UN climate talks entered their final week Monday with countries still worlds apart on key issues including how rapidly the world curbs carbon emissions and how to help nations already impacted by global heating.
After a week of headline announcements from host Britain on ending deforestation and phasing out coal, experts say the underlying COP26 negotiations have barely progressed.
Countries are in Glasgow to work out how to implement the Paris Agreement’s goals of limiting temperature rises to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius.
And while recent announcements mean they have inched closer, many disputes remain unresolved.
These include ratcheting up ambition on national carbon reduction plans, providing a long-promised $100 billion annually to developing nations and rules governing carbon markets.
“All countries are playing hardball,” Stephen Leonard, climate law and policy specialist and veteran COP observer told AFP.
“The EU want the highest ambition possible. The African countries want as much finance for adaptation as possible. Australia and Japan want to be able to trade as much carbon as possible.”
Addressing the first formal “stocktake” on Monday of progress so far, COP26 President Alok Sharma said one week of technical negotiations had “already concluded some important issues that will drive accelerated climate action”.
But he said any preliminary conference decision text — over which ministers will haggle when they arrive in Glasgow later this week — had not yet materialised.
“We have a lot of work to do across all issues that remain,” said Britain’s chief negotiator Archie Young.
“We will need to work at pace.”
– Some progress –
COP26 is taking place a year late due to the Covid-19 pandemic and against a backdrop of ever-stronger drought, flooding and storms supercharged by higher temperatures that are battering countries across the globe.
Its first week saw around 100 nations commit to slash their emissions of methane — a powerful greenhouse gas — by at least 30 percent by 2030.
In another development likely to dent emissions, India — the fourth largest polluter — said it would achieve carbon neutrality by 2070.
Experts said these announcements, along with countries’ latest emissions cutting pledges, could have a real impact on future temperature rises.
But a UN assessment late last week found emissions were still on course to increase 13.7 percent by 2030.
To keep warming to 1.5C, they must fall 45 percent this decade.
Tens of thousands of people thronged the streets of Glasgow on Saturday demanding faster action from governments after environmental activist Greta Thunberg branded the summit “a failure”.
“Last week saw a flurry of announcements, from halting deforestation to reducing methane emissions,” said Tracy Carty, head of Oxfam’s COP26 delegation.
“Yet, for some of these announcements there is a glaring lack of detail. They must not be a distraction from the urgent issue of countries needing to increase the ambition of their national emission reduction targets by 2030.”
Dozens of nations have signed up to a COP26 initiative to end their use of coal — the most polluting fossil fuel — within decades, including major users South Korea and Vietnam.
But the pact excluded the top consumers China, India and the United States.
Major exporter Australia, which also declined to join the initiative, said Monday it would continue to sell coal for “decades into the future”.
“We have said very clearly we are not closing coal mines and we are not closing coal-fired power stations,” Australian Minister for Resources Keith Pitt told national broadcaster ABC.
Australia has been among the countries to recently unveil 2050 net zero plans criticised by scientists and green groups for lacking detail and relying heavily on as-yet-unrealised technologies to suck CO2 out of the air.