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The Climate 202

COP26 draft agreement calls on countries to phase out coal, fossil fuels

The Climate 202

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Good morning! It's Day 10 at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland known as COP26 — and we have a draft deal (sort of). Here's what to know:

COP26 draft agreement calls on countries to move away from fossil fuels

Deal or no deal: Early Wednesday morning, negotiators at the COP26 U.N. climate summit here in Glasgow released a preliminary draft of an agreement on how countries will work together to curb climate change. The draft deal, which is subject to change, “calls upon Parties to accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels,” although it offers no hard deadlines.

Neither “coal” nor “fossil fuels” was mentioned in the landmark Paris agreement from 2015. Still, the language will likely inspire pushback and will probably evolve over the final days of the conference, The Post's Brady Dennis, Steven Mufson and Sarah Kaplan report.

“We think it's the first time that you've had a phaseout of coal … in a U.N. text,” Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said on a call with reporters Wednesday.

“I expect this to be a very contested sentence moving forward,” Morgan said, adding that “Saudi Arabia and other countries will come in and try to remove this paragraph, although it has no dates.”

Mohamed Adow, director of the Kenya-based PowerShift Africa, added “It's fossil fuels that cause climate change. Explicitly mentioning it gets on the path to addressing it. Our task now is, A, to protect that text but also, B, to strengthen it by making it happen faster but also in equitable manner."

More draft details:

  • The text urges countries to update their emissions reductions plans before the end of 2022 especially nations that have not adopted more ambitious goals since the Paris accord was signed six years ago.
  • It also “reaffirms” the Paris agreement goal of limiting global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and “preferably” to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But it does not commit to meeting the 1.5 degree threshold, which climate scientists say the world cannot afford to miss.
  • It calls on rich countries to provide more financial support for poor nations that are most vulnerable to the catastrophic impacts of climate change, known as “loss and damage.” But it does not recommend a specific financial mechanism for addressing loss and damage, nor does it outline expectations for rich nations' financial support beyond 2025.
  • It does not mention Article 6 of the Paris agreement, which would establish an international carbon market.

“We are making progress at COP26, but we still have a mountain to climb over the next few days,” COP26 President Alok Sharma told reporters Tuesday, adding that “the time has now come to find political consensus on the areas of divergence.”

🚘 It's Transport Day at COP26

Transport, which accounts for a fifth of global emissions, is the official theme of COP26 today. To mark the occasion, a coalition of countries, states, cities and automakers signed an agreement to make all new vehicles zero emission by 2040 or sooner.

  • The agreement covers nearly 15 percent of the global car market, or about 11.5 million vehicles, according to its backers.
  • The pact includes Ford and General Motors, two of America's largest car companies. GM has already said it “aspires” to sell only electric vehicles by 2035. Toyota and Volkswagen, two other major automakers, declined to join.
  • Other signatories include India, Canada, the United Kingdom, Kenya, Mercedes-Benz and Uber.
  • While the United States did not sign the deal, two states — Washington and California — came on board. California is the nation's largest car market and already leads the country in electric vehicle sales.

Josh Miller, manager of the Modeling Center at the International Council on Clean Transportation, told The Climate 202 that “India’s signing of the Glasgow declaration is significant, since it is the fourth largest vehicle market worldwide, and carbon dioxide emissions from road transport in India could more than double by 2050 without further policy action.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who previously told The Climate 202 that “every transportation decision is a climate decision,” is also attending COP26 today.

  • Buttigieg will participate in an event at 1:30 p.m. GMT (8:30 a.m. ET) on clean transportation with Katherine Hayhoe, chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy.
  • The secretary will also announce a plan to help the aviation sector reach net-zero emissions by 2050 by boosting the adoption of sustainable aviation fuels.

COP26 notebook

If former president Barack Obama was the main attraction at COP26 on Monday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was the star on Tuesday. A large crowd of journalists and activists waited outside the room where she spoke on the panel, craning their necks and trying to get a glimpse of the liberal icon through the glass.

