“This is our collective moment in history”, said Alok Sharma in his opening remarks on what is officially the final day of talks in Glasgow.
Strong words from the man known as “no drama Sharma” behind the negotiating room door.
He spoke a few hours after an updated draft text was published, and compared to where things stood on Thursday, things are, for now, looking up at COP26.
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The original draft included a crucial paragraph mentioning the phasing out of coal and fossil fuel subsidies.
It was radical in that no previous climate summit has managed to include such direct reference to fossil fuels. As such, it was widely expected to be removed in overnight negotiations by traditionally obstructive nations like Saudi Arabia, Russia and possibly India.
Remarkably, it survived. But it is wounded.
The wording now adds caveats calling for an end to “unabated coal” and “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies. Those weasel words could allow countries to continue building coal plants and giving tax breaks to oil exploration. But they also allow the paragraph to survive and will require countries to address both coal and oil and gas subsidies.
For now, that’s a major win.
There’s been progress too on wording around finance for adapting to climate change and quiet confidence on finalising the rules by which the Paris Agreement must be implemented. This is all progress that some feared we may not see.
Overall the text is more balanced towards the needs of poorer countries, making it clear that funding – which is currently well short – must double by 2025.
Will the agreement keep the 1.5C goal alive? Ultimately that depends on another paragraph of dull international legalese: paragraph 29 which “requests” parties to submit more ambitious climate pledges next year.
In essence, it acknowledges what everyone knew going into this summit: that current efforts are nowhere near enough to avoid 1.5 degrees of warming. But it would ensure that countries come back far sooner than previously agreed, to keep working toward that goal.
Far from perfect, definitely a lot of blah, blah, blah, but compared to where most COP insiders had expected us to be right now it’s not bad.
But a lot can change in the next few crucial hours.
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Powerful and potentially obstructive countries like China, India, Brazil and Russia have been fairly quiet in negotiations so far.
No one country wants to be seen as the state that prevented progress (which in a way, is massive progress in itself). But if old alliances re-emerge, the text could yet be severely weakened.
For now “1.5” is on life support, the next few hours will dictate if it survives or not.
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