Climate youth activists hold up illuminated letters spelling out "End Climate Betrayal' in Glasgow, Scotland on November 2, 2021, during the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference. (Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

COP26: 'Walking Inches When We Must Move Miles'

Climate vulnerable countries were bitterly disappointed with the watering down of language on coal and lack of finance to cover permanent losses from climate change they are already suffering.

A last-minute amendment to the Glasgow climate change deal further watered down wording on phasing out fossil fuels, leading to dismay from countries on the frontline of climate breakdown.

Earlier during COP26, wording in the draft deal on phasing out coal and subsidies for fossil fuels had been amended to "accelerating the phase out of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels".

In the final plenary meeting, India and China proposed changing the wording again to "escalating efforts to phase down unabated coal power and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies", adding that there should be extra support for the poorest people.


There were complaints from other countries including Switzerland, Mexico and the EU, who said they had accepted the text earlier on the understanding that no further changes were allowed.

The European Commission's executive vice-president Frans Timmermans said: "We know full well that coal has no future--the longer you take to get rid of coal, the more burden you put on the environment, but also your economy."

Tina Stege, climate envoy from the Marshall Islands said she was "profoundly disappointed" with the change. "This commitment had been a bright spot in the package... and it hurts deeply to see that bright spot dimmed.

"We accept this change with the greatest reluctance and only because there are elements of this package that people in my country need as a lifeline for their future," she said.

Alok Sharma, the COP president, said he was "deeply sorry" for the way the process had unfolded. "But it's also vital that we protect this package," he said, in a moment that brought him close to tears.


However, others were less negative about the change, given that many people had not expected any mention of coal to survive through to the final text at all.

Dave Jones, global lead for think tank Ember, argued that the amendment did not change the significance of the pact being the first time that coal has been explicitly mentioned in a formal COP statement.

"The net is closing in on fossil fuels and coal is at the frontline. The final wording on 'phaseout' or 'phasedown' doesn't change that fact," Jones said.

Brandon Wu, head of international climate justice work at Action Aid USA pointed out that, earlier in the negotiations, India had wanted the language the text to treat all fossil fuels equitably, but that this had been resisted by the US.

This commitment had been a bright spot in the package... and it hurts deeply to see that bright spot dimmed.

"An equitable fossil fuel phaseout would place most of the burden squarely on the US and rich countries...This would be unacceptable to Biden administration negotiators.

"Instead, the COP26 existing language has heavy implications for developing countries like India, and tonnes of loopholes for the continuation of US fossil fuel activities," he tweeted.


But it came as a bitter blow to many developing nations, many of whom had expressed deep disappointment with the text during the afternoon's plenary meeting, but had reluctantly accepted it in order to move forward.

Many--small island states in particular--had come to Glasgow hoping for agreement on the provision of finance for loss and damage.

This refers to the impacts of climate change that cannot be adapted to, such as sea level rise and rising temperatures, as well as extreme events such as floods, hurricanes and tropical cyclones.

But the US, Australia, Japan and the European Union blocked moves to create the fund. Instead, the pact sets up a process for discussion on arrangements for funding of activities to "avert, minimise and address loss and damage".

Shauna Aminath, minister of environment for the Maldives, said during the afternoon plenary:"For some loss and damage may be the beginning of dialogue.

"For us, this is a matter of survival... please do us the courtesy to acknowledge that it does not bring hope to our hearts, but serves as yet another conversation where we put our homes on the line, when those who have other options decide how quickly they want to act to save those who don't."

Scotland was praised for promising PS1 million for loss and damage, the first government to make any such commitment, later doubling it to PS2 million.


Developing countries did succeed in their plea for finance for adaptation to double. Up to now, projects to adapt infrastructure and livelihoods to climate change have only received 25 percent of global climate finance.

But this is still nowhere near enough, and will compound future needs for loss and damage funding, according to Simon Addison, team leader of public policy for climate resilient development at the International Institute for Environment and Development.

"Without adaptation finance coming soon and at scale vulnerable countries will not be able to overcome the climate risks they face, pushing them deeper into a cascade of loss and damage impacts from which they may not be able to recover," he tweeted.

Harjeet Singh, senior advisor of Climate Action Network and the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, said: "While the outcome from the summit recognised the gap in dealing with losses and damages in developing countries, the step to provide finance and deliver justice to the climate victims has been delayed. We are walking in inches when we must move in miles."

Carbon market

More positively, COP26 saw agreement on the final elements of the so-called "Paris rulebook", meaning that these elements can now be implemented.

All countries will need to produce new emission reduction plans before the next UN climate talks in 2022, in recognition that current plans are not sufficient.

By 2024, all countries will have to report detailed data on emissions, which will form the baseline against which future reductions can be measured.

Rules governing a new carbon market, which will allow countries to trade credits from emissions reductions between each other were agreed.


These had seen major disagreement in previous COPs in Madrid and Katowice, in particular on whether loopholes that would have allowed for double counting of emissions reductions would be allowed.

James Roth, senior vice president of global policy and government affairs at nature charity Conservation International said that countries could now ensure carbon markets that were "high-quality, consistent and transparent".

"This level of certainty will drive new investments to scale the climate actions we desperately need across all sectors, including halting deforestation and promoting other natural climate solutions," he said.

However, some commentators believe the language was not clear enough to stop companies gaming the system.

"The rules agreed at COP26 are far from perfect with some major loopholes...especially for carbon markets. If exploited, they could seriously undermine efforts to reduce emissions," said Tom Evans, policy advisor at think tank E3G.

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