Cop26 analysis: Talks enter the end game - will ministers become the Avengers?

12 November 2021, 19:26

Gina Davidson asks if ministers will become the Avengers as Cop26 enters its own end game
Gina Davidson asks if ministers will become the Avengers as Cop26 enters its own end game. Picture: Alamy
Gina Davidson

By Gina Davidson

We're in the end game now.

And maybe the besuited ministers and negotiators from nearly 200 countries are the Avengers. Certainly the fate of the world rests on their shoulders - and those of the world leaders at the end of the phone.

But while they are all saying the right things in public, behind closed doors the consensus is failing somewhere, the right things not being said to get an agreement - an actual effective agreement with concrete actions - over the line.

The atmosphere at Cop26 has been tense, bordering on the fractious, all day. The third draft of an agreement was out early, and it contained watered down pledges on ending coal and fossil fuel subsidies. It also failed to find a way of agreeing to get to the $100bn mark to support the most vulnerable countries - and the tricky Article 6 which would establish an international system of carbon trading markets (first set out six years ago) was still unresolved.

After 13 days of meetings and negotiations, Alok "no drama" Sharma, possibly the most polite politician in the UK, was visibly anxious to get things moving along at a plenary session. He managed to restrain himself from glancing at his watch but despite asking for comments by individual country representatives to be short, to the point, and solution focused, they were, in the main, statements of intent and reiterations of the urgency of the problem, with some already laying the ground for the blame game ahead - "my consensus is better than yours".

Read more: COP26 'doubles carbon footprint' of previous climate summit

Read more: Draft COP26 pact urges more action after China 'thwarts' talks

Ed Miliband calls in from COP26 to comment on the climate crisis

It's unsurprising then that he cancelled his scheduled 5pm press conference to allow more time for talks to continue. But the 6pm deadline he had long hoped to meet came and went. A second plenary is due later tonight and the hope that yet another final draft agreement will have its i's dotted and t's crossed. The clock is ticking louder.

Not in the negotiations, but Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has rubbed shoulders with almost every nation's leader over the last fortnight. Her take? That it is now all about political will.

There was even another plea to Boris Johnson to return and be at Cop physically rather than just virtually. Like him though, her language had shifted from a Glasgow deal at all costs, to this Cop was never going to resolve climate change entirely.

Still, she said, if this Cop were to be seen to fail, then those politicians and their officials currently locked in talks - some with sleeping bags at the ready for an all-nighter - will have to look the children of their countries in the eye on their return and tell them why they were unsuccessful. What did you do in the Great Climate War mummy and daddy?

Alison McGovern and Shelagh Fogarty discuss climate change

The protesters too seemed to be similarly affected by the approach of the deadline - more desperate than ever to make themselves heard. Some Extinction Rebellion activists attempted, but failed, to scale the ring of steel around the UN summit. One of the "sanctioned" protests inside saw hundreds of young people congregate to chant and shout their refusal to be defeated.

Whether their voices were loud enough to penetrate the meeting rooms - and the minds - of the government officials we are still waiting to discover.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson had been on the phone to the Italian prime minister Mario Draghi - it's easy to forget the G20 was in Rome just a fortnight ago - and agreed to work together to "drive progress in the final critical hours of the negotiations". Their phones will be red hot by the time this night is out.

So we are in the end game. In the movie the Avengers slew Thanos, the destroyer of worlds. Let's hope the international community here in Glasgow is less Thanos and more Iron Man tonight.

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