Nations take stock of climate progress at COP26, as major sticking points remain

GLASGOW – After a week of negotiations, nations took stock of progress at the COP26 climate talks on Monday (Nov 8), with analysts quick to point out big gaps remaining on key issues, particularly around finance to help poorer nations.

The British COP26 presidency released a three-page summary in bullet-point form at the weekend that outlines areas that nations say could be included in a final decision by the end of this week.

This document was discussed with the heads of national delegations on Monday afternoon to try to reach consensus on some of the issues and figure out a way forward.

But with only one more week to go, major points of contention remain and ministers from many nations have arrived in Glasgow to try to give things a push.

Part of the problem is the huge number of elements being negotiated. “This has been a very challenging COP. There are 120 items on the agenda,” Ms Yamide Dagnet, director, climate negotiations, for the World Resources Institute told a media briefing, referring to the formal negotiation agenda of COP26.

Critical for poorer, vulnerable nations is to nail down the support they can expect to help them adapt to worsening climate impacts, such as more powerful storms, longer droughts and rising sea levels.

They need steady sources of money to help pay for steps to green their economies and to fund projects to adapt to climate impacts, such as stronger sea walls and more reliable water supplies. The issues are close to tipping point for many indebted poorer nations.

But how much money is on the table, where it will come from and in what form, such as loans or grants, as well as the means to share it remain unclear, years after rich nations had promised to provide US$100 billion (S$135 billion) in annual climate finance to less well-off countries.

“The issue of access to finance seems to be very weak and this is a very important demand in addition to the issue of mobilisation of finance,” Ms Dagnet said.

Rich nations have yet to fully reach that goal, set for 2020, though it has been bolstered in recent weeks by a flurry of new pledges from wealthy states. The goal is likely to be reached by 2022 or 2023, the United Nations says.

Britain, which is hosting the COP26 meeting, announced 290 million pounds (S$528 million) in new funding on Monday, including support for countries in the Asia Pacific region to deal with the impact of global warming. But the money represents a fraction of what poorer nations say is needed for adaptation.

A report from the UN Environment Programme last week said the costs of adaptation for developing countries are likely at the higher end of an estimated US$140 billion to US$300 billion per year by 2030, and US$280 to US$500 billion per year by 2050.

Also being negotiated is the increase in climate finance from rich nations from 2025, with agreement set for 2024.

Poorer nations say that any climate finance available needs to be split 50/50 between adaptation and emissions cutting steps, or mitigation. Only about 20 per cent of climate cash at present goes to adaptation efforts.

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Adaptation target

Although adaptation is vital for many nations as the planet warms and sea levels rise, little agreement has been gained on the subject at these talks.

“After 30 years of negotiations, we haven’t yet agreed a global goal on adaptation. This is actually one of the biggest shortcomings in this process,” said Mr Mohamed Adow, director, Power Shift Africa, on Monday.

“We have clarity on the global goal to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. We don’t have a comparable target or goal for that matter to help the world deal with some of the inevitable impacts of climate change.”

Related to adaptation is separate funding for irretrievable loss and damage suffered by poorer nations from climate impacts caused by fossil fuel emissions from big economies. This has become a top issue for developing nations in Glasgow.

Poorer nations say that any climate finance available needs to be split 50/50 between adaptation and emissions cutting steps, or mitigation. PHOTO: AFP

Yet the current negotiating text merely “notes the increasing urgency of enhancing efforts to avert, minimise and address loss and damage in the light of continued global warming and its significant impacts on vulnerable populations.”

There is nothing to formalise this in the negotiations or suggest solutions.

The issue of finance cuts across other key questions, too, such as the sharing of revenues from carbon markets with poorer nations.

Finance is the glue that holds the talks together, said Ms Maria Laura Rojas, executive director of Transforma, a Colombian think tank.

“It’s really critical for the building trust, it’s really critical for making progress in the negotiations,” she told a separate media briefing on Monday.

“Unlocking decision issues on finance is very important because it’s interlinked to many other agenda items where we also need progress such as adaptation and loss and damage,” she added.

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Share of proceeds

Poorer nations are pushing strongly for a share of the proceeds from carbon markets trading, which is coded under Article 6 of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Carbon market negotiations remain a major unresolved area under the so-called Paris Rulebook, which guides nations on how to implement the Paris Agreement.

Talks on Article 6 have focused on how countries can trade carbon credits to meet their national climate plans. The aim is to also establish rules on who gets the emissions savings if one nation pays to set up a green initiative – say a wind farm instead of a coal plant – in another country.

But rules on revenue sharing, preventing double counting of carbon credits, and the use of legacy credits from an earlier UN scheme called the Clean Development Mechanism remain unresolved in Glasgow.

If designed well, carbon markets could unlock billions of dollars of emissions reduction projects in poorer nations and represents a potentially significant flow of money to them.

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Transparency and time frames

Other sticking points at COP26 are transparency of national climate actions and common reporting time frames of climate plans, called Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, to ensure a level playing field for all.

Transparency is a very technical discussion – the current text is 80 pages – because it covers the exact process and methods, such as the types of templates and table nations use to report their climate actions at regular intervals. Some nations need financial and capacity support to do this and there are disputes over the exactly what information should be reported and in what format.

For example, some developed countries, fearing compensation and liability claims from poorer nations for climate damage, “were not keen to see loss and damage being properly captured in some of those tables”, said Ms Dagnet.

The negotiating text to establish common time frames for reporting progress presently has nine options on the table, up from three previously. Some nations want to report their NDCs every 10 years, while the majority believe five is better, saying the global climate fight requires faster efforts to ratchet up action and that decade-long NDCs risk backsliding.

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