As international climate talks in Glasgow dragged into deep overtime, organizers released a new draft agreement on Saturday morning that they hope could be the basis for a new global deal to tackle climate change.
The latest draft, which is broadly similar to one released on Friday, calls on nations to return next year with stronger pledges to cut planet-warming emissions in this decade. Recognizing that countries are not doing enough to prevent a significant rise in temperatures, it urges wealthy nations to “at least double” by 2025 the financial aid that they provide to developing countries to help adapt to heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires.
The latest draft retains language calling on countries to accelerate efforts “towards the phaseout of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.” Behind closed doors, negotiators said, that language faces opposition from oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia.
If it stays in, it would be the first time an international climate agreement explicitly mentions fossil fuels, which are the root cause of global warming.
That does not mean all of the haggling is over, however. Talks on whether to provide support to vulnerable countries that are experiencing serious climate effects now — a policy known in United Nations parlance as “loss and damage” — went into the early hours of Saturday.
Activists said the newest text appeared to have eliminated an earlier plan to create a “facility” to direct funds to poor countries, and that it does not commit countries to provide funding. The United States and Europe both opposed the loss-and-damage mechanism, several negotiators said.
“It looks like we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us today,” a group of researchers who work on loss and damage wrote on Twitter.
Later on Saturday morning, countries will weigh in publicly on the draft and whether they want changes. By tradition, a final agreement requires all of the nearly 200 nations here to sign on. If any one objects, talks can deadlock.
Activists said they were broadly disappointed with the latest language on funding for poor and vulnerable countries.
More than 10 years ago, countries promised to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020 to help developing countries pivot to renewable energy and prepare for the effects of climate change. That promise was not fulfilled, and the latest draft notes “with serious concern” the gap between what was pledged and what was delivered.
It “urges” wealthy countries to increase the amount of money they give now and in the future. It also “requests” that developed countries to consider a “significantly increase” in the amount of money they give to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change.
Currently, money to help develop wind, solar and other renewable energy far outpaces funding for things like building sea walls or planting mangroves to protect against storm surges.
Timmons Roberts, a professor of environmental studies at Brown University, called the language “wiggle words,” because it could allow wealthy countries to wiggle out of their promises.
“I’m a college professor,” he said. “If I request my students to consider doing the reading for class, how many do I expect to actually do it? Very few.”
Whatever the outcome of the down-to-the-wire negotiations in Glasgow over an agreement to slow the rise in global temperatures, the United Nations climate conference known as COP26 has made some progress on key issues.
Here are some of the deals already announced at the two-week talks:
U.S. and China
The United States and China announced a joint agreement to do more to cut emissions this decade, and China committed for the first time to develop a plan to reduce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The pact between the rivals, which are the world’s two biggest polluters, surprised delegates to the summit.
But the agreement was short on specifics. China did not commit to a new timetable for reducing emissions, nor did it set a ceiling for how much its emissions would rise before they started to fall. And while China agreed to “phase down” coal starting in 2026, it did not specify by how much or over what period of time.
Leaders of more than 100 countries, including Brazil, China, Russia and the United States, vowed to end deforestation by 2030. The landmark agreement covers about 85 percent of the world’s forests, which are crucial to absorbing carbon dioxide and slowing the pace of global warming.
Twelve governments committed $12 billion, and private companies pledged $7 billion, to protect and restore forests in a variety of ways, including $1.7 billion for Indigenous peoples. But some advocacy groups criticized the agreement as lacking teeth, noting that similar efforts have failed in the past.
More than 100 countries agreed to cut emissions of methane, a potent planet-warming gas, 30 percent by the end of this decade. The pledge was part of a push by the Biden administration, which also announced that the Environmental Protection Agency would limit the methane coming from about one million oil and gas rigs across the United States.
The countries that signed the Global Methane Pledge include half of the world’s top 30 methane-emitting countries, and U.S. officials said they expected the list to grow.
