By Kate Abnett
GLASGOW (Reuters) – The British hosts of the U.N. climate conference have called on countries to raise their ambitions to cut greenhouse gas emissions by next year, acknowledging that current pledges fall short of what is needed to avert climate catastrophe.
The first draft of the conference conclusion, which must now be negotiated by the almost 200 countries present in Glasgow and agreed by the close of the two-week talks on Friday, was released early on Wednesday.
It asks countries to “revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions, as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022”.
In the landmark Paris accord, countries agreed in 2015 to limit global warming to well below 2.0 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and try to cap it at 1.5C.
Since then, scientific evidence has grown that crossing the 1.5C threshold would unleash significantly worse sea level rises, floods, droughts, wildfires and storms than those already occurring, and make some impacts potentially irreversible.
Britain has said the aim of the COP26 conference is to “keep alive” the 1.5C goal.
“It is time for nations to put aside differences and come together for our planet and our people,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement before leaving London for Glasgow on Wednesday.
“We need to pull out all the stops if we’re going to keep 1.5C within our grasp.”
Soberingly, the Climate Action Tracker research group said on Tuesday that all the national pledges submitted so far to cut greenhouse gases by 2030 would, if fulfilled, allow the Earth’s temperature to rise 2.4C by 2100.
It said if longer-term targets, so far less supported by concrete action plans, were also fulfilled, warming could be held below 2C.
The talks are widely viewed as unlikely to clinch enough pledges to nail down the 1.5C goal this week.
But by locking in rules to require countries to upgrade their pledges further next year – a key request from nations most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – it aims to at least keep the target in sight.
NO EXTENSION OF SUMMIT
The COP26 president, Alok Sharma, said on Tuesday the talks had “a mountain to climb” to secure the necessary commitments. After the draft was released he said he would not seek an extension of the conference beyond Friday’s scheduled closure.
The document urged countries to speed up efforts to stop burning coal and to phase out fossil fuel subsidies – taking direct aim at the coal, oil and gas that produce carbon dioxide, the primary contributor to manmade climate change, though it did not set a fixed date for phasing them out.
Helen Mountford, a vice president at the World Resources Institute, said the explicit reference to fossil fuels was an advance on previous climate summits. “The real issue is going to be whether it can be kept in.”
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal of the environmental campaign group WWF said the text “recognizes the shortfall of current ambition and the scale of the task we have in front of us”, and that it must be “a floor, not a ceiling”.
He welcomed its mechanisms for enhancing ambition in the future and the mention of fossil fuels.
Greenpeace dismissed the draft as an inadequate response to the climate crisis, calling it “a polite request that countries maybe, possibly, do more next year”.
The final text will not be legally binding, but will carry the political weight of the nearly 200 countries that signed the Paris Agreement.
“I believe that it includes all of the elements that me and my bloc have been fighting for,” said Juan Carlos Monterrey Gomez, lead negotiator for Panama. “The next step for us is to defend the provisions on ambition, keeping 1.5 alive.”
The draft reminds countries that to stop the planet heating beyond the critical 1.5C threshold, global CO2 emissions must drop 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels, on the way to halting their rise altogether by 2050 – so-called “net zero”.
Under the national climate pledges submitted to the United Nations so far, emissions would be 14% above 2010 levels by 2030.
The draft dodges poorer countries’ demands for assurances that rich nations, whose greenhouse gas emissions have been largely responsible for historic climate change, will provide far more money to help them cope with its consequences and cut their own emissions.
The draft “urges” developed countries to “urgently scale up” aid to help poorer ones adapt to climate change, and says more funding needs to take the form of grants, rather than loans that burden poor nations with more debt. But it does not include a new plan for delivering that money.
Rich nations failed to meet a pledge made in 2009 to give poorer countries $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020, and now expect to deliver it three years late. That broken promise has damaged trust, and prompted poor countries to seek tougher rules for future funding.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Bhargav Acharya; Writing by Kate Abnett and Kevin Liffey; Editing by Gavin Jones)
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