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The Climate 202

Latest COP 26 draft text includes coal, fossil fuel phaseout, but weakened language

The Climate 202

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Good morning! This is Alexandra Ellerbeck, your Climate 202 researcher, filling in for my colleague Maxine Joselow, who is preparing to fly back to Washington from the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

Latest COP 26 draft text includes coal, fossil fuel phaseout, but weakened language

A new draft text of the summit released this morning makes small, but significant changes.

Earlier this morning, summit organizers released a new draft of an agreement on how countries will combat climate change. Despite furious lobbying over the past two days, the draft at first glance appears largely similar to a preliminary text released on Wednesday, but even small wording tweaks “represents hours of intense — and still unfinished — diplomatic wrangling,” The Post's Brady Dennis writes.

  • The draft keeps in place a call for phasing out coal power and fossil fuel subsidies. It's the first direct reference to the need to phase out fossil fuels in such an agreement in decades, and some environmentalists had worried it might be cut due to lobbying from Saudi Arabia and other fossil fuel producers. But the devil is in the details, and critics have noted that a few additional words may weaken the text and provide wiggle room for fossil fuel backers: The draft now says countries should stop burning “unabated” coal and halt “insufficient” fossil fuel subsidies.
  • It scolds wealthy nations to meet their climate financing promises. Wealthy countries were supposed to provide the developing world with $100 billion a year in climate financing by 2020 but they've so far fallen short. The new text notes this failure “with deep regret” and calls on developed countries to fully deliver on their pledges through 2025.
  • The draft adds a new “facility” that could provide funding to nations where climate change has already caused irreparable harm. Some of the fiercest fights in recent days have centered on what rich countries owe the developing countries, many of which are among the most impacted by climate change despite being responsible for little of the carbon in the atmosphere. While most climate financing has been focused on helping developing countries transition to clean energy or adapt to future changes, vulnerable countries have been seeking money to address the harm already caused by global warming, known by negotiators as “loss and damage."
  • The U.N. is sending a clear message that we need more action and need it faster. The latest draft includes an accelerated timeline for countries to ratchet their climate commitments. The draft calls on countries to revisit and strengthen their emissions targets “as soon as possible,” ideally by 2022.

Negotiators are racing to the finish line.

The Russian delegation has offered vodka and the Mexican delegation has promised tequila if the U.N. climate talks finished up on time, but a little after midday on the final scheduled day of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, it looks possible that no one will be drinking tonight. 

COP26 President Alok Sharma has said he wants to stick to the 6 p.m. deadline, but climate talks have a long history of running over.

As we enter the final push, climate negotiators still have plenty to hammer out. Haggling has been fierce over how much assistance wealthy nations should offer developing countries, how often countries need to report their greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations, and rules for carbon trading markets, The Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum, Sarah Kaplan, Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson report.

Whatever the result of the summit, it’s unlikely to satisfy the thousands of youth activists, protesters and campaigners who pinned their hopes on Glasgow over the past two weeks, our colleagues write. Activists from the group Extinction Rebellion staged a die-in outside the summit on Thursday, wrapping themselves in white shrouds and laying outside the entrance of the conference to symbolize deaths related to climate change.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres called for faster progress.

“The announcements here in Glasgow are encouraging, but they are far from enough,” Guterres told the summit on Thursday. “We need pledges to be implemented. We need commitments to turn concrete. We need actions to be verified. We need to bridge the deep and real credibility gap.”

Guterres told the Associated Press that the negotiations are unlikely to set the world on a trajectory towards keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Instead, the aim now appears to be keeping the possibility of 1.5 degrees Celsius alive, even if that hope hinges on future commitments.

Countdown to COP26

Pledges from COP26 bring the world closer to its climate goals — but only by a small amount

A report from Climate Action Tracker suggests that high-profile pledges at the summit will likely move the world only a tiny bit closer to a target of limiting warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius. The pledges — including commitments to slow deforestation, phase out coal, ramp up the use of electric vehicles and curb emissions of methane — will reduce humanity’s annual emissions by 2.2 billion tons of carbon by 2030, the group finds. That’s enough to close the gap between the current trajectory and what the world needs to meet its most ambitious climate goal by just 9 percent, The Post’s Sarah Kaplan reports

A separate report released by Climate Action Tracker earlier this week showed that countries' near-term climate commitments put the Earth on track to warm by 2.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Tensions remain high between wealthy countries and the developing world

On Thursday, Tuvalu and Ghana lambasted the United States for not committing money to address the “loss and damage” already caused by global warming in vulnerable countries.

