The COP26 clock is ticking as negotiators battle to keep 1.5 alive

Negotiators from around the world are rushing to finalise a deal to make COP26 a success, ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger reports

With COP26 into its last few days the real business of deal making is now well underway.

The UK Presidency has circulated a first draft of what’s called its “cover decision text”. This dry sounding document contains the main political outcome of the COP26 talks.

The negotiators, who have gone as far as they can, have handed back to their ministers to make the really hard decisions.

The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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No one is getting much sleep any more. Now the to-ing and fro-ing is increasingly frantic as leaders send their comments and alterations back to their negotiators to try to hammer out a deal.

Sustained by “bad food and weak coffee” - as Barack Obama put it during his visit here - the talking now reaches the early hours.

As one source close to the negotiations put it: “A lot of times delegations will split the team between those who will stay overnight and those who will go back and get a couple of hours sleep to come back fresh in the morning. It's probably a last night for some people to get some sleep because they're going to just be running on energy”. It's a slog but by the end of Wednesday nations are expected to have made their thoughts clear.

The UK Presidency will be hoping to deliver a second draft of the text at some point on Wednesday night.

It's all about COP26’s singular mission: to keep 1.5 alive, limiting global warming to the target of one and a half degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. There are sticking points on a number of issues like measuring emissions transparently and whether countries need to come back more regularly to update their climate ambitions.

As another source told us late on Tuesday: “The key thing we're really looking for in this text is how it deals with getting countries to come back to the table next year to scale up their commitments to get on the track to 1.5 (degrees Celsius)”. The UK Presidency will be searching for any country willing to go a yard or two further on the emissions cuts already offered, to get the summit closer to that 1.5 degree target.

The final days of the conference will be about making deals to ensure action on climate promises. Credit: PA

To thrash all that out, ministers will have to come back to Glasgow to try to break the deadlock. That’s why it's not surprising that the Prime Minister is coming back for a quick flying visit today (although this time, at least, he’s taking the train).

But it all makes for a very tight timetable if the summit is to finish on time on Friday evening. Many of the delegates here, already starting to look rather wan, are bracing themselves to work on into Saturday. Tempers aren’t yet fraying, although one source close to the negotiations is preparing for some difficult moments ahead: “Things are still pretty polite and decorum is being held. But we've had moments in the past when COPs have come down to the wire and the time for frank speaking has emerged”. In the crowded halls and corridors on the banks of the Clyde, the clock is ticking.

Some progress has been made but right now, these Glasgow talks still feel a very long way from success. It will be a tense 48 hours.