GLASGOW: The head of the UN climate conference recognised on Wednesday that countries’ climate pledges so far do too little to tame global warming and urged countries to “get to work” to strike an ambitious deal over the remaining two days of talks.
A draft of the COP26 conclusions, released earlier in the day received a mixed response from climate activists and experts. Almost 200 countries present in Glasgow have until the close of the two-week meeting on Friday to agree a final text.
In an implicit acknowledgment that current pledges are insufficient to avert climate catastrophe, the draft asks countries to “revisit and strengthen” by the end of next year their targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to 2030.
“What we agree in Glasgow will set the future for our children and grandchildren,” said Britain’s Alok Sharma, the COP26 president. “So I request us all collectively to please roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
The European Union’s climate policy chief Frans Timmermans delivered a similar message.
“Let’s not give in on anything and continue to be more ambitious, we call on those countries who have not yet done so, to scale up their efforts now,” he told reporters.
Negotiations are likely to be fierce over the next two days.
While some developed countries point the finger at major polluters such as China, India and Russia, poorer nations accuse the rich world of failing to keep promises of financial help for them to deal with the ravages of climate change.
The overarching goal of the conference is to keep alive hopes of capping global temperatures at 1.5 decrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, which is far out of reach on the basis of countries’ current emissions cutting pledges.
That aspirational target was set at the landmark 2015 Paris accord. 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, with irreversible consequences.
PHASE OUT COAL
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.
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.
Sharma said he would not seek an extension of the conference beyond Friday’s scheduled closure.
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, many of which are not backed up by concrete action plans, were also fulfilled, warming could be held below 2C.
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal of the environmental campaign group WWF said the text “recognises 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”.
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”.
Helen Mountford, a vice president at the World Resources Institute, said the explicit reference to fossil fuels was an advance on previous climate summits, and warned big emitters may try to expunge it as talks continue.