Cop26: Nations announce landmark Glasgow climate pact after last-minute weakening on coal

·4-min read
UK Cop president Alok Sharma became emotional following the last minute changes to the Glasgow pact (UNFCCC)
UK Cop president Alok Sharma became emotional following the last minute changes to the Glasgow pact (UNFCCC)

The Cop26 climate summit has finally concluded after nations agreed to a landmark deal aimed at preventing catastrophic global warming.

Talks dragged on for more than 24 hours after the Glasgow conference was due to end amid intense negotiations over contentious issues like fossil fuel subsidies, emission-reduction timelines and climate finance for developing nations.

China and India made a last-minute intervention to water down language in the final text on coal. The language was changed to “phase down” on unabated coal power instead of the stronger “phase out”.

Several countries made angry statements following the sudden intervention. Mexico called it a “non-inclusive and non-transparent process”.

UK Cop26 president Alok Sharma broke down after apologizing for the last-minute change, and urged countries to go forward with approving the pact.

“It’s vital that we protect this package,” said a visibly emotional Mr Sharma, before he was met with applause by delegates.

Teams from 197 countries worked late into the night on the international agreement that for the first time included reference to fossil fuels, the driving force of the climate crisis.

While Cop’s outcome does not achieve the global aspiration of limiting warming to 1.5C, it keeps the prospect within reach, with a series of processes to close emissions gaps and loopholes, and in this crucial decade. Major polluters will be required to return in 2022 with improved emissions-reduction targets to meet the Paris Agreement goals.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres thanked the UK government and the people of Glasgow for their tremendous hospitality, calling it an “extremely challenging conference”. Cop26 had already been postponed for a year by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He called the approved texts a “compromise”.

“They take important steps, but unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions,” he said.

He then warned: “ As I said at the opening, we must accelerate action to keep the 1.5 degree goal alive. Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.”

Seve Paeniu, the climate minster of the Pacific island state of Tuvalu, said on Saturday afternoon that Cop26 had delivered “a strong message of hope, a strong message of promise, a strong message of ambition”.

Holding up a photograph of his three grandchildren, Mr Paeniu said: “I will be able to tell them that Glasgow has made a promise to save their future. That will be the best ever Christmas gift I will present to them .”

During the final stocktaking plenary, there were strong objections to sections of the agreement from countries including China, India, Iran, Bolivia, and Gabon. However nations were ultimately able to reach consensus by Saturday evening on a deal that had the potential to be sunk by just one objection.

“It is time to come together for future generations in a way that none of us thought we might have an opportunity to do,” US climate envoy John Kerry said.

He noted that while each country would be uncomfortable with certain bits of the deal, “we all know the adage of negotiations: you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

“And this is good. It is a powerful statement,” he added.

A number of small island states and developing countries said that the Glasgow decision did not significantly address how their nations would be compensated for extreme impacts that are already taking place - despite the fact they have contributed relatively little emissions to causing the crisis.

“What is balanced and pragmatic to other parties will not help the Maldives adapt in time. It will be too late for the Maldives,” the island nation’s representative, Shauna Aminath, told the plenary hall.

“For us, this is a matter of survival.” Urging swifter action, she added: “The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is a death sentence for us.”

Progress has been made on the complex issue of “loss & damage” - the issue of financial compensation for countries already facing a heavy burden from climate impacts.

There had been calls from vulnerable and island countries for a separate facility to deal with “loss and damage” but this faced opposition from the US and the EU.

“We are extremely disappointed,” said the representative from Antigua and Barbuda, on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States and G77 + China. But he added that the group “will move ahead in spirit of compromise”.

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