Cop26 deal watered down as wording on key fossil fuel pledge is changed

The final deal reached at Cop26 could fail to curb “insane” subsidies on fossil fuels, it is feared, after the early draft agreement was watered down. 

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, said his country would phase out subsidies for oil and gas extraction and called for the pledge to be included in the final agreement to come out of the Glasgow summit.

"$2.5 trillion in the last five, six years, went into subsidies for fossil fuels – that’s a definition of insanity. We’re allowing to feed the very problem we’re here to try to cure, it doesn’t make sense,” Mr Kerry told fellow negotiators. 

Negotiations were also stuck on Friday over the key question of whether countries would have to return next year with better plans to cut emissions, after targets brought to Cop26 fell short of limiting warming to 1.5C. 

On Friday, Alok Sharma, the Cop26 president, called for a "final injection of that can-do spirit", as talks overshot their deadline.

Changes to draft agreement

The first draft of the final deal, which will decide whether the summit has been a success, included a line calling for the accelerated phase out of coal and fossil fuel subsidies.

The draft released on Friday morning instead refers to “unabated coal power” and “inefficient subsidies”, which critics say provides wiggle room for major polluters.

Cop26 deal | Watering down of language

Unabated coal means power plants without technology attached that can capture the emissions and store them.

"Inefficient subsidies" are intended to mean direct tax breaks for the extraction of fossil fuels, rather than state funds for household fuel poverty, such as the UK’s warm homes discount. 

But Richie Merzian, a former Australian climate negotiator, described the new phrasing as “weasel words which allow countries to get away with” continuing to use fossil fuels. 

Any direct mention of phasing out fossil fuels and coals would be an historic victory for an agreement at the end of the annual climate summit. 

Frans Timmermans, the EU’s climate chief, said: "Cop26 must also send a clear signal about our commitment to halt fossil fuel subsidies and finally turn the page on coal."

China and many developing countries say they should not have to abandon fossil fuels as fast as developed nations. 

China also pushed back on calls to bring more ambitious targets next year, after a call in the original draft text was strengthened to "request" new pledges. 

Getting major polluters to come back with new plans next year for emissions cuts before 2030 is seen as the best hope for achieving the summit’s aim to keep warming to 1.5C. 

Analysts say the world is on track for 2.4C of warming on the basis of current 2030 emissions cut promises. 

Boris Johnson said on Friday: "We won’t clinch it all at Cop but we can start."

Zhao Yingmin, the Chinese negotiator, said countries should be able to decide their own timetable, and said the deal needed more commitments on funding for developing countries to move away from fossil fuels and adapt to climate change. 

Funding has emerged as a major sticking point during the talks, and possibly the biggest hurdle to achieving a deal. 

Developing countries are frustrated that promised annual funds of $100 billion have not been delivered.

They are calling for more money to compensate for damages as a result of climate change, which they say major economies have caused.

India is seeking $1 trillion in funding, while African countries are pushing for $700 billion in annual funds.  

The US and the EU have been criticised for failing to increase their climate financing, but want emerging economies such as Saudi Arabia and China to consider contributing to the funds. 

Mr Johnson said on Friday: "We do need to see the cash on the table to help the developing world to make the necessary changes.”

‘It could be better, it should be better’

Activists say the language in the agreement has been “critically weakened”, leaving it open to interpretation by major polluters. 

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said: “It could be better, it should be better.

"Right now, the fingerprints of fossil fuel interests are still on the text and this is not the breakthrough deal that people hoped for in Glasgow.

“The key line on phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies has been critically weakened, but it’s still there and needs to be strengthened again before this summit closes.”

A line that “urged” countries to resubmit new plans to cut their emissions as soon as next year has been changed to a “request”, which the UN says is stronger language in an official document. 

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, said earlier that there had been some "incremental progress".

However, she said: "If I was a young person looking into this summit right now, I would say it’s not good enough.

"There may have been inches forward in this latest draft, but there’s still time to get it even further forward and to really make the Glasgow Agreement one that lives up to the urgency of the emergency we face."

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