Tears for a COP out: Climate conference president Alok Sharma chokes up and tells delegates he is ‘deeply sorry’ as he signs ‘watered down’ green deal after China and India force a late change over coal
- World leaders at the Cop26 climate change summit have reached a deal today
- There is fury from EU nations due to last-minute wording changes over coal
- The Glasgow Pact was watered down after pressure from India and China
- Alok Sharma ‘fought back tears’ and said he was ‘deeply sorry’ for the change
- Talks overran due to disputes over finance, fossil fuels and cutting emissions
A new global climate deal has been agreed at Cop26 in Glasgow but Britain’s president of the conference Alok Sharma ‘fought back tears’ as he apologised for a last-minute change, which saw the agreement watered down over coal.
Leaders at the Cop26 climate change summit finally reached a deal on Saturday after talks overran by more than 24 hours, but it prompted fury after China and India forced a last-minute change over the language about coal.
The Glasgow Pact was watered down at the last minute from escalating the ‘phase out’ of unabated coal, to ‘phase down’, leading to angry responses from European and vulnerable countries.
Britain’s president of the conference Alok Sharma ‘fought back tears’ on Saturday he was ‘deeply sorry’ for the last-minute change, saying he understood the disappointment of vulnerable nations.
His voice broke with emotion after hearing from vulnerable nations, which expressed their anger over the changes to the text, as he said: ‘May I just say to all delegates I apologise for the way this process has unfolded and I am deeply sorry.’
‘I also understand the deep disappointment but I think as you have noted, it’s also vital that we protect this package.’
Britain’s president of the COP26 climate conference Alok Sharma said on Saturday he was ‘deeply sorry’ for how the gathering concluded with last minute changes on the wording about coal
Unabated coal refers to coal power generation without the use of technology
, such as operational carbon capture and storage or utilisation.
Oxford Councillor Tom Hayes, Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford Cabinet Member, described the change as a ‘hammer blow’ to the deal, although Cop26 insists that the deal is still strong enough to keep the 1.5C climate change pledge ‘alive’.
He wrote: ‘The language around coal has been watered down, India and China get their way, Alok Sharma has to apologise for the backtrack while choking back tears.
‘#COP26 has achieved important things, but this is a hammer blow. Those that can must do more. We can’t delay or give up hope.’
Meanwhile, Beth Rigby, Sky News’ political editor, took to Twitter to say that Sharma was ‘holding back tears’ as he apologised to vulnerable nations for the last-minute change.
She wrote: ‘COP President Alok Sharma holds back tears as he speaks of his deep sorrow after a key last-minute changes to the Glasgow deal around phasing out coal. ‘Phase out’ of coal resolution weakened to ‘phase down’ after a proposed revision by India.’
But Xie Zhenhua, a Chinese climate envoy, seemed to be in excellent spirits as he gave a thumbs-up when asked on the plenary floor if the Glasgow pact was going to pass.
Through his translator, Xie Zhenhua confirmed: ‘We have a deal.’
But he went on to say that the ‘voice of developing countries hasn’t been heard enough’ after talks stalled over issues around finance for poorer countries.
Despite disagreements over the wording of the deal, it is still the first explicit mention of fossil fuels in a UN climate agreement.
The deal aims to keep limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels ‘alive’ or within reach, in the face of a huge gap between the action countries are taking and what is needed to meet the goal.
In the wake of the ‘Glasgow Pact’ being gavelled through – more than 24 hours after the official finishing time of the conference – there were warnings that the 1.5C goal was ‘on life support’.
Talks overran from their finish time of Friday evening as negotiators came under pressure to resolve issues around fossil fuels, the efforts of countries to cut emissions in the 2020s and rules on carbon markets and transparency.
The news of a deal came after there was a pushback on the draft deal’s historic inclusion of language about phasing out unabated coal and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.
On Saturday, Iran said it was not satisfied with the language in the draft agreement on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and expressed its support for India, which also criticised richer nations over the pledge.
Xie Zhenhua, a Chinese climate envoy, seemed to be in excellent spirits as he gave a thumbs-up when asked on the plenary floor if the Glasgow pact was going to pass
‘We are not satisfied on paragraph 36 on the phase out of fossil fuel subsidies. We support the Indian delegation related to fossil fuels,’ the Iranian delegation told the United Nations climate summit.
India called for language relating to the phasing out of fossil fuels and their subsidies to be stripped out of the text, while China and several other countries had raised concerns about the passage, although major coal producer Australia said it was happy with the deal.
US and European Union envoys then met with their Chinese and Indian counterparts to discuss details of an agreed phaseout of coal, according to a member of the Indian delegation.
And India and China succeeded in changing the wording of the Glasgow Pact, which was watered down from escalating the ‘phase out’ of unabated coal, to ‘phase down’.
The deal came after Boris Johnson spoke out amid fears that the UN global conference could break up without a significant deal to tackle global temperature increases.
