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One mention of fossil fuels and lots of ‘urging’: The COP26 draft agreement explained

Millions of people are pinning their hopes on a strong agreement out of COP26 – here’s what the draft text tells us so far.

After marches, mishaps and endless hours of discussion, COP26 is finally coming to a close – and the pressure is on to come up with a final agreement on climate change action

A new draft agreement was published on Thursday evening. It runs over seven pages, 3,000 words and 84 clauses – with fossil fuels mentioned just once.

The wording of the fossil fuels clause has been watered-down in comparison to earlier drafts. The first draft read:

“[The Conference of Parties] Calls upon Parties to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”.

The revised draft now reads:

“…Calls upon Parties to [accelerate] the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”.

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Though some experts are pleased that a clause on fossil fuels remains, environmental campaigners have expressed dismay that the wording of the clause has been watered-down.

Earlier this week, Head of Greenpeace international, Jennifer Morgan, called the draft plan “an agreement that we’ll all cross our fingers and hope for the best. It’s a polite request that countries maybe, possibly, do more next year.”

The plan is yet to be finalised, with some expecting discussions to carry on late into the night on Friday. It must be agreed upon by all countries at COP26, and parts may be amended.

But what’s in the plan so far, and what might it mean for a final agreement? We’ve broken down some of the key elements. 

Science

The draft agreement is broken down into sections, the first of which is “science”.

There’s little in the way of actual pacts or agreements here, just an expression of “alarm and concern” that humans have caused 1.1C of global warming to date, plus “stressing” the urgency of “increased ambition and action in relation to mitigation, adaptation and finance”.

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Adaptation

Adaptation has been high on the agenda at this year’s COP in recognition that the climate crisis is already affecting many parts of the world, meaning adaptive measures are needed.

The plan “notes with serious concern” the IPPC report released this year which warned of a “code red for humanity”.

In terms of action, the key parts here are:

  • A “reaffirming” of  international support to help “developing countries” implement adaptation measures.
  • A “recognition” that adaptation needs will increase in line with rising temperatures.

Adaptation finance

Immediately following adaptation is a section on adaptation finance, which will be welcome to developing countries which require greater resilience in the face of climate disasters.

It notes that the current provision of climate finance is insufficient for the scale of the challenge. 

The strongest calls to action here are:

  • A “call” to the private sector, multilateral development banks and other financial institutions to mobilise finance to deliver on adaptation and climate plans.
  • The document “urges” developed countries to “urgently scale up their provision of climate finance for adaptation” and “urges” that the target of $100bn in finance for developing countries is met “urgently” and “through 2025”.
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Mitigation

Sometimes confused with adaptation, “mitigation” refers to reducing emissions and stabilising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – a key part of slowing climate change.

This section contains a number of clauses, firstly reaffirming a commitment to keeping global warming below the 1.5C settled on as part of the Paris agreement.

Some of the strongest calls to action in here include: 

  • Establishing a “work programme” to urgently scale-up mitigation ambition and implementation during the 2020s.
  • In one significant clause, the document calls for countries to have strengthened emissions targets by the end of 2022.
  • A “call” to parties to accelerate the phaseout of “unabated coal power” and “inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels” which waters down earlier wording on fossil fuels.

Finance, technology transfer and capacity-building for mitigation and adaptation

This wordy section has a lot of “acknowledgement” and “urging” of developed countries and financial institutions to mobilise climate finance to help more climate-vulnerable countries adapt.

Loss and damage

This clause “acknowledges” that climate change has and will cause loss and damage which will increase in intensity as the planet warms. 

The clause “urges” wealthier nations, financial institutions and NGOs “to provide enhanced and additional support for activities addressing loss and damage associated with climate change impacts”.

It’s not clear from the text what kind of “activities” would count towards addressing loss and damage.

Implementation

This part of the agreement should be one of the most important as it actually addresses acting on climate change, rather than outlining pledges. But again, the wording isn’t exactly binding.

It “resolves to move swiftly with the full implementation and delivery of the Paris Agreement” and “recognizes the need to ensure a just transition towards a low-carbon future”. 

There are currently a couple of placeholders in the text regarding the completion of the Paris Rulebook and transparency in reporting carbon emissions. Negotiations on these matters are ongoing.

The rulebook is a critical part of discussions as it outlines the rules required to bring all of the Paris Agreement’s provisions into force.

Collaboration

Given the subject matter, it’s perhaps no surprise that the wording used in this clause is vague.

The section includes “recognition” of the need for nations to collaborate on climate change and “invites Parties and stakeholders to ensure meaningful youth participation in decision making processes”

What difference will it make?

The biggest question on everyone’s lips is how far this agreement will go to stopping runaway climate change. 

Some of the positive elements include the mention of fossil fuels, a call for countries to produce tougher emission targets by 2022 and an emphasis on accelerating climate finance.

Some of the biggest concerns about the document stem from the vague wording as well as a lack of dates around elements like phasing out fossil fuels.

If all pledges are implemented, the agreement could make a huge difference in tackling climate change – but it remains to be seen how the text will be interpreted and delivered.

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