Meanwhile, a coalition of developing countries that includes major emitters China and India, said it opposed language increasing the pace by which each country must ratchet up its climate plans. Bolivian chief negotiator Diego Pacheco Balanza argued that wealthy countries were shifting the burden of climate change onto the developing world and claimed that an accelerated emissions-cutting schedule “would rewrite the Paris agreement” and put the world on a “pathway to carbon colonialism.” The group on Thursday called for the removal of an entire section of the COP26 draft focused on emissions. 

Ireland’s former president slammed Saudi Arabia

In an emotional video, Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, accused Saudi Arabia of “playing dirty games” in its efforts to remove language from the COP26 agreement related to phasing out fossil fuels, The Post’s Rachel Pannett reports.

Panama is channeling youth outrage

Mari Helena Castillo Mariscal, the deputy lead negotiator of Panama, scolded national and corporate leaders for setting the Earth on track for “a fatal 2.4 degrees warming,” referring to a United Nations forecast made this week, The Post’s Dan Zak reports. The country, which claims to have the youngest delegation of negotiators at an average age of 29, is channeling youth outrage over climate change. Mariscal called the target of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius “a necessity, a moral obligation, a lifeline.” 

On the Hill

Manchin is objecting to a federal tax credit for union-made electric vehicles

In 2021, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) changed his top line spending number for President Biden’s agenda more than half a dozen times. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said Thursday that he opposes a provision in President Biden’s social spending package that would give a $4,500 tax credit to consumers who purchase electric vehicles made by unionized automakers, The Post's Mariana Alfaro reports. Right now, the only three automakers that meet that criteria are all based in Detroit.

“We shouldn’t use everyone’s tax dollars to pick winners and losers,” Manchin told Automotive News. “If you’re a capitalist economy that we are in society then you let the product speak for itself, and hopefully, we’ll get that, that’ll be corrected.”

Manchin's comments came as the White House announced that Biden will tour a General Motors Factory ZERO electric vehicle assembly plant in Detroit next Wednesday to talk about how his infrastructure plan will support a transition to electric vehicles. 

The Democrats’ social spending plan includes a $7,500 tax credit for consumers who purchase electric vehicles through 2026. After that point, people will qualify for the credit only if they purchase an American-made electric vehicle. The additional $4,500 is a bonus tax credit for those who purchase from union automakers.

Pressure points

American views on climate change remain largely unchanged

Extreme heat, damaging floods and raging wildfires in recent years have done little to move the needle on American public opinion about climate change, a Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.

“A clear majority of adults say that warming is a serious problem, but the share — 67 percent — is about the same as it was seven years ago, when alarms raised by climate scientists were less pronounced than they are now,” The Post’s Darryl Fears and Emily Guskin report.

The partisan divide over climate change has widened. The percentage of Democrats who view it as an existential threat rose by 11 points to 95 percent over the past seven years, partly driven by more Black Americans who now say the issue is very serious. The share of Republicans who say climate change is a serious problem fell by 10 points, to 39 percent over the same period.

Mines are booming in Australia’s coal country

The Post’s Michael E. Miller describes the scene in Singleton, Australia, a coal mining town about two hours north of Sydney, where high coal prices mean business is flourishing. Trains laden with coal are rumbling past packed motels, hotels are posting “help wanted” signs, and men in dusty uniforms are lining up to grab coffee before their 12-hour shifts.

Australia, the world’s second-biggest coal exporter, seems content to continue cashing in on developing-world demand for coal. When Prime Minister Scott Morrison agreed to the carbon-neutral target by 2050, he promised it would not cost coal miners their jobs.

Singleton isn't oblivious to the impacts of coal globally or closer to home, where dust from the mines contribute to asthma and other health problems. Still it's hard for some residents to imagine abandoning the industry when coal miners make up a quarter of the town and can earn starting salaries upward of $100,000. 


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