COP26 summit: 1.5C in ‘mortal peril’, world leaders warned

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COP26 summit: 1.5C in ‘mortal peril’, world leaders warned
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World leaders were warned on Friday that their latest COP26 draft deal leaves the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C in “mortal peril”.

Scientists say achieving this target is crucial to avoid the more catastrophic scenario of floods, fires and heatwaves from climate change. But a new draft agreement, published early on Friday, failed to deliver any dramatic breakthrough on curbing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Talks were still ongoing and there was a growing expectation that they could now run into Saturday, after the planned end of COP26.

At a "stock take" meeting on Friday there were calls from developing nations for swifter action to deliver finance to help them cut emissions, adapt and deal with loss and damage caused by global warming.

Elsewhere, others were disappointed that language on phasing out fossil fuels and eliminating subsidies had been diluted.

Boris Johnson had set the ambition for the summit in Glasgow to “keep alive” the 1.5C goal, which in itself has been criticised as failing to address the urgency of the crisis.

Shortly after the latest document was published, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband, who was a leading player in Britain’s team at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, said: “It’s clear that the aim of this summit to keep 1.5 alive is in mortal peril.” The changes include:

  • Rather than calling for countries “to accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”, it now urges them to accelerate the shift to clean energy systems by “accelerating the phase out of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”.

  • Countries are now “requested” rather than “urged” to “revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets” in their national action plans by the end of 2022 to align with global goals to limit temperature rises to “well below” 2C and try to limit them to 1.5C.

  • Michael Jacobs, a former climate adviser to Gordon Brown, said: “I see this as a strengthening of the language which effectively means countries are being told to come back next year with nationally determined contributions aligned to the 1.5C temperature goal.” But Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan disagreed, saying: “It’s even weaker now.”

  • A pledge that richer nations will give the poorest countries $100 billion (£73 billion) a year, which should have happened by now, to help them tackle climate change and make their industries greener also appears to have been watered down. The latest version is better “balanced” towards recognising the climate change threats facing developing countries. A new qualifying clause to the section on updating 2030 targets includes that this “requested” action “takes into account different national circumstances”.

Asked if the draft meets or falls short of his hopes for Glasgow, climate expert Lord Stern said: “It falls short of what one would hope for in the sense of really driving to 1.5C and tackling clean development. But I think it goes beyond where I thought it might be a few days ago when we saw the one before.”

The peer, who led the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, added: “I think this new text is stronger, has a greater sense of urgency, looking at all forms of finance, and the importance of getting it in place next year, when we have to both deliver on the $100 billion and put in place something which is much bigger and better.”

Dr Thomas Hale, associate Professor in Public Policy at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, said: “If you look at the whole package we have seen some progress towards limiting emissions. But we need to see much more next year (at the next COP in Egypt) in order to keep 1.5C alive.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would not “bet lots of money” on the talks being completed by the 6pm deadline. She told the BBC the agreement was in “many respects slightly better than the draft that was published earlier in the week, but it still has a way to go”.

As the deadline approached delegations spoke of the importance of deal that met the 1.5C target.

“This text is the bare minimum. The next few hours are going to determine the new dawn,” said Simon Stiell, climate resilience minister for Grenada, a small island that is highly vulnerable to climate change. “If the text withstands the battering it may get, we are holding onto 1.5C by our fingernails.”

A representative for Kenya has said 1.5C is a “matter of life or death” for the continent, which climate change has had a devastating effect on.

“We bleed when it rains, we cry when it doesn’t rain,” he said, alluding to the extreme weather caused by climate change. “1.5 is not a statistic - it is a matter of life or death.”

Hundreds of activists from around the world marched through the Cop26 venue in Glasgow on Friday at the ‘lack of progress’ leaving a gathering in one of the main halls to join a demonstration outside.

The marchers sang and chanted as they made their way through the summit's blue zone, with a group of indigenous activists leading the procession.

They carried banners and red ribbons to represent the red lines crossed by negotiators. Two people were led away by police after they tried to scale the fence outside the venue.

Following the march through the venue, they joined a rally held by Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion and other groups.

Mary Church, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said the meeting was to express "deep frustration" with the climate summit.

She said: "We are hurtling ever closer to reaching the critical 1.5C threshold. Climate change already impacts and threatens billions of lives."

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