One of the world’s largest consumers of coal, India also said that it would significantly expand the portion of its total energy mix that comes from renewable sources, and that half of its energy would come from sources other than fossil fuels by 2030.
It is common for United Nations climate conferences, which are supposed to run for two weeks, to go into overtime. Diplomats often don’t get down to the fine details of an agreement until the final night.
Lia Nicholson, who represents small island nations in the negotiations, said on Friday that the group “finds ourselves at the final hours of this conference overwhelmed at the work still ahead of us.”
Diplomats and negotiators worked past the deadline, well into Saturday morning. And many, especially those representing developing countries, lamented the gap between what nations have promised to do to cut greenhouse gas emissions and help people adapt to climate change, and what is needed.
“There’s a huge disconnect between where we are, where we will be based on current projections and where we need to be in terms of what science is telling us,” said Saber Hossain Chowdhury, a negotiator from Bangladesh, one of the nations that have suffered most from climate change.
The draft agreement released on Friday “requests” nations to return every year to strengthen their emissions-cutting targets until the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial times. One analysis found that even if all the pledges made in Glasgow were kept, temperatures would still rise by 2.4 degrees Celsius by 2100.
Even at current temperatures, Mr. Chowdhury said, “we see the destruction, the devastation, the pain, the suffering that all countries of the world are facing.” He received sustained applause from delegates in the plenary hall.
Kenya’s environment minister, Keriako Tobiko, noted that an average global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius would translate into 3 degrees in Africa, intensifying erratic patterns of rainfall and drought that are already punishing farmers.
“In Kenya and Africa, we cry, we bleed. We bleed when it rains, we cry when it doesn’t rain,” he said. “So for us, ambition, 1.5 is not a statistic. It is a matter of life and death.”
The latest draft also calls on countries to accelerate “the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.” Unabated coal refers to power plants that do not capture their carbon dioxide emissions using a nascent technology not currently available on a commercial scale.
The language, which would allow power plants with the technology to continue burning coal, is a change from previous language asking nations to “accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels.”
Officials from other countries argued that the words unabated and inefficient should be removed from the agreement.
“We need clear language on the need to eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies, not only the inefficient ones, and to accelerate the phaseout of coal power,” said Andrea Meza, Costa Rica’s environment minister.
While the science of climate change is widely agreed upon, the scope of the topic and rampant disinformation make it hard to separate fact from fiction. The Times asked Julia Rosen, a journalist who holds a Ph.D. in geology, to explain some of what we know, and how we know it. She writes that the impact of climate change will depend on how aggressively the world acts to address it:
If we continue with business as usual, by the end of the century it will be too hot to go outside during heat waves in the Middle East and South Asia. Droughts will grip Central America, the Mediterranean and southern Africa. And many island nations and low-lying areas, from Texas to Bangladesh, will be overtaken by rising seas.
Conversely, climate change could bring welcome warming and extended growing seasons to the upper Midwest, Canada, the Nordic countries and Russia. Farther north, however, the loss of snow, ice and permafrost will upend the traditions of Indigenous peoples and threaten infrastructure.
It’s complicated, but the underlying message is simple: Unchecked climate change will likely exacerbate existing inequalities. At a national level, poorer countries will be hit hardest, even though they have historically emitted only a fraction of the greenhouse gases that cause warming.
Even within wealthy countries, the poor and marginalized will suffer the most. People with more resources have greater buffers, like air-conditioners to keep their houses cool during dangerous heat waves, and the means to pay the resulting energy bills. They also have an easier time evacuating their homes before disasters, and recovering afterward.
On top of that, warmer weather is aiding the spread of infectious diseases and the vectors that transmit them, like ticks and mosquitoes. Research has also identified troubling correlations between rising temperatures and increased interpersonal violence, and climate change is widely recognized as a “threat multiplier” that increases the odds of larger conflicts within and between countries.
In other words, climate change will bring many changes that no amount of money can stop. What could help is taking action to limit warming.