Climate and Environment
Climate talks march past deadline
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

COP26 climate summit draft reveals which fights remain

The provisional draft accelerates how often countries would need to ramp up emissions-reduction targets and makes direct reference to phasing out coal

Climate activists demonstrate outside the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. (Robert Perry/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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GLASGOW, Scotland — COP26 organizers released a preliminary draft early Wednesday of an agreement on how countries will work together to curb climate change. The language will evolve over the course of the final days of the conference, and it contains several provisions that are likely to be contentious.

  • The draft seeks to speed up emissions cuts. Noting that current national pledges are insufficient to avert catastrophic warming, the draft urges countries to update their formal carbon-cutting goals before the end of 2022 — especially those countries that have not adopted more ambitious targets since the Paris agreement was signed six years ago.
  • The text calls on participants in the agreement to phase out coal and subsidies for fossil fuels. Neither “coal” nor “fossil fuels” more generally were mentioned in the landmark Paris agreement.
  • The draft “reaffirms” the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursuing a target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, but it does not commit to meeting the 1.5 threshold — which scientists and vulnerable countries increasingly say the world cannot afford to miss.
  • The draft calls for developed countries to boost their aid to lower-income nations, including doubling funds to help with adaptation and providing “enhanced and additional support” for addressing the irreversible impacts of climate change, known as loss and damage. But it does not mention a clear financial mechanism for addressing loss and damage, nor does it offer details on what support rich nations would be expected to deliver beyond 2025.
  • The draft text only includes “placeholder” paragraphs for one of the thorniest issues being discussed: rules for measuring and reporting countries’ emissions back to the United Nations.
  • The text doesn’t mention the contentious “Article 6″ of the Paris agreement, which would establish the rules for a global market for buying and selling carbon.

The draft represents an opening bid of sorts. Some parts may come out, while some text may be added. The negotiators are arguing about the particulars of the language. But the arguments also reflect different ideas about how — and how aggressively — to address climate change.

Here is a glimpse at four fights that lie ahead this week:

Common time frames

The Paris climate agreement calls on countries to submit new or updated national climate commitments every five years, with the idea being that those goals will grow more ambitious over time. But as this year has made clear, that “ratchet mechanism” has not always proved reliable. Updated plans from the likes of China, Australia, Russia and other nations have disappointed activists and organizers who had hoped for more-aggressive and near-term promises.

Between that reality and the fact that climate disasters are becoming more frequent and intense, there has been a steady drumbeat in Glasgow from representatives of some particularly vulnerable nations to require countries to revisit their climate targets more often.

“I don’t see how we can wait another five years,” Juan Pablo Osornio, senior political lead for Greenpeace International, said Tuesday. “We need to see an acceleration.”

While some nations will no doubt resist any formal mandate for more frequent updates, negotiators at COP26 could still agree to nudge world leaders to more frequently revisit their climate goals — and what they are doing to meet them.

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Climate finance

More than a decade ago, wealthy nations pledged billions of dollars to help vulnerable countries curb carbon emissions and adapt to climate impacts. Starting in 2020, they were supposed to provide the developing world with $100 billion a year.

But a week before COP26, wealthy countries announced they probably won’t meet their $100 billion climate finance target until 2023.

Vulnerable countries — which have borne the brunt of escalating climate impacts — are now seeking more-robust assistance, including a commitment to direct just as much money to adaptation efforts as is spent on cutting carbon. They want the shortfall in climate finance to be treated as “arrears,” a term commonly used for poorer nations who have trouble keeping pace with their debts. But wealthy nations are unlikely to agree.

Nations are also expected to start crafting a plan for providing climate finance after 2025, when the existing pledge ends. This is likely to be a contentious process, as developing countries have said their needs could top $1 trillion a year.

Vulnerable countries are also seeking dedicated funding for “loss and damage” — unavoidable, irreversible harms caused by climate change. But developed nations have historically resisted such measures.

Climate change brings irreversible harm to poor countries. At COP26, rich ones face pressure to foot the bill.


The climate talks in Glasgow have been marked by pronouncements. Leaders have vowed to phase out coal financing, cut their methane emissions and halt deforestation. Nations have promised to erase their carbon footprints by the middle of the century.

But one key part of the negotiations is honing the rules around how to make sure that countries report clearly and accurately on what they are doing to meet such goals. Ultimately, the idea is that transparency will lead to accountability.

Archie Young, Britain’s lead negotiator, said Tuesday that several “main areas of convergence” remain as these talks enter the homestretch.

Among them: creating a uniform, understandable structure for how countries report progress toward hitting their national climate targets, as well as outlining ways to help nations that have less capacity or expertise to meet transparency requirements.

Countries’ climate pledges built on flawed data, Post investigation finds

Carbon markets

Negotiators are zeroing in on complex rules for carbon trading, or the buying and selling of carbon credits, which could become a $300 billion business by the 2030s.

Leftover from earlier climate summits, those rules are known as “Article 6,” named for the section of the Paris accord that addressed the issue. “For the business community at large, Article 6 is one of the most important parts of the package,” said Dirk Forrister, chief executive of the International Emissions Trading Association.

The document being drafted by ministers from Singapore and Norway has weighed a new trading program that would distribute carbon credits in smaller and smaller amounts over time. The most carbon-efficient companies could sell their extra credits. Other, less-efficient companies would have to buy credits instead. And overall carbon emissions would decline.

Carbon-trading regimes already exist. There are mandatory rules in place in Europe, and voluntary but effective ones in California and Quebec. China has even started a trading system for the power sector alone.

But a new carbon-trading system would bring along problems. Brazil, for example, wants to be allowed to do private transactions without reporting them to formal exchanges to avoid proper accounting. And delegates must figure out how to value credits from the Clean Development Mechanism, a U.N. program that ran into difficulties after being created more than 20 years ago.

In addition, some delegates want a new trading scheme to set aside a 1.5 percent fee for adaptation funding.

“This is highly charged politically,” Forrister said. “If there’s anything worse than a federal tax, it’s a U.N. tax.”

More on climate change

Understanding our climate: Global warming is a real phenomenon, and weather disasters are undeniably linked to it. As temperatures rise, heat waves are more often sweeping the globe — and parts of the world are becoming too hot to survive.

What can be done? The Post is tracking a variety of climate solutions, as well as the Biden administration’s actions on environmental issues. It can feel overwhelming facing the impacts of climate change, but there are ways to cope with climate anxiety.

Inventive solutions: Some people have built off-the-grid homes from trash to stand up to a changing climate. As seas rise, others are exploring how to harness marine energy.

What about your role in climate change? Our climate coach Michael J. Coren is answering questions about environmental choices in our everyday lives. Submit yours here. You can also sign up for our Climate Coach newsletter.