COP26: Second draft agreement backs down on coal phaseout, fossil fuel subsidies
A second draft final text for the COP26 agreement was released in the early hours of 12 November, taking a step back from the prior draft on challenging the continued use of fossil fuels, but still exhorting developed countries to increase their climate finance commitments and speed up their emissions reductions.
The new draft retains the emphasis on reducing global CO2 emissions by 45% relative to 2010 by 2030 and that this requires an acceleration of deployment of clean energy technology and emissions reductions.
A deletion from the earlier draft language strengthens the commitment related to the ultimate goal of limiting global warming. The new draft states in Paragraph 20 that it: "Reaffirms the Paris Agreement temperature goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels."
The prior draft had the phrase "by 2100" at the end of that paragraph—and so removing the date can strike any implication that a higher temperature increase pre-2100 is acceptable.
However, the language related to coal and fossil fuels has been watered down. In draft two, the relevant section is Paragraph 36, which now: "Calls upon Parties to accelerate the development, deployment, and dissemination of technologies and the adoption of policies for the transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up clean power generation and accelerating the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels."
This can be interpreted as allowing for coal usage combined with carbon capture. The language referencing "inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels" opens new flexibility for the continued use of oil and, especially, natural gas.
One critic of the second draft, Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, focused on those modifications. "The latest text out of Glasgow shows the oily imprints of fossil fuel influence," she said in a prepared statement. "The credibility of these talks is in question if landmark language around fossil fuels gives them a lifeline through carbon capture technologies and continued subsidies."
The second draft retains language from the earlier draft that would require countries to update their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for reducing emissions by 2030 in time for COP27, scheduled for next November in Egypt. In the past, NDC updates were due every five years.
The US and China announced earlier in the week their intent to update their NDCs for COP27 as part of a framework to accelerate cooperation on methane and CO2 emissions reductions.
The second draft repeatedly uses terms such as "urgency" about the climate crisis and "serious concern" that impacts are getting more severe. It "urges developed country parties to urgently and significantly scale up their provision of climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building" for developing countries. The latter would include "significantly increasing" climate finance beyond the $100 billion per year that was promised under the Paris Agreement, but has yet to materialize.
Reaction from nongovernmental organizations to draft two was negative, due to the weaker fossil fuel language, though they acknowledged it is the first time that a COP agreement would have any mention of reducing fossil fuel use.
"It could be better, it should be better," said Jennifer Morgan of Greenpeace International, in a tweet.
Speaking at a press conference at COP26 after the draft was released, Helen Mountford, vice president of climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, offered a mixed response. "The fact that we've got the phaseout of fossil fuel subsidies and the phaseout of coal in the text is really new and important," she said. "The fact that they've added in 'unabated' in front of coal and 'inefficient' in front of fossil fuel subsidies, compared to the text a couple of days ago, is definitely going back to some more comfortable negotiated language in other fora."
Arunabha Ghosh of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, an organization of climate scientists based in New Delhi, India, agreed in a statement that the draft "continues to fall significantly short of the action needed to keep 1.5 degrees alive." But he said it does underscore the need for developed countries to both control their emissions and help the developing world, with the inclusion of language about "common but differentiated responsibilities" among nations.
That language about "differentiated responsibilities" is a two-edged sword. China and India, for example, have used that term in the past to argue that they will not be able to meet goals set out by other large carbon-emitting countries of net-zero economies by 2050, and will need one or two decades more to reach carbon neutrality.
Think-tank E3G took a more generous tone about the draft text, particularly the annual NDC updates. "The key paragraph on accelerating mitigation ambition is strengthened … [the] text requests parties to come back with more ambition by 2022," according to an analysis posted on its website.
The push for even more climate financing also comes through as a strong positive, E3G said. "Paragraph 27 of the COP text 'urges' developed countries to 'fully deliver' on the $100bn goal urgently and through to 2025. We'll be closely tracking reactions to this language," it said.
But E3G also suggested that the strong language about financing indicates that COP26 talks could be prolonged, if negotiators for individual countries need to ask their leaders to commit to more capital. "Leaders really have to decide if they want to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius alive now.… It's countries that must decide how much climate risk they will take," E3G said.
Most UN climate talks do not finish on time, and this event is likely to be no exception.
While COP26 is scheduled to conclude at 6 pm 12 November (Glasgow time), many observers expect the negotiations to last until 13 November at least. Countries still have yet to fully agree on climate finance, carbon trading rules (known as Article 6), plus loss and damage compensation for developing countries, among other matters.
"A small number of key issues remain, which require our urgent, urgent attention," COP26 President Alok Sharma admitted in an afternoon plenary on 12 November. "We simply did not have clarity [yet] on the way forward that would enjoy broad consensus."
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