COP26: UN talks run to the wire as tensions spill over

With the crunch climate talks in Glasgow now expected to on beyond this evening's official deadline, negotiations on key issues to implement the Paris Agreement and drive up ambition have reached crunch point and will inevitably result in compromises and tradeoffs, according to observers.

A second draft of the final cover text - delayed due to arguments over climate finance and explicit references to fossil fuels - was formally published early this morning. 

Wording that asks countries to submit stronger national carbon plans next year appears to have been strengthened, although they are still not mandatory. Archie Young, lead climate negotiator for the UK, told reporters at a press conference: “There is not yet at this conference a consensus that we do need to collectively ramp up our ambition.”

A reference to fossil fuels remains, but Alex Rafalowicz, director of the campaign for a new fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, said the language had been severely weakened. “Now the wind down of coal is only for ‘unabated’ sources and the removal of subsidies for fossil fuels is restricted to ‘inefficient sources’. These qualifiers completely undermine the intention.”

A reference to ‘nature-based solutions’ has also been replaced with ‘restoring nature’ in the draft. John Verdieck, director of international climate policy at the Nature Conservancy, said it was significant that the new text recognises nature’s role in climate mitigation and adaptation.

Having been a huge sticking point in Madrid, article 6 talks on carbon markets appear to be reasonably amicable, although many campaigners remain concerned that the rules will allow double counting, the carryover of credits and no human rights protections.

However, finance remains a huge problem, particularly in relation to whether money from carbon trading will be given to adaptation in developing countries and pressure on wealthier nations to fulfil the $100bn climate finance target.

Yesterday, 14 senior advisors to the UK presidency wrote to COP26 president Alok Sharma, urging him to ensure the summit ends with “measurable acceleration of action on mitigation, as well as adaptation and financing”. These include Nick Mabey, CEO of thinktank E3G, Nathalie Seddon, professor of biodiversity at the University of Oxford, and Laurence Tubiana, CEO of European Climate Foundation and a key architect of the Paris Agreement.

With so much still to be discussed, the summit is looking increasingly likely to spill over into the weekend. Successive COPs have ended later and later; the last in Madrid did not finish until mid-afternoon on Sunday.

It has also been confirmed that next year’s COP27 will be in Egypt.