GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow ran beyond its official closing time of 6 p.m. Friday as negotiators continued heated discussions over the text of the final agreement. Negotiations are set to continue into the night and could go through the weekend. The deal must be agreed to and signed by all parties at the summit.
Delegations from 197 countries are trying to agree on a deal to combat climate change and keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the target agreed to in Paris in 2015 and seen as critical to avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
A new draft agreement text was released Friday morning, known officially as the cover decision. COP26 President Alok Sharma canceled a series of news conferences as talks continued close to the deadline, following impassioned speeches from delegates in the afternoon plenary.
"I think you've heard in the room, people do want an outcome, but there are still some critical issues that are outstanding. There's a lot of hard work to do," Sharma said at the end of the session.
Earlier, a speech from the Tuvalu delegate received lengthy applause as he warned that climate change posed an existential threat to the Pacific island, noting optimism was fading among vulnerable states for an ambitious climate deal. Several developing nations called for more detail on the operation of carbon markets and a stronger commitment on climate finance for poorer states.
Simon Stiell, the environment minister for Grenada, a vulnerable low-lying island in the Caribbean, said there were still key differences as the delegations argued over individual words and phrases in the text.
'A lot to be done," Stiell said. "The (draft) text is the bare minimum we need to walk away with, the bare minimum. The challenge now is for those of us who are progressive to hold the line, we need to hold the line. We owe our children, our grandchildren, this is critical now. So the next few hours are going to determine the new dawn."
Stiell said the ambition to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius was still in reach.
'If the text withstands that that is currently on the table, if that withstands the battering that it may get. Yes, we are holding on (the 1.5 C) by our fingernails," he told reporters after the plenary session.
The new text is the second draft to be released this week. It calls for parties to the deal to rapidly slash greenhouse gas emissions this decade.
The latest draft text says COP26 "reaffirms the Paris Agreement temperature goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels."
"Limiting global warming to 1.5 C requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century, as well as deep reductions in non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases," according to the draft text.
It also establishes a new mechanism "to urgently scale up (climate change) mitigation, ambition and implementation in this critical decade.'
Helen Mountford of the World Resources Institute said some areas of the draft text had been strengthened.
"Our overarching judgment is that this is not bad, we've actually made some progress in terms of balance in the text. It reiterates the Paris temperature goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees (Celsius) and aiming for 1.5 C, but also has text that says it resolves to focus on the 1.5 C, which is sort of leaning in, it's not a definitive agreement around 1.5 C."
"Also, there is text urging countries to come back with long-term strategies by the end of 2022. So, a couple of elements that we had in the (first draft) text a couple of days ago that have been under discussion, are still there, and it's important that those are there," Mountford told reporters Friday.
However, some language in the text has been weakened.
"In the previous version we had, it said that it 'urges' countries to revisit and strengthen their 2030 targets by the end of next year, by the end of 2022. It's now shifted from 'urges' to 'requests,' which is weaker language," Mountford said.
Oxfam campaigners dressed in the roles of 'ineffective fire-fighting world leaders' pose for a photo near the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 12, 2021.
Language around the phasing out of fossil fuels has also been weakened under pressure from some delegations.
The previous draft said that parties to the deal would "accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels." However, the latest version calls for "accelerating the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels." That would effectively allow producers and consumers to continue using coal if carbon capture technology is employed to offset its emissions.
Jennifer Morgan, the executive director of Greenpeace International, strongly criticized the changes.
'Right now, the fingerprints of fossil fuel interests are still on the text and this is not the breakthrough deal that people hoped for in Glasgow," Morgan said in a statement. "The key line on phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies has been critically weakened, but it's still there and needs to be strengthened again before this summit closes. That's going to be a big tussle and one we need to win."
The new draft also strengthens language around climate finance - the amount that rich countries will pay poorer nations to adapt to climate change and decarbonize their economies. Richer nations are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, but climate change tends to have a bigger impact on developing countries.
The latest draft text "notes with concern that the current provision of climate finance for adaptation remains insufficient to respond to worsening climate change impacts in developing country parties."
The draft agreement "urges developed country parties to at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation to developing country parties from the current level by 2025."
The issue of climate finance will be crucial in securing a final agreement, said Cassie Flynn, the United Nations Development Program's strategic adviser on climate change.
"We knew going into this that there was this outstanding promise of $100 billion that was meant to go from developed countries to developing countries to be able to help them tackle this climate crisis that is at their doorsteps. And it was supposed to happen by 2020 - and the year came and went. So now in 2021, a lot of (developing) countries are looking at the countries that made this promise and saying, you have to fulfill it or else we're in real jeopardy of not fulfilling the goals of the Paris Agreement," Flynn told VOA.
She added that Wednesday's joint declaration by the United States and China to work together to cut emissions and try to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius had given added momentum to COP26 negotiations.
"To have the two biggest emitters in the world come together and say, we are in it, we are going to work together, and we have big plans, I think set a really good signal to the rest of the world."
1.5 Celsius goal
However, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the COP26 summit was in danger of failing as it entered its final hours.
The target of 1.5 degrees "is still in reach but on life support," Guterres told The Associated Press.
He warned that governments must improve their plans to reduce emissions, known as "nationally determined contributions."
"If the present nationally determined contributions are implemented, we face an increase of emissions in the next decade. If we don't reach enough ambition on mitigation in this COP, and very probably it will not happen, we need from now on to have a review of our national determined contributions every year."
"I think we are in a crucial moment. In the end of a negotiation, we must avoid (reaching) an agreement based on minimum common denominator that will generate an enormous frustration. It is the moment to reach agreement by increasing ambition in all areas, mitigation, adaptation and finance in a balanced way."
"Until the last moment hope should be maintained," Guterres said.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.