GLASGOW – Delegates worked overtime on Saturday to reach a final deal at the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow. Reuters reporters were on the ground delivering the latest updates, scenes and insights during the final hours. All times local (GMT).
After a last-minute drama over the words phase “down” or “out” regarding coal use, the talks ended with a global agreement that aimed to keep alive hopes of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, and so maintain a realistic chance of saving the world from catastrophic climate change.
Mixed reviews over the deal rolled in.
“Whether COP26 was a success will only be known some time down the road. The test will be whether Glasgow marks the transition from promises made on paper to turning those promises into reality,” said Kaveh Guilanpour, Vice President of International Strategies at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
COP26 President Alok Sharma looked like he was about to cry.
India’s environment minister Bhupender Yadav interrupted the adoption process for the Glasgow pact before it had barely begun, proposing new language in the deal that would request governments “phase down” coal use, rather than phase it out.
Several countries expressed disappointment but said they would still support the deal to ensure the negotiations do not collapse in failure.
Sharma apologized to the plenary for the way the process was handled and choked up as he spoke.
COP26 President Alok Sharma opened the formal plenary. “It is now decision time.”
We have a deal. According to China, that is.
Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua gave Reuters the thumbs up when asked on the plenary floor if the Glasgow pact was going to pass. Then he said “we have a deal” through his translator.
He did have a critique, though.
“The voice of developing countries hasn’t been heard enough,” he said through his translator.
Samuel Adeoye Adejuwon, a technical adviser on Nigeria’s delegation, said his country was aligned with India in its opposition to strong language targeting fossil fuels in the Glasgow pact.
“This argument is about special circumstances. You cannot ask us to phase out the process of development,” he told Reuters as delegates milled about on the plenary floor.
He said that the U.S. discussion with China and India about coal was an attempt to find common ground.
Observers at the U.N. climate talks got a bit nervous when representatives of the United States and the EU went into a meeting with their counterparts from China and India to discuss some of the deal’s language around phasing out coal.
They came out of the meeting about 30 minutes later.
The meeting, confirmed to Reuters by a member of the Indian delegation, suggested last-minute negotiations were underway as the UK conference hosts pressed urgently for an accord.
Immediately before the meeting, U.S. special envoy John Kerry was overheard by Reuters telling his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua “You’re supposed to be phasing out coal over the next 20 years, you just signed an agreement with us.”
“We will reconvene very, very shortly,” COP26 President Alok Sharma said, after country delegations finished up their speeches.
Once they reconvene, a vote on the deal is likely.
The United States could see not everyone was happy about the draft deal in front of the U.N. talks in Glasgow.
“If it is a good negotiation, all the parties are uncomfortable,” U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry told the plenary. “This has been, I think, a good negotiation.”
He spoke after a series of poor and island nations expressed disappointment the draft did not do more to support them.
Maldives Environment Minister Aminath Shauna put it bluntly: “It will be too late for the Maldives.”
India’s environment and climate minister, Bhupender Yadav, earlier also blasted the draft deal, saying he disagreed with language requesting countries unwind fossil fuel subsidies.
“How can anyone expect that developing countries can make promises about phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies when developing countries have still to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication?” he said.
Swiss Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told the plenary her country did not like the deal because of how it dealt with rules governing global carbon markets, but would live with it anyway. “We are concerned that we are leaving this COP with everybody feeling more than a little unhappy,” she said.
Lee White, Gabon’s Minister of Water, Forests, Sea and Environment, meanwhile, told the plenary he had some unfinished business, regardless of the passage of a deal.
“Before I leave, I need some more reassurance from our developed country partners – and note that I don’t say donors – before boarding the electric train leaving the Glasgow COP.”
“It’s not perfect.”
That was the common refrain from poor and small island nations commenting to the plenary about the draft climate deal. Each of them said, however, they would support it.
The low-lying island countries and small economy blocs had been pushing hard for more money from rich nations to help them deal with everything from transitioning to clean energy to recovering from climate-driven disasters.
Marshall Islands climate envoy Tina Stege said the existing deal did not go far enough to do that, but marked progress, and that she would back it because she could not go home to her island with nothing.
Tuvalu’s climate envoy Seve Paeniu held up a photo of his three grandchildren and told the plenary he has been thinking of what he can tell them upon his return to the low-lying island nation: “Glasgow has made a promise to secure their future,” he said. “That will be the best Christmas gift I could bring back to them.”
EU climate chief Frans Timmermans drew a rousing round of applause for his comments to the plenary, in which he asked countries to unite around the deal for the sake of “our children, our grandchildren.”
“They will not forgive us if we fail them today,” he said.
He opened his comments by saying the conference risked “stumbling in this marathon” a few steps before the finish if country delegations demanded new changes to the texts.
In a potentially positive sign, China negotiator Zhao Yingmin told the plenary that the current draft of the deal is not perfect but that his team has no intention to reopen it.
Representatives of Tanzania and Guinea, meanwhile, said they were disappointed that the draft did not do more to ensure poor, climate-vulnerable nations like theirs were getting adequate financial help to deal with global warming issues.
COP26 President Alok Sharma opened up an informal plenary to take stock of the latest proposals, saying the conference had reached the “moment of truth for the planet, for our children, for our grandchildren”.
While differences on the final deal remained, Sharma appeared to be saying time was up on negotiations and that an accord needed to be finalized.
In the minutes before the official plenary was set to start, U.S. special envoy John Kerry stood with his counterpart from China, Xie Zhenhua, holding a paper and going over it line by line together.
Days earlier, the two men surprised the summit with a U.S.-China joint declaration in which China agreed to ramp up its ambition to fight climate change by phasing down coal use, curbing methane and protecting forests.
