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UN chief says climate pledges 'hollow' without phase out of fossil fuels

The negotiations at COP26 in Glasgow are nearing their end.

A person walking near the SEC centre in Glasgow where the COP26 summit is being held.
A person walking near the SEC centre in Glasgow where the COP26 summit is being held.
Image: PA

PLEDGES ON CLIMATE action from countries at the COP26 summit “ring hollow” while investment in fossil fuels continues, the UN chief has said.

The UN climate conference is entering its final days as negotiators talk through the complex elements of a deal that could be agreed by around 200 countries. 

Delegates have been in Glasgow for almost two weeks to participate in discussions aimed at bringing the global temperature rise more in line with the Paris Agreement goal of “well below” 2 degrees, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

But negotiators are dealing with a range of inter-connected issues related to this goal – including increased finance to help countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 

“The announcements here in Glasgow are encouraging -– but they are far from enough,” Antonio Guterres said, urging negotiators to “pick up the pace”.

“Promises ring hollow when the fossil fuels industry still receives trillions in subsidies.”

COP26 president Alok Sharma warned that time was running short to reach an agreement before the conference is scheduled to end tomorrow evening.

However, these conferences have frequently run over time and this is a possibility for COP26 as well. 

“We still have a monumental challenge ahead of us,” he said, appealing to delegates to show more ambition.

“Quite a lot has been achieved. But we are still some way away from finalising those very critical issues that are still outstanding.”

He welcomed a joint China-US pact to accelerate climate action this decade, which experts said could alleviate some fears about tensions between the two highest emitting countries. However, the finer details of this deal have been criticised as vague.

The surprise declaration, unveiled by envoys John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, said the nations “recognise the seriousness and urgency of the climate crisis” and the need to slash methane issues.

Today, Ireland and a number of other countries joined the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance to work to phase out the production of fossil fuels. The initiative was set up by Denmark and Costa Rica in what they hope will inspire a wider movement towards the ending of fossil fuels. 

“The fossil era must come to an end,” said Danish Climate, Energy and Utilities Minister Dan Jorgensen.

But just as the Stone Age did not end due to lack of stone, the fossil era will not end because there’s no more oil left in the ground. It will end because governments decided to do the right thing.

The ambition to reach a deal

Draft COP26 decision documents were released yesterday in the first real indication of the situation with the technical negotiations at the summit. 

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The text, which will likely change in the coming days, called for nations to “revisit and strengthen” their new climate plans, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by next year, instead of 2025 as previously agreed.

Several stumbling blocks remain at COP26 including reaching a $100 billion target for financial aid to developing nations to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Rules over transparency, common reporting of climate action and carbon markets are also still being discussed after years of negotiations at previous COP summits.

The draft ‘cover decision’ text included a section calling on countries to “accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”, something which large emitters are likely to oppose in negotiations. 

“We need action if commitments are to pass the credibility test,” the UN’s Guterres said, urging negotiators not to settle for a lowest common denominator outcome.

“We know what must be done.”

Additional reporting by AFP

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