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Activists, experts say draft UN climate change agreement isn’t strong enough


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

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 still 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 C.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 10, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble/Pool

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

“This draft COP decision text is too weak,” said Tracy Carty, head of Oxfam’s COP26 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 makes no such recommendation for oil and gas.

As of now, however, national pledges actually allow for greenhouse gas emissions to rise 13 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 activists, some with pictures of eyes, or 1.5 written on their hands, demonstrate outside a plenary session room during the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 10, 2021. - A draft text at the COP26 climate summit urged countries on Wednesday to boost their emissions cutting goals by 2022, three years ahead of schedule, after data showed the world was far off track to limit warming to 1.5C. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP) (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Youth activist demonstrates for limiting global warming to 1.5 C during the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland on Nov. 10, 2021. (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 more than 500 fossil fuel lobbyists at COP26, 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, said 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.”

Activists take part in a protest during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 8, 2021. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

Activists take part in a protest during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, Scotland on Nov. 8, 2021. (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 mid-century, they aren’t offering enough money to developing countries to bring them onboard 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 incurring and will continue to.

“You don’t have a clear target, i.e. a global goal, on adaptation,” said Mohamed Adow, director of the think tank PowerShift 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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