As negotiators met behind closed doors to try to overcome last-minute hurdles to a deal, delegates from three countries said they had no idea what was going on.
“I don’t know, man, it’s chaos,” said one negotiator about the last minute friction over a deal.
China’s No. 2 negotiator Zhao Yingmin, while entering his country’s offices, said he had no updates.
Nearby, representatives from Brazil could be seen entering a meeting of the G77 group of developing countries.
After an hour and 45 minutes, Sharma finally came back up to the microphone to announce a slightly different schedule: everyone can be excused, but please return at 2:30 p.m. when the official plenary will begin. The delay was to allow parties to finalize some of their negotiations, he said.
He also insisted: there will be a deal this afternoon.
COP26 President Alok Sharma, who was in the plenary room on time at noon, tried twice to get delegates from other nations to sit down. An hour later, he was still unsuccessful. Large huddles of discussions persisted on one side of the stage. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry was working the room, going from group to group.
Delegates were anxious for updates on the negotiations, but were taking the delays in their stride.
“Well, it’s classic that the COP goes over time, so no surprise whatsoever,” said Axel Michaelowa, an advisor to the Honduras delegation.
In the cafeteria, views were mixed on what the delays meant for the final deal – did they suggest a strong accord that keeps 1.5C within reach, or a soft one that doesn’t?
“I think the fact that they didn’t close it at 6 o’clock, 8 o’clock last night shows that they might be committed to a sort of deal that works for everybody,” said Emily Wright, a representative from Save the Children International.
Naja Moretro, the head of the Norwegian Church Aid Youth Organisation, had a different view: “The texts have been getting weaker and weaker when it comes to clear language.”
Danish Climate Minister Dan Jorgensen, heading into the summit’s plenary room, explained his support for language in a final deal pushing for a phase-out of coal.
“I think it’s fair to say that this isn’t about shaming those countries (reliant on fossil fuels),” he said.
He said the text should acknowledge that some countries need help to move away from coal. “So this is why I said one improvement in the text is that it now also refers to ‘just transition’,” he said.
Nellie Dokie, 37, has been taking a two-hour trip each way to the conference center to work as a chef. She has been preparing meals for VIPs and delegates and finally stepped out into the main conference area to check out the scene.
Dokie lives in Glasgow but is from Liberia.
“I want to be a part of history. I played a small part,” she said.
U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry appeared to be in a cheery mood. “It’s a beautiful day in Scotland,” he said, walking alongside his top negotiators Sue Biniaz, Jonathan Pershing and Trigg Talley as reporters trailed him through the hallway.
It was unclear if his assessment was fueled by the state of negotiations at the conference, or the unusually sunny weather in Glasgow.
The action shifted over the last 24 hours to “bilateral” meeting rooms scattered around the conference site. Delegates huddled in windowless rooms guarded by security. They were reviewing the draft text ahead of the noon stocktaking session.
A dozen Greenpeace staffers sat together in the COP26 conference halls, hunched over laptops and with some sitting on the floor, as they prepared a new statement on the latest draft revisions.
Spanish Energy and Environment Minister Teresa Ribera was seen rushing from her delegation’s office, as the UK COP26 Presidency dropped what many hope is the final draft of an overall Glasgow agreement.
Technical crews were boxing up flat-screen displays and carrying them out of meeting rooms, as they continued taking down parts of the venue.
After tense overnight deliberations, delegates were poised for the release of another draft agreement.
The delegation pavilions, where countries had showcased their climate-friendly initiatives, were all dismantled, but coffee stands were still serving.
Civil society groups who have been closely watching the deliberations were scouring documents released in the early morning for clues about what might go into the final deal.
The UK hosts of the conference issued a statement confirming there will be no deal tonight.
“I envisage formal plenary meetings in the afternoon to adopt decisions and close the session on Saturday,” Alok Sharma, the UK summit president said in a statement.
Delegations and the media appeared to be headed back to their hotels for some rest before what promises to be a long day tomorrow.
8:40 p.m. The COP26 conference halls grew quiet with small groups of negotiators, including a dozen or so EU delegates, moving along the halls to and from meetings. This “shuttle diplomacy,” as diplomats shuttle between rooms, is how most of the work gets done in the final hours of climate negotiations, Felipe De Leon Denegri, Costa Rica’s carbon markets negotiator, told Reuters. But this year may be particularly quiet as much of the shuttling is now done over the messaging app WhatsApp, he said. “One of the perhaps weird things about COP in the 21st century is that shuttle diplomacy sometimes happens on WhatsApp,” De Leon said. He said the pandemic and increasingly common virtual work probably means more exchanges than ever are being held on the Facebook-owned app. “It’s not that people aren’t working, it’s that they are working through their phone and they don’t seem to be moving anywhere.” —
Tuvalu’s Finance Minister Seve Paeniu, head of the island nation’s delegation, said he was up most of last night negotiating the part of the draft agreement dealing with “loss and damage”. Low-lying Tuvalu and other vulnerable countries dealing with impacts from climate change want rich countries responsible for most emissions to pay up. He said his team is working to push the United States and Australia to support a “standalone” loss and damage fund.
More broadly, he said he will not be satisfied leaving Glasgow without a strong collective agreement that can keep alive the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C. “We do not see sufficient commitment made by countries to reduce emissions to achieve that 1.5 degree target,” he said. “In terms of adaptation, there is insufficient focus on additional financing.”
Former UK Labour Party leader Ed Miliband stopped in the hallway to compliment Paeniu on a speech he gave earlier.
The delegation offices at the summit complex are mainly quiet. Two of China’s leading negotiators were seen milling about in their office, while not far away a pair of U.S. negotiators walked down the hall with sandwiches. All expectations were for a very long night as several major differences around ratcheting up emissions cuts pledges and how to deal with carbon markets and funding for poor countries remained.