countries battling global warming.

Many delegates believe the talks will drag on past the official 6pm deadline and into the weekend as ministers from almost 200 countries try to hammer out a deal.

The latest draft text of agreement — known as the “cover decisions” and published on Friday — tweaked a line for only “unabated” coal power and “inefficient” subsidies for fossils fuels to be phased out. An earlier version of the agreement had included all coal power and fossil fuels subsidies.

China’s chief climate negotiator Zhao Yingmin told a UN plenary meeting on Friday that the latest text had “some improvements” and provided a “good basis” for further discussions.

But he also said countries should be able to decide on their own timetable for setting new emissions targets and that more detail was needed on financing to help developing countries adapt to climate change.

China has been pushing back against proposals to have carbon-cutting targets revised annually rather than every five years.

Ayman Shasly, a senior negotiator for Saudi Arabia and chair of the powerful Arab Group at the conference who previously worked in China for Saudi Aramco, told the meeting that the current draft was “workable”.

“The one overarching discussion we are hearing is the ambition [for] keeping the 1.5 alive, that is a no-brainer, we all know that in the room, nobody disagrees in the room,” he said, referring to the rise in global temperatures. “The question is how we’re going to do that.”

The divisions that remain were clear as the EU’s top climate negotiator Frans Timmermans told a UN session that it needed to send an unambiguous message on halting fossil fuel subsidies and finally “turn the page on coal”, comments that were greeted by loud applause.

US climate envoy John Kerry also welcomed the latest draft texts and said the language around “unabated coal” use and “inefficient subsidies”, had to stay. He also called on the UN summit to expand adaptation finance — cash available to poor nations to battle climate change. “It doesn’t make sense to limit where you can bring the money from,” he said.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government, which hosted the summit, had been “shifting heaven and earth to get everyone around the world to see the importance of an agreement”.

“We won’t clinch it all at COP26, but we should start,” he added.

Outside the summit venue, there were further demonstrations on the wet streets, with campaigners angry at the decision to water down the wording on fossil fuels.

“By now we shouldn’t need to be explaining the climate crisis,” said Mitzi Jonelle Tan, convener of Youth Advocates For Climate Action Philippines.

“The media and world leaders, who call themselves leaders, pat themselves on the back for nothing, still think that the climate crisis is a problem for the future, still think it isn’t happening today . . . as if it’s a far-off future,”
she told cheering protesters outside the venue.

“They don’t talk about the adaptation that is needed today and the loss and damage that is happening today.”

Neil Hume, Leslie Hook, Camilla Hodgson and Jim Pickard

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