The good, the bad and the grey areas in the first draft of the Cop26 agreement

·5-min read
Activists dressed as world leaders sit on a raft in the Forth and Clyde canal, protesting lack of action from governments on cutting emissions (Getty)
Activists dressed as world leaders sit on a raft in the Forth and Clyde canal, protesting lack of action from governments on cutting emissions (Getty)

The first iteration of the Cop26 agreements were published early on Wednesday, setting out a vision for how the world can keep hopes of limiting global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels within reach.

The draft text offers a stark assessment of “alarm and concern” at where the world stands due to 1.1C of global heating, with climate impacts already being felt in every region of the world.

It also notes that the carbon budget to keep us within bounds of the Paris Agreement is being “rapidly depleted” and recognises “the important role of civil society, including youth and indigenous peoples, in addressing and responding to climate change, and highlighting the urgent need for action”.

This is not the last word on the impending Glasgow agreement with at least another frenzied 72 hours to go. But here’s how it’s shaping up so far.

The good

The draft sets out a clear date for all countries to make more ambitious emissions-reduction pledges, so-called “nationally determined contributions”. Parties are “urged” to ramp up ambitions by the end of 2022, and in advance of Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

Yamide Dagnet, director of climate negotiations for the World Resources Institute, says that the defined timeline appears to have taken into account what climate vulnerable countries, including least developed countries and small island states, have been pushing for. However she notes there was also a desire for stronger promises (see: “The grey”, below).

Other positives to take away from the first draft? The inclusion of wording on fossil fuels for the first time ever in a global climate agreement, and a specific mention of coal. The draft text calls on countries to “accelerate” the phasing out of coal and fossil fuels.

However there is no specific timeline set – and there are fears that countries with large fossil fuel interests may push to get any mention of fossil fuels removed from the final text. “The question is will it stand?,” says Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute.

The importance of “nature-based solutions”, conserving and restoring ecosystems to tackle the climate crisis, is also emphasised in the draft.

Specific mention is made of forests, nodding to a pledge made last week where more than 100 world leaders committed to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. The signatories account for 85 per cent of the world’s forests and include Brazil, Russia and China. However, NGOs have warned that “cracks” have already begun to appear in the deal.

The draft also “invites parties to consider further opportunities to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions”.

Although not mentioned specifically in the wording, the most important here is methane. Reducing the concentration of the more short-term but potent greenhouse gas is seen as one of the most crucial things that governments can do in keeping "1.5C alive”. Last week, more than 100 states agreed to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.

The bad

Several groups have criticised the draft text for not going far enough on securing finance for developing countries grappling with the impacts of the climate crisis.

Back in 2009, developed countries promised to provide $100bn a year to poorer nations by 2020 to help tackle emissions and adapt to rising climate impacts. However, this deadline was missed – providing an awkward backdrop to discussions about post-2025 finance taking place at Cop26.

“The fact that the deadline for the long-promised $100bn of climate finance from rich countries has been missed doesn’t even get mentioned. This is a specific ask of poor countries,” says Mohamed Adow, director of the energy and climate think tank Power Shift Africa.

He adds that developed nations must “acknowledge the shortfall” and “at least double” the funding on offer to help countries adapt to the climate crisis.

“There’s lots of work that needs to be done on the finance side for poorer countries,” adds Dr Kat Kramer, climate policy lead at Christian Aid. “There’s very little on how vulnerable nations are to be supported to adapt.”

The draft “acknowledges” that the climate crisis is already causing “loss and damage”, a term commonly used to describe the inevitable human costs of heating, such as deaths from more severe extreme weather events.

However, it stops short of proposing new finance or a clear process to help countries deal with loss and damage, as some groups had hoped for.

“This draft Cop decision text is too weak,” says Tracy Carty, head of Oxfam’s Cop26 delegation.

“There are just two days left to negotiate a better deal. One that commits to increase adaptation finance to 50 per cent by 2025 [and] takes seriously developing country demands for finance for loss and damage.”

The grey

Though the draft recognises that countries must go further “this critical decade” to have a hope of limiting temperatures to 1.5C, there are concerns around the language used.

The text “urges” countries to “revisit and strengthen” their climate pledges for 2030. Some say this language is not “decisive” or “precise” enough.

“‘Urging’, ‘encouraging’ and ‘inviting’ is not the decisive language that this moment calls for,” says Dr Walton Webson, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, which represents 39 small island and low-lying states at UN climate talks. “We have limited time left at the Cop to get this right.”

A rapid analysis by Dr Simon Evans at the climate website Carbon Brief found that the first draft uses more “exhortations” than “binding” language.

“There needs to be more ambition and more precision,” adds Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics.

“We need countries to agree to return every one or two years with more ambitious pledges. We also need stronger evidence of action to deliver the pledges.”

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