COP26 Analysis: Negotiations grow 'tense' as climate summit nears end

11 November 2021, 22:05

Negotiations have become increasingly tense.
Negotiations have become increasingly tense. Picture: Alamy
Gina Davidson

By Gina Davidson

It’s so near, yet so far.

COP26 is due to finish tomorrow and yet a deal is still a long way from being agreed.

Already there’s an acceptance that the talks will go on into the small hours of Saturday morning at least, and it’s believed security staff have been told they may still have to be on duty on Sunday.

Grinding out an agreement that nearly 200 countries can sign up to was never going to be easy, but the positivity of last week when announcements on coal and deforestation and when it felt like all - well, nearly all - were pulling in the same direction, has steadily dissipated.

And after the publication of the first draft agreement yesterday, the atmosphere has grown increasingly tense, the stakes raised higher.

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While it was the first of its kind to talk about phasing out the use of coal and ending fossil fuel subsidies, there were immediate fears the draft wasn’t ambitious enough and would ultimately be watered down.

As a result, Boris Johnson boarded a train and alighted in Glasgow for just four hours to knock some heads together; a good cop-bad cop routine all rolled into one. After he left there came an announcement which took everyone by surprise: the US and China had reached an accord to work together to jointly tackle their emissions.

It transpired that their teams had met more than 30 times since Biden’s presidential victory. So while China’s president Xi Jinping stayed at home, attracting criticism, and the country had come under fire for failing to move fast enough on coal, suddenly here was a significant moment.

The two countries will work together to reduce their methane emissions, China will set enhanced domestic targets and accelerate the phasing out of coal. It put a spring in the steps of delegates.

And yet. The second draft COP26 agreement came today and the summit’s president Alok Sharma took to the stage to tell all those involved in negotiations, very politely, to get their act together. It still did not go far enough, in particular, on finance for the poorer, more climate change vulnerable countries. The penultimate day must represent, he said, "another gearshift" in the negotiations.

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Meanwhile, United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned countries against making "hollow" promises and creating a “credibility gap” to add to the emissions, finance and adaptation gaps.

Perhaps the most powerful call to action came from Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, who expressed the scepticism of so many that COP26 will deliver.

"I am here to beg you to prove us wrong. We see the fancy speeches, we hear about new pledges and promises, but we are drowning in promises," she said.

"Promises will not stop the suffering of the people, pledges will not stop the planet from warming."

Those words will be ringing in the ears of all those trying to hammer out the final deal.