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Hopes of keeping alive the chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C were tonight slipping through Boris Johnson’s fingers, as the Cop26 climate summit enters its final day without agreement on key issues and with negotiations believed to be going backwards on a crucial fossil fuel pledge.
The UK’s Cop26 president Alok Sharma said that negotiators faced a “monumental challenge” to reach a credible conclusion to the two-week summit, which was billed as humanity’s last chance to stave off the threat of devastating climate change.
In a plea to all countries to “strain every sinew” to get an agreement that will make a real difference, Mr Sharma warned: “Time is running out.”
Negotiators were working until late on Thursday on a new draft agreement, expected to appear early on the final scheduled day of the summit.
Agreement was reached on assistance for vulnerable countries in adapting to climate change, and there was said to be progress on the issue of recompensing them for past loss and damage. But on the crucial issue of finance, countries remained far apart, with little progress towards the UN’s call for a fivefold or even tenfold increase in rich-world support by 2030.
As well, UK officials believe that Wednesday’s breakthrough on fossil fuels is likely to be reversed in frantic horse-trading as the summit draws to its end, with Saudi Arabia leading a drive to scrub out provisions included in an early draft agreement – for the first time in a UN document of this kind – to phase out coal and end subsidies for fossil fuels.
Delegates played down the significance of a dramatically announced declaration from the US and China, pointing out that while their agreement to co-operate on climate change was welcome, it was missing the firm figures and timetables which would allow them to be held to account for it.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson was coming under intense pressure to return to Glasgow and fight for a deal which would keep the world on track for warming of no more than 1.5C over pre-industrial levels and bring forward the provision of $100bn in annual support for vulnerable nations.
Friends of the Earth said the prime minister should be in Glasgow to “throw the kitchen sink” at getting a deal. But Downing Street indicated that he would be remaining in London, making his 22-minute press conference on Wednesday his last appearance at Cop26.
FoE climate campaigner Rachel Kennerley told The Independent: “It does hit a flat note that he won’t lobby his counterparts to stump up overdue financial help for poorer nations who need and deserve it, and really pressure other leaders to drop fossil-fuel dependence.
“This is a complex negotiation process now in the final, crucial hours, so he would be showing his commitment to that all-important 1.5 degrees if he was here to throw the kitchen sink at this deal: he sounded very keen at the beginning of the fortnight.”
Labour’s Cop26 spokesperson Ed Miliband said the PM’s promise to keep 1.5 alive was “in jeopardy” and he should be in Glasgow to try to save it.
“Leaving on Wednesday night was a mistake when we know from previous summits that prime ministerial leadership can make a real difference to the outcome,” Mr Miliband told The Independent.
“When Britain and the world needs a statesman who can twist arms, push those dragging their feet and get things done, we’ve instead got a showman. Boris Johnson should be chasing down a deal to halve global emissions by 2030, not just chasing headlines.”
Mr Guterres said that the response to the climate crisis “requires all hands on deck” and nations need to “pick up the pace” and show ambition.
On the basis of pledges so far – which would deliver only around one-fifth of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 – the world remains “on track for a catastrophic temperature rise well above 2C”, the UN boss told a Cop26 press conference.
“The emissions gap remains a devastating threat, the finance and adaptation gap represent a glaring injustice for the developing world.
“We need even more ambition in future revised nationally determined contributions, we need pledges to be implemented.
“We need commitments to turn concrete, we need actions to be verified, we need to bridge the deep and real credibility gap.”
He welcomed a co-operation agreement between the US and China announced on Wednesday, but added: “Promises ring hollow when the fossil fuels industry still receives trillions in subsidies, as measured by the IMF. Or when countries are still building coal plants. Or when carbon is still without a price.”
Guterres said the Glasgow talks “are in a crucial moment” and need to accomplish more than a “lowest common denominator” deal which represents the most that all 200 participating nations will support.
“That would not respond to the huge challenges we face,” he said.
Mr Sharma said that drafts released overnight on a number of crunch topics “represent a significant step further toward the comprehensive, ambitious and balanced set of outcomes which I hope parties will adopt by consensus at the end of tomorrow.”
But he added: “Whilst we have made progress, we are not there yet on the most crucial issues.
“There is still a lot more work to be done and Cop26 is scheduled to close at the end of tomorrow.
“Time is running out… We still have a monumental challenge ahead of us.”
Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate voiced scepticism at the pledges made by world leaders and businesses at Glasgow.
“We see them making fancy speeches, we hear about new pledges and promises, but we are drowning in promises,” she said.
“Promises will not stop the suffering of the people, pledges will not stop the planet from warming. Only immediate and drastic action will pull us back from the abyss.”