Last-minute negotiations as UN climate conference set to close

Negotiators shuttled between delegations at the U.N. climate talks in Scotland on Saturday, seeking a deal to give the world a fighting chance of avoiding the worst effects of global warming, as the British host told them they had just hours left.

Alok Sharma delayed a public meeting in the plenary hall, saying negotiators needed more time, but that he still intended to close the two-week COP26 conference, which has already overrun by a day, later in the afternoon.

“At the end of the day, what is being put forward here is a balanced package, everyone’s had a chance to have their say,” he told the forum.

The final deal will require the unanimous consent of the almost 200 countries present, ranging from coal- and gas-fuelled superpowers to oil producers and Pacific islands being swallowed by the rise in sea levels.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry was seen moving back and forth between conversations with Chinese negotiator Xie Zhenhua, EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans, and Sharma.

Like earlier versions, the latest draft of the conference agreement attempted to balance the demands of climate-vulnerable nations, big industrial powers, and those whose consumption or exports of fossil fuels are vital to their economic development.

In particular, it retained a significant demand for nations to set tougher climate pledges next year, rather than every five years, as they are currently required to do – an acknowledgment that existing commitments to cut emissions of planet-heating greenhouse gases are nowhere near enough.

‘KEEPING 1.5 ALIVE’

The meeting’s overarching aim is to keep within reach of the 2015 Paris Agreement’s target to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

Scientists say that to go beyond that limit would unleash extreme sea-level rise and catastrophes including crippling droughts, monstrous storms, and wildfires far worse than those the world is already suffering.

But national pledges made so far to limit greenhouse emissions – mostly carbon dioxide from burning coal, oil, and gas – would only cap the average global temperature rise at 2.4 Celsius.

While that gap will not be closed in Glasgow, Sharma said he hoped the final deal would pave the way for deeper cuts.

China, the biggest current emitter of greenhouse gases, and Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, were seeking to prevent the final deal including language that opposes subsidies for fossil fuels, two sources told Reuters on Friday.

However, Saturday’s draft, published by the United Nations, continued to single out fossil fuels – something no U.N. climate conference conclusion has yet succeeded in doing.

Britain tried to unblock the issue of climate finance, always one of the thorniest, by proposing mechanisms to make sure the poorest nations finally get more of the financial help they have been promised.

Developing countries argue that rich nations, whose historical emissions are largely responsible for heating up the planet, must pay more to help them adapt to its consequences as well as reduce their carbon footprints.

MORE MONEY?

The draft urged rich countries to double finance for climate adaptation by 2025 from 2019 levels, offering funding that has been a key demand of small island nations at the conference.

Adaptation funds primarily go to the very poorest countries and currently take up only a small fraction of climate funding.

Britain also said a U.N. committee should report next year on progress towards delivering the $100 billion in overall annual climate funding that rich nations had promised by 2020 but failed to deliver. And it said governments should meet in 2022, 2024 and 2026 to discuss climate finance.

Even $100 billion a year is far short of poorer countries’ actual needs, which could hit $300 billion by 2030 in adaptation costs alone, according to the United Nations, in addition to economic losses from crop failure or climate-related disasters.

Disasters that cannot be prepared for or adapted to – such as rising sea levels – emerged as a continued stumbling block.

Vulnerable nations have argued for decades that rich countries owe them compensation for the “loss and damage” from such events.

But wealthy countries fear being found liable for such disasters and opening the door to bottomless payments. As a result, no U.N. climate conference has yet yielded any funding under this heading for the countries most affected.

On another issue, negotiators began to close in on a deal to settle rules for carbon markets – mechanisms that put a price on emissions to allow countries or companies to buy and sell “permits to pollute”, or credits for absorbing emissions.

New draft documents on implementing Article 6 of the 2015 Paris Agreement suggested progress on all three of the key sticking points that have prevented a deal on the issue at the past two U.N. climate conferences.

Liberian Nellie Dokie, 37, who lives in Glasgow and has been making a daily two-hour trip to cook for conference delegates, ventured her first peep into the main conference area on Saturday.

“I want to be a part of history,” she said. “I played a small part.”

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