With just hours to go before the official 6pm deadline for new agreements from COP26, aimed at limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in keeping with the 2015 Paris Agreement, a draft text released early Wednesday that made specific mentioned of coal and fossil fuel subsidies has been watered down.
Climate groups are laying the blame firmly at the feet of fossil fuel interests for the diluted wording.
The first draft of the cover decision called for nations "to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels". However, come Friday morning after protracted overnight ministerial negotiations the latest draft instead refers to “unabated coal power”, such as those without carbon capture, and “inefficient subsidies”.
Also, a line in the initial draft that “urged” countries to resubmit new plans to cut their emissions as soon as 2022 has been changed to a “request”, which carries less weight in UN language in its official documents.
Non-governmental organisations that had hailed Wednesday’s draft expressed disappointment and anger by the newly-diluted version of the text, although few were surprised, due to the perception that fossil fuel interests have been strongly represented at COP26.
“We have sadly seen the hand of fossil fuel interests interfering with that [initial] text, to water it down with weasel words like ‘unabated’ and ‘inefficient’,” said Catherine Abreu, executive director at non-governmental organisation Destination Zero.
“This language: - ‘Unabated coal, inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’ - we’ve seen it before, we’ve seen it in the G20 through 12 years. ‘Inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’, it means nothing, and we’ve seen no progress on limiting those subsidies since we’ve seen that language,” said Abreu.
Caroline Rance from Friends of the Earth Scotland agreed that it looks like the fossil fuels lobby “has got its hands on the decision text”.
Wednesday’s draft was the first COP document to specifically mention fossil fuels. If such wording ultimately makes it to the final text, it will be the first time that fossil fuels have been explicitly mentioned in a final agreement at the annual climate summit.
“In the next 24 hours we are calling on the UK to use their presidency to ensure the final text includes what is needed to meet 1.5 degrees which, as we know, is life and death for millions of people around the world,” said Rance.
“And that the language on fossil fuels matches what is required by science and justice.”
Negotiations expected into Saturday
Ministerial delegations from Africa and South America have already said they expect negotiations at the UNFCCC climate change summit would not be wrapped up by 6pm today – citing finance for developing nations and fossil fuels as two key issues of contention.
Scotland's plea to Boris
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had her own view, urging UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to return to Glasgow following his fleeting four-hour visit on Wednesday.
She told BBC Breakfast television show: "My message to the Prime Minister is come back here. Use your position as president of this COP to really drive progress and push people as far as we can get them because every inch forward that this text takes is of course another inch towards getting the world on to a path where we avoid climate catastrophe and nothing, literally nothing, is more important than that."