UN Climate Talks Set to End With Nations Appearing to Back Off Pledge to End Use of Coal

This year's U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, took a turn on Friday with a word change in a draft proposal seemingly backing away from a promise to completely phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

The Associated Press reported that the latest proposal says countries will accelerate "the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels."

An earlier version from Wednesday read that the countries would "accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuel."

The addition of the words "unabated" and "inefficient" has many climate activists worried that the U.N. is lessening their intensity when tackling climate change.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg attended the start of the talks in Glasgow. She told AP she feared that "as long as our main goal is to find loopholes and find excuses, not to take real action, then we will most likely not see any big results in this meeting."

Scientists agree fossil fuel use must end as soon as possible to meet the 2015 Paris accord's goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit). However, the AP report said this goal is "politically sensitive" when dealing with nations with high fossil fuel use.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

UN Climate Summit
Negotiators from almost 200 nations were making a fresh push Friday to reach agreements on a series of key issues that would allow them to call this year's U.N. climate talks a success. Above, delegates from Iraq and Iran chat before a plenary session at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 12, 2021. Alberto Pezzali/AP Photo

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said Washington backed the proposition's current wording. "We're not talking about eliminating" coal, he told fellow climate diplomats.

On government funds flowing into fossil fuels, Kerry said: "Those subsidies have to go."

"We're the largest oil and gas producer in the world and we have some of those subsidies," he said.

Kerry said it was "a definition of insanity" that trillions were being spent to subsidize fossil fuels worldwide. "We're allowing to feed the very problem we're here to try to cure. It doesn't make sense."

Another crunch issue is the question of financial aid for poor countries to cope with climate change. Rich nations failed to provide them with $100 billion annually by 2020, as agreed, causing considerable anger among developing countries going into the talks.

The latest draft reflects those concerns, expressing "deep regret" that the $100 billion goal hasn't been met and urging rich countries to scale up their funding for poor nations to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change—an issue with which developed countries are also grappling.

It also proposes creating a fund to help poor countries tap existing sources of aid when they face the devastating impacts of climate change. But rich nations such as the United States, which have historically been the biggest source of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, are opposed to any legal obligation to compensate poor countries.

Discussion on the issue, known as loss and damage, is likely to go to the wire, negotiators said.

Environmental campaigners expressed concerns about possible loopholes in agreements for international cooperation on emissions reduction, which includes the rules for carbon markets. Businesses are particularly keen to balance out excess emissions by paying others not to emit a similar amount.

"The invitation to greenwash through carbon offsetting risks making a farce of the Paris Agreement," said Louisa Casson of Greenpeace. "If this goes ahead, governments are giving big polluters a free pass to pollute under the guise of being 'carbon neutral', without actually having to reduce emissions."

Negotiators from almost 200 nations gathered in Glasgow on Oct. 31 amid dire warnings from leaders, activists and scientists that not enough is being done to curb global warming.

While the Paris accord calls for limiting temperature to "well below" 2C (3.6F), ideally no more than 1.5C, by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial times, the draft agreement notes that the lower threshold "would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change" and resolves to aim for that target.

In doing so, it calls for the world to cut carbon dioxide emission by 45% in 2030 compared with 2010 levels, and to add no additional CO2 to the atmosphere by mid-century. So far the world is not on track for that, and developed countries are expected to be asked to submit more ambitious targets for cutting emissions next year.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told AP this week that the 1.5C-goal "is still in reach but on life support."

If negotiators are unable to reach agreement by Friday's official deadline, it is likely the talks will go into overtime. This has happened at many of the previous 25 meetings as consensus from all 197 countries is required to pass decisions.

For many vulnerable nations the process has been far too slow.

"We need to deliver and take action now," said Seve Paeniu, the finance minister of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu. "It's a matter of life and survival for many of us."

COP26, climate change, protestors
The 2015 Paris accords vowed to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said is "still in reach but on life support." Above, climate activists take part in a demonstration outside the venue of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 12, 2021. Scott Heppell/AP Photo