Climate justice – and cash – shadow UN talks

Developing nations accused richer countries of bargaining with the lives of billions of people on the climate crisis frontline Monday, blasting insufficient commitments as COP26 talks enter their final week with trust in short supply.

Countries remain starkly divided on key issues at the UN meeting, including how rapidly the world curbs carbon emissions and how to ramp up support for countries already battered by storms, floods and drought intensified by global heating.

After a week of headline announcements from host Britain on ending deforestation and phasing out coal, experts say the underlying COP26 negotiations have progressed little.

Countries are in Glasgow to work out how to implement the Paris Agreement’s goals of limiting temperature rises to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius.

And while recent announcements mean they have inched closer, many disputes remain unresolved.

These include pushing for more ambitious national carbon reduction plans, providing a long-promised $100 billion annually to developing nations and rules governing carbon markets.

“As the group least responsible for the climate crisis, but suffering most from its impact, we came to Glasgow with high expectations,” said Sonam Phuntsho Wangdi of Bhutan, who heads the Least Developed Nations negotiating bloc. 

He urged “strong commitments” from delegates at the UN talks, calling for faster emissions cuts. 

“Any compromise on limiting temperature rise in line to 1.5C in this decade will mean negotiating the lives of billions in the most vulnerable countries like ours.”

– ‘All countries playing hardball’ –

With scientists warning that countries have until the end of the decade to slash emissions almost in half, former US President Barack Obama attended the summit to tell delegates “time really is running out”.  

He said the Paris Agreement of 2015 had made important progress, but stressed that the deal was just the beginning. 

“Most nations have failed to be as ambitious as they need to be,” he said, echoing current President Joe Biden in saying it was “disturbing” that neither the leaders of China or Russia had travelled to Glasgow. 

Earlier, COP26 President Alok Sharma said the first week of technical negotiations had “already concluded some important issues that will drive accelerated climate action”. 

But he said any preliminary conference decision text — over which ministers will haggle when they arrive in Glasgow later this week — had not yet materialised.

“We have a lot of work to do across all issues that remain,” said Britain’s chief negotiator Archie Young.   

A senior diplomatic source told AFP that there was so much yet to be agreed that draft texts as they currently stood would be “illegible” for ministers.

“All countries are playing hardball,” Stephen Leonard, climate law and policy specialist and veteran COP observer told AFP. 

“The EU want the highest ambition possible. The African countries want as much finance for adaptation as possible. Australia and Japan want to be able to trade as much carbon as possible.” 

– Some progress –

COP26 is taking place a year late due to the Covid-19 pandemic and against a backdrop of ever-stronger drought, flooding and storms supercharged by higher temperatures that are battering countries across the globe. 

Its first week saw around 100 nations commit to slash their emissions of methane — a powerful greenhouse gas — by at least 30 percent by 2030. 

In another development likely to dent emissions, India — the fourth largest polluter — said it would achieve carbon neutrality by 2070.

Experts said these announcements, along with countries’ latest emissions-cutting pledges, could have a real impact on future temperature rises.

But a UN assessment late last week found emissions were still on course to increase to 13.7 percent by 2030. 

To limit warming to 1.5C, they must fall 45 percent this decade. 

Tens of thousands of people thronged the streets of Glasgow on Saturday demanding faster action from governments after environmental activist Greta Thunberg branded the summit “a failure”. 

Dozens of nations have signed up to a COP26 initiative to end their use of coal — the most polluting fossil fuel — within decades, including major users South Korea and Vietnam.

But missing from the pact were the top consumers China, India and the United States.

Major exporter Australia, which also declined to join the initiative, said Monday it would continue to sell coal for “decades into the future”.

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