Activists, experts say draft U.N. climate change agreement isn't strong enough

·Senior Climate Editor
·4 min read

GLASGOW, Scotland — The first draft of an agreement to combat climate change being negotiated at the U.N. Climate Change Conference was released early Wednesday morning, and while certain provisions represent landmark progress in the effort to avert catastrophic climate change, activists and experts say it still falls short of what is needed in several key areas.

“This is not a plan to solve the climate crisis,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, at a Wednesday morning press briefing at the climate summit, also known as COP26. “It won’t give the kids on the street the confidence they need,” she added, referring to the mostly young activists who have been marching during the conference in Glasgow to demand stronger climate action.

Last week, world leaders including President Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made speeches at the conference, calling with soaring rhetoric for the world to tackle the climate crisis. Although the first draft of the final agreement and the pledged actions by individual nations thus far reflect greater ambition than the preceding Paris Agreement from 2015, they would still lead to a rise in global temperatures of 1.8 to 2.6 degrees Celsius, rather than the widely shared goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives Wednesday at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. (Phil Noble/Pool/Reuters)

“The text is not as strong as the political direction given last week,” said Alden Meyer, who studies U.S. climate policy for the European think tank E3G, at the Wednesday briefing.

“This draft COP decision text is too weak,” said Tracy Carty, head of Oxfam’s COP26 delegation, in a statement. “It fails to respond to the climate emergency being faced by millions of people now who are living with unprecedented extreme weather and being pushed further into poverty.”

The three biggest points of contention with the draft, experts said, are the need for more immediate action to limit emissions, the future use of fossil fuels and the amount of financing being offered to developing countries to build a clean energy economy and deal with the already occurring and inevitable future effects of climate change.

Previously, no climate agreement has specifically called for the end of fossil fuel use. This draft makes history by explicitly stating that coal use needs to be phased out, but it makes no such recommendation for oil and gas.

As of now, however, national pledges actually allow for greenhouse gas emissions to rise 16 percent between now and 2030, while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that they need to be cut 45 percent by the end of this decade.

Youth climate activist with
A youth activist demonstrates during the U.N. climate summit on Wednesday for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. (Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

“This is the first time in a text like this you’ve had mention of fossil fuels and the need to phase down subsidies,” said Meyer. “The problem is the text is not consistent at all with what needs to be done in the next eight years.”

There are reportedly more than 500 fossil fuel lobbyists at the climate summit, and while COP26 president Alok Sharma strongly denied in a Tuesday press conference that they have any influence on the outcome of the agreement, environmental activists think there is still insufficient willingness on the part of government delegations to confront the fossil fuel industry.

“It’s significant that fossil fuel subsidies have been mentioned, albeit in an insufficient way,” said Teresa Anderson, climate policy coordinator for ActionAid International, at a press conference Wednesday morning organized by the Climate Action Network. “They need to go back and make it about all fossil fuels, not just coal.”

Climate change activists hold up signs at a protest.
Activists at a protest during the Glasgow climate conference on Monday. (Russell Cheyne/Reuters)

The other problem, according to activists from developing countries, is that while rich nations have stepped up their ambition in terms of cutting their own emissions between now and midcentury, they aren’t offering enough money to developing countries to bring them on board for a more ambitious agreement. To develop their economies sustainably, poorer nations need “climate finance,” such as loan guarantees for renewable energy production. They also simply need an inducement, in the form of aid for adapting to climate change and reparations for the losses and damages they are already experiencing and will continue to incur.

“You don’t have a clear target — i.e., a global goal — on adaptation,” said Mohamed Adow, director of the think tank Power Shift Africa. “Neither do you have clear processes to help the world deal with losses and damage. That part of the text is very fuzzy and vague.”

Experts such as Adow are hoping that the details become sufficiently clear in the next two days, before the conference wraps up on Friday evening, to get an agreement that will put the world on course to avoid climate disaster.

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