Outside the conference center on Tuesday, I was struck by the sheer number of advertisements on the streets of Glasgow that mentioned climate change. One billboard promoted “the planet's favorite beer,” while a shop window advertised “planet-friendly fashion.” Brands were tripping over themselves to tout their sustainability bona fides, although some might argue that capitalism helped get us into this mess in the first place. 🤷‍♀️

On the Hill

Pelosi and AOC tout U.S. climate action in Glasgow

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) on Tuesday led a delegation of nearly two dozen other Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), to the U.N. climate summit, your Climate 202 host reports.

Pelosi spoke at a news conference at COP26 alongside five committee chairs and emphasized that while a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill is a first step toward addressing climate change, Democrats still plan to pass a larger, $2 trillion spending package the week of Nov. 15.

Ocasio-Cortez, who has at times bucked Pelosi's agenda, also spoke on a separate panel, where she said youth climate activists have had a major influence in shaping Biden's climate plans.

Pressure points

Net-zero pledges won't prevent dangerous warming

After nations spent the first nine days of COP26 issuing grand pledges and pronouncements, scientists delivered a sobering finding to conference attendees: The Earth is still on track to warm by 2.4 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, The Post's Sarah Kaplan and Michael Birnbaum report.

In a preliminary analysis released Tuesday, researchers with the U.N. Environment Program reviewed a flurry of new commitments to reach net-zero emissions. They found the "projected level of warming by the end of the century is only about 0.1 degrees lower than before COP26 started," my colleagues write.

The U.N. analysis comes after the International Energy Agency unveiled a more optimistic report last week, which found that climate pledges to date would put the world on a path to only 1.8 degrees Celsius of warming. U.N. scientists, however, found that many net-zero commitments lack credibility. They noted that many countries' plans between now and 2030 would make it impossible to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or 2060.

Will Tuvalu still be a country if it's underwater?

Tuvalu's foreign minister gave a speech to COP26 on Nov. 8, standing in the ocean to show how his Pacific island nation is on the front line of climate change. (Video: Reuters)

Tuvalu foreign minister Simon Kofe prerecorded his speech to the U.N. climate summit standing in knee-deep seawater. The stakes of climate change for Tuvalu are stark: The average land elevation in the archipelago is just 6 feet, 6 inches above mean sea level, and the water is rising by almost 0.2 inches a year, The Post’s William Booth and Karla Adam report. Rising sea levels have already contaminated fresh groundwater and hurt agricultural staples.

That has the country asking a bleak question: If all of Tuvalu’s people are forced to flee, will they still be a country? Should the worst-case scenario happen, Kofi told Reuters that officials are exploring “legal avenues” to retain “ownership of our maritime zones” and “our recognition as a state under international law.”

Europe is relying on wood-burning to reach its climate goals

Despite Europe’s lofty climate ambitions, some 60 percent of its renewable energy comes from biomass fuels, a process that uses wood scraps and organic waste to generate electricity and heat in specialized power plants, The Post’s Michael Birnbaum reports

“U.N. rules allow the European Union to write off the emissions as carbon neutral, so long as sustainable guidelines are met, even though burning the fuel can release more warming gases into the atmosphere than coal,” Birnbaum writes.

That loophole in U.N. rules contributes to the gap detailed by a Washington Post investigation published Monday, which found many countries are significantly underreporting their emissions to the U.N., leading to a massive undercount of the emissions in the atmosphere.

Climate solutions

Satellites may help monitor countries’ adherence to emissions pledges

Estimates of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere used to rely on complex formulas that took into account fossil fuel burning and agricultural activities. Now, however, scientists are increasingly relying on satellites that can directly measure emissions and help pinpoint the sources, The Post's Brady Dennis reports.

“If you had told me this a decade ago, you could have knocked me over with a feather,” Riley Duren, a University of Arizona research scientist and engineering fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said of the boom in emissions-monitoring satellites. “It is real. And it’s super exciting."

Peat can play a key role in combatting climate change

“You want to safely store carbon for a thousand years? Nothing beats peat. It’s nature’s vault,” The Post’s William Booth writes.

Peatlands cover only a tenth as much landmass as the planet’s forests, but they store twice as much carbon. That has some countries looking to peat as a climate solution. Britain, for instance, has put peat’s preservation at the center of its net-zero strategy, promising to spend $1 billion on peat restoration, woodland creation and habitat management. 

But as scientists gain a new respect for peat’s power to store mega-amounts of carbon, anxiety is building that the carbon buried in these mires can be rapidly released. 

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