COP26 talks run deep into overtime to strike deal on climate action

US special climate envoy John Kerry (centre right) speaks with China's special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua (centre left), on Nov 13, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

GLASGOW - The two-week UN climate talks in Scotland went deep into overtime on Saturday (Nov 13) as nations debated a draft decision text that pushes for deeper emissions cuts but which poorer nations say fails to fully take into account their needs.

The negotiations in Glasgow, called COP26, were meant to wrap up on Friday evening local time. Instead, negotiations continued deep into the night, with the latest draft text - the third iteration - emerging on Saturday morning.

COP26 president Alok Sharma from host country Britain said he was determined to wrap up the talks on Saturday but delegates continued conversations in huddles inside the main plenary hall for several hours, delaying the start of formal proceedings.

United States climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Mr Xie Zhenhua, could be seen discussing the draft text on the plenary floor. Both then held discussions with other delegates, including Mr Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the European Commission, as well as Mr Sharma.

When the informal stocktaking plenary finally got under way late on Saturday night Singapore time, several nations spoke up to express some concerns, especially over climate finance, but none called for major changes to the latest draft.

China said the text was "by no means perfect" but said it had no intention of reopening the text for renegotiation, instead suggesting edits.

A senior delegate from India criticised the push to end fossil fuel subsidies, saying they have helped India and other poorer nations to develop and that it was unfair for wealthier nations to try to scrap them.

The European Union urged delegates not to open up the text. "Don't kill this moment by asking for more texts, different texts, deleting this, deleting that," a comment that brought applause.

The South Pacific island of Tuvalu, which is threatened by rising sea levels, spoke up in favour of the text. "Glasgow has delivered a strong message of hope and ambition. Now we need to deliver on this promise," said its chief delegate. "We have now embarked on the Glasgow train of ambition."

COP26 has been dominated by accusations that wealthy, big polluting nations have been shirking their responsibility of channelling climate finance to the most vulnerable nations, which face spiralling costs and impacts from wilder weather and rising sea levels.

Developing nation delegates at the plenary acknowledged that more can be done on the finance issues, especially on the key issue of irreparable loss and damage from climate disasters and sea level rise.

The text calls on nations to strengthen their climate pledges by the end of next year and to ensure updated pledges for this decade are aligned with the key goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels.

It also retains a call for nations to speed up the shift away from polluting coal and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while ensuring a just transition - meaning support for poorer nations to invest in clean energy.

The text also urges developed nations to double adaptation financing for poor nations from 2019 levels by 2025.

But rich nations have still not met a US$100 billion (S$135 billion) a year funding pledge to poorer nations that was meant to be reached by 2020.

Loss and damage are a top issue for many developing nations, such as small island nations, which say they are on the front line of climate impacts, yet not responsible for the vast majority of greenhouse gas pollution fuelling global warming.

Small island nations told the plenary that COP26 did not deliver on loss and damage finance, and criticised the removal of a previous reference to a financing facility that could help them cope with the total destruction of infrastructure from more frequent and powerful typhoons and hurricanes.

Instead, the current text decides that a dialogue on discussing how to channel loss and damage financing be created with the goal to reach a conclusion by 2024.

"Saturday's text from COP26 on loss and damage is even worse than the text on Friday," said Dr Saleemul Huq, director of International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh and a veteran of United Nations climate talks.

"The COP presidency has overnight been bullied into dropping the Glasgow Loss and Damage Finance Facility," he said.

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