COP26: Last minute negotiations delay final debate and signing off of climate change agreement

ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana explains why there have been delays signing off a much-anticipated new deal at COP26

Last-minute smaller negotiations between delegates at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow have delayed the 197 countries from signing off on any agreements.

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston reported that the delay was due to China's concerns over measures to tackle the use of fossil fuels and Papua New Guinea voicing concerns over measures to preserve forests.

While ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reported that much of the debate was also around "loss and development" and the feeling that richer countries which have caused the majority of the damage to the environment, largely through the burning of fossil fuels, should provide funding to poorer nations who are hit hardest by the consequences of climate change.

She added that richer nations, the US in particular, are said to be "dragging their feet" over the issue of "liability".

Several countries, including China and India, have called for the 'watering down' of key elements involving fossil fuels and the use of coal, ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston explains

As the rescheduled time for the plenary discussion of 2.30pm passed (having initially been due to take place on Friday afternoon), delegates remained on their feet in the conference hall as talks carried on right up to the wire.

When the talks do eventually begin, members from the 197 assembled nations will debate the draft agreement which was published on Saturday morning after negotiators worked through the night to thrash out an agreement on the world's bid to slow climate change.

The third iteration of the document contains a slight watering down of pledges to cut the use of coal and fossil fuels.

In a previous draft published on Friday, countries agreed to "accelerate" the phase out of coal and fossil fuels, but under Saturday's draft publication nations agree to "accelerate efforts towards the phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies".

ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana described the change in wording as a "weakening" of the agreement.

The change in wording suggests a shift away from unconditional demands that some fossil fuel exporting nations have objected to.

However, it is the first time a climate change agreement of this kind specifically mentions coal or fossil fuels.

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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During the plenary meeting, Mr Sharma will introduce the latest draft which the 197 assembled nations will then debate.

Key issues are likely to be the references to coal, which affects exporters such as Australia, and fossil fuels, the 2022 revisiting of climate plans which emerging economies such as China could object to, and concerns by the US over loss and damage and adaptation finance.

There is also still debate over transparency on what countries are doing, and establishing carbon markets.

But countries will have to set out their concerns in public - in front of other nations and the watching world - at the plenary.

A final agreement could be achieved later on Saturday, Credit: PA

As well as focusing on fossil fuels, the draft also calls on countries to accelerate technology and policies to shift towards low emission energy systems, by scaling up clean power generation and energy efficiency, including accelerating efforts towards the phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

But it also recognises the need for support towards a "just transition", seen as important to protect those who might be hit by job losses or higher costs from the shift to clean energy.

The latest version - published more than 15 hours after the UN climate summit in Glasgow was due to have finished - also urges developed countries to at least double the amount of money within the $100 billion that is dedicated to help countries adapt to the risk of climate change, rebalancing the amount spent on this versus the amount spent on emissions.

While the draft includes measures to establish a "dialogue" between countries and organisations to discuss the arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimise and address loss and damage - it does not involve rich countries paying compensation for climate harm they have caused.

The burning of coal for power is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Credit: PA

It also calls on countries to revisit and strengthen their 2030 emissions-cuttings targets as necessary by the end of 2022 to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goals, which are to limit warming to "well below 2C" or 1.5C - taking into account different national circumstances.

Global warming beyond an average 1.5C will see the worst impacts of extreme weather and rising seas, causing deadly storms, droughts, crop failures, floods and disease.

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.

But despite countries being required to update their action plans, known as nationally determined contributions, for emissions cuts up to 2030 in the run-up to Glasgow, the latest pledges leave the world well off track to meet the goal.

Therefore, countries are under pressure to come up with a deal in Glasgow that will see them rapidly increase their ambition for emission cuts in the 2020s to stop the 1.5C goal slipping out of reach as well provide the finance for developing countries to cope with the crisis.

Examples of this support include the deal struck by South Africa with the US, UK, France, Germany and the EU, announced at COP26, to help the coal power-heavy country shift to a clean energy system.

The cover decision also includes efforts on loss and damage to people's homes, livelihoods, land and infrastructure that vulnerable countries face from climate-related rising seas, storms, floods and droughts.

The climate talks had been due to end at 6pm on Friday, but expectations are now that a deal could be finalised by as late as the early hours of Sunday.

The drafts from COP26 are the first time coal has been specifically mentioned in UN documents of this type.

Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said: "The key line about fossil fuels is still in the text.

"It's weak and compromised, but it's a breakthrough, it's a bridgehead and we have to fight like hell to keep it in there and have it strengthened.

"Today's plenary could witness a defining moment with a clutch of countries seeking to strike that line from the deal and dilute plans to force nations to come back next year with better emissions plans."

Tasneem Essop, executive director of the Climate Action Network, accused rich nations of betraying vulnerable countries by blocking proposals for the creation of a Glasgow loss and damage finance facility to support poorer nations hit by climate impacts.

A previous draft had called on nations to "accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuel”.

How important is ending the use of coal and fossil fuel subsidies?

The question of how to address the continued use of fossil fuels responsible for much of global warming has been one of the key sticking points at the two-week talks.

Scientists agree it is necessary to end their use as soon as possible to meet the 2015 Paris accord’s goal of capping global warming at 1.5C.

Who is opposed to the phase-out?

Explicitly including such a call in the overarching declaration is politically sensitive, including for countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that fear oil and gas may be targeted next.

It is also thought an alliance of developing nations and emerging economies have wanted commitments to phasing fossil fuels out to be stripped from the cover agreement, arguing being asked to decarbonise without financial support will leave them trapped in poverty.