Scientists have warned that keeping temperature rises to 1.5C requires global emissions to be cut by 45 per cent by 2030, and to zero overall by mid-century but countries’ plans for this decade leave the world well off track.
New analysis warned existing plans up to 2030 put the world on track for 2.4C of warming, well above the goals internationally agreed in the Paris accord to curb temperature rises to ‘well below’ 2C and try to limit them to 1.5C.
Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon demanded Boris Johnson should return to Scotland to help a climate agreement over the line.
The First Minister said a deal needed ‘every shoulder to the wheel’ and questioned why the PM returned to London having made a day trip to the Glasgow UN summit on Wednesday.
Ms Sturgeon told Sky News: ‘In these final hours, the Prime Minister if necessary should come back here and drive this deal over the line.’
Asked if she was calling for Boris Johnson to come to Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘If that is what it is going to take, then yes. He was here on Wednesday, I welcomed that.
‘In his shoes, I may have stayed here for the remainder of the summit, but come back… every shoulder to the wheel.
‘I’m not in the negotiating room. That can feel frustrating sometimes. But get there, and make sure that no stone is left unturned in getting this agreement to where it needs to be.’
And she warned that failure would be down to ‘a lack of political will, political determination and political leadership’.
The summit began with a bang as world leaders descended on Glasgow armed with a string of headline announcements, from a commitment to slash methane emissions to a plan to save the rainforests.
But progress stalled in the underlying technical and now minister-level negotiations, with countries disagreeing on whether national emissions cutting plans must be ramped up in the short term.
The world leaders also failed to decide how climate action is reported, and how vulnerable nations are supported as Friday’s deadline rapidly approached.
His voice breaking with emotion after hearing from vulnerable nations which expressed their anger over the changes to the text, he said: ‘May I just say to all delegates I apologise for the way this process has unfolded and I am deeply sorry’
The change of wording came after Iran said it was not satisfied with the language in the draft agreement on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and expressed its support for India, which also criticised richer nations over the pledge. Pictured: Indian delegate member Bhurpender Yadav
Negotiations had stalled on Wednesday when the United States and China – the two largest emitters – unveiled a joint climate action plan.
The leaders of the two global superpowers said they would meet the goals of the Paris climate accord to limit global warming to ‘well below’ 2C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C.
Although it was light on detail, observers said the pact allayed concerns that frosty US-China relations entering into Cop26 would derail the talks.
But trust levels between rich polluters and developing nations are low after developed countries failed to stump up the $100billion a year they promised by 2020.
Developing nations were insisting on more money for adaptation that can help them brace for future climate shocks, with finance disagreements were holding up progress.
Developed nations meanwhile favoured a greater push on emissions reductions, something countries yet to fully electrify their grids – and largely blameless for emissions – feel is unfair.
It came as the green credentials of the event in Glasgow, which has attracted thousands of politicians, delegates, lobbyists, businesses and journalists.
A new report found that it is expected to have a carbon footprint twice as large as Cop25, making it the most carbon-intensive summit of its kind.
A preliminary report for the UK Government by consultants Arup states 102,500 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) is due to be released by the summit in Glasgow.
Around 60 per cent of this comes from international flights taken by world leaders and business leaders including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
His £48million Gulf Stream led a 400-strong parade of private jets into COP26 a fortnight ago, including those belonging to Prince Albert of Monaco, scores of royals and dozens of ‘green’ CEOs – as an extraordinary traffic jam forced empty planes to fly 30 miles to find space to park.
The UK Government said this year’s summit is the largest climate change conference so far, and the Arup report includes emissions from both the blue and green zones.
Madrid hosted Cop25 in 2019, which produced 51,101 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e).
The deal came after Boris Johnson spoke out amid fears that the UN global conference could break up without a significant deal to tackle global temperature increases
Commenting on the report, Dr Doug Parr of Greenpeace UK said: ‘The meeting in Glasgow is not supposed to be a demonstration of sustainable lifestyles, and it shouldn’t be judged in those terms.
‘But the failure to reach any meaningful agreement about limiting aviation’s vast carbon emissions – at a conference where 60% of their emissions came from aviation, with a backing chorus of media outrage at the private jet hypocrisy of the elites – really highlights the lack of equity in these talks.
‘Creating loopholes for the use of the rich not only maintains their disproportionately high emissions, but makes it so much harder to persuade anyone else to cut.’
Delegates were asked to consider low-carbon methods of travel to Cop26.
A spokeswoman for the UK Government said: ‘As official UNFCCC figures show, Cop26 is a substantially bigger event than other recent Cops, with over 39,000 participants as against nearly 27,000 at Cop25.
‘Cop26 will be a carbon neutral event and will be the first Cop to demonstrate carbon neutrality validation through PAS2060, the internationally recognised standard on carbon neutrality.
‘As part of its analysis, the Government has for the first time included both the full blue and green zone impacts, giving a fuller and more accurate picture of emissions from the site.’
The Government said the Arup report is a baseline assessment which would not fully reflect many of the emission-reduction measures, while final emissions will be confirmed following the event.
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