COP26: 'Monumental challenge ahead' as climate change talks enter final day

COP26 president Alok Sharma said negotiators must 'strain every sinew' to achieve a timely outcome from the climate conference. Credit: PA

The COP26 climate talks are entering their final scheduled day with the summit’s president warning there is still “a monumental challenge ahead”.

The talks are scheduled to finish at 6pm on Friday, but could overrun as negotiators come under pressure to resolve issues around finance for poorer countries, calls for accelerating the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies and coal, and the efforts of countries to cut emissions in the 2020s.

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 The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.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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As the talks entered the final stretch, COP26 president Alok Sharma warned: “We still have a monumental challenge ahead of us, but collectively we have no choice but to rise to that challenge and strain every sinew to achieve a timely outcome that we can all be proud of.

“Because ultimately, this outcome, whatever it is, will belong to all of us”.

A new version of the overarching deal that could be agreed at the summit in Glasgow was expected overnight into Friday, but had still not been published on the United Nations' website at 7am.

The first draft of the “cover decision” urges countries to “revisit and strengthen” targets for cutting emissions by 2030 in their national plans, to align them by the end of 2022 with the Paris goal of keeping temperature rises to “well below 2C” or to 1.5C, beyond which the worst impacts of climate change will be felt.

Scientists have warned that keeping temperature rises to 1.5C requires global emissions to be cut by 45% by 2030, and to zero overall by mid-century.

The failure of developed nations to deliver the long-promised $100 billion (£75 billion) in finance to poorer nations has been a major sticking point in the talks so far.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

The document published on Wednesday includes a call for developed countries to at least double their collective provision of finance to help developing countries adapt to climate change, as part of scaling up funding for poorer nations to tackle the crisis and address loss and damage.

Some of the most vulnerable nations have raised concerns about the lack of detail.

It is thought the commitment to phase out fossil fuels, the first time this has appeared in such a text, is unlikely to make it into the final document, as an alliance of developing nations and emerging economies want commitments to phasing them out to be stripped from the cover agreement, arguing being asked to decarbonise without financial support will leave them trapped in poverty.

Speaking on Thursday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres emphasised that under current plans, the world is still on course for temperature rises well above 2C.

“Promises ring hollow when the fossil fuels industry still receives trillions in subsidies, as measured by the IMF, or when countries are still building coal plants, or when carbon is still without a price, distorting markets and investors decisions,” he said.

Mr Guterres added: “The announcements here in Glasgow are encouraging but they are far from enough.

“The emissions gap remains a devastating threat, the finance and adaptation gap represent a glaring injustice for the developing world.”