Governments are considering calling for a global end to coal use, according to a draft released Wednesday of the final document expected at the UN climate talks.
The early version of the document circulating at the negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland, also expresses “alarm and concern” about how much Earth has already warmed and urges countries to cut carbon dioxide emissions by about half by 2030. Pledges so far from governments don’t add up to that frequently stated goal.
Some nations, especially those whose very existence is threatened by climate change, worried that the draft didn’t go far enough in providing more money to poor countries for adapting to global warming and paying for the irreversible losses from it.
“‘Urging’, ‘calling’, ‘encouraging’, and ‘inviting’ is not the decisive language that this moment calls for,” Aubrey Webson, Antigua and Barbuda’s UN ambassador, said in a statement, referring to language in the draft.
With time running out in the climate summit, a clear message had to be sent, he added: “To our children, and the most vulnerable communities, that we hear you and we are taking this seriously.”
In one significant move, countries would urge one another to “accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels” in the draft, though it has no explicit reference to ending the use of oil and gas. There has been a big push among developed nations to shut down coal-fired power plants, which are a major source of heat-trapping gases, but the fuel remains a critical and cheap source of electricity for countries like China and India.
The future of coal is also a hot-button issue in the United States, where a spat among Democrats has held up one of President Joe Biden’s signature climate bills.
While the language about moving away from coal is a first and important, the lack of a date when countries will do so limits the pledge’s effectiveness, said Greenpeace International director Jennifer Morgan, a long-time climate talks observer.
“This isn’t the plan to solve the climate emergency. This won’t give the kids on the streets the confidence that they’ll need.”
The draft doesn’t yet include full agreements on the three major goals that the UN set going into the negotiations — and may disappoint poorer nations because of a lack of solid financial commitments from richer ones. The goals are: for rich nations to give poorer ones $100 billion a year in climate aid, to ensure that half of that money goes to adapting to worsening global warming, and the pledge to slash emissions that is mentioned.
The draft does provide insight, however, into the issues that need to be resolved in the last few days of the conference, which is scheduled to end Friday but may push past that deadline. Still, a lot of negotiating and decision-making is yet to come since whatever emerges from the meetings has to be unanimously approved by the nearly 200 nations attending.
The draft says the world should try to achieve “net-zero [emissions] around mid-century”. That means requiring countries to pump only as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as can be absorbed again through natural or artificial means.
It also acknowledges “with regret” that rich nations have failed to live up to the climate aid pledge.
Poorer nations, which need financial help both in developing green energy systems and adapting to the worst of climate change, are angry that the promised aid hasn’t materialised.
“Without financial support little can be done to minimize its debilitating effects for vulnerable communities around the world,” Mohammed Nasheed, the Maldives’ parliamentary speaker and the ambassador for a group of dozens of countries most vulnerable to climate change, said in a statement.
The document reaffirms the goals set in Paris in 2015 of limiting warming to “well below” 2C since pre-industrial times, with a more stringent target of trying to keep warming to 1.5C preferred because that would keep damage from climate change “much lower”.
Highlighting the challenge of meeting those goals, the document “expresses alarm and concern that human activities have caused around 1.1Cof global warming to date and that impacts are already being felt in every region”.
Small island nations, which are particularly vulnerable to warming, worry that too little is being done to stop warming at the 1.5-degree goal — and that allowing temperature increases up to 2 degrees would be catastrophic for their countries.
“For Pacific [small island states], climate change is the greatest, single greatest threat to our livelihood, security and wellbeing. We do not need more scientific evidence nor targets without plans to reach them or talking shops,” Bruce Bilimon, the Marshall Islands’ health and human services minister, told fellow negotiators Wednesday. “The 1.5 limit is not negotiable.”
Separate draft proposals were also released on other issues being debated at the talks, including rules for international carbon markets and the frequency by which countries have to report on their efforts.
The draft calls on countries that don’t have national goals that are in line with the 1.5- or 2-degree limits to come back with stronger targets next year. Depending on how the language is interpreted, the provision could apply to most countries. Analysts at the World Resources Institute counted that element as a win for vulnerable countries.
“This is crucial language,” WRI International Climate Initiative director David Waskow said Wednesday. “Countries really are expected and are on the hook to do something in that timeframe to adjust.”
Greenpeace’s Morgan said it would have been even better to set a requirement for new goals every year.
In a nod to one of the big issues for poorer countries, the draft vaguely “urges” developed nations to compensate developing countries for “loss and damage,” a phrase that some rich nations don’t like. But there are no concrete financial commitments.
Saudi Arabia on Wednesday pushed back against claims by environmental groups that it is trying to slow down negotiations and water-down commitments at the climate talks.
The oil-rich kingdom’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al Saud, told reporters that this was a “a false allegation, a cheat and a lie”.
As the talks enter their final stage, Britain’s Alok Sharma, who is chairing the negotiations, acknowledged that “significant issues remain unresolved”.
“My big, big ask of all of you is to please come armed with the currency of compromise,” he told negotiators as they prepared for another long night of talks. “What we agree in Glasgow will set the future for our children and grandchildren, and I know that we will not want to fail them.” -AP
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