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Nations far apart as climate talks enter final week

GLASGOW: Former US President Barack Obama speaks during a session at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference yesterday. – AFP

GLASGOW: UN climate talks entered their final week yesterday 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” yesterday 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 materialized. “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.”

Meanwhile, former US President Barack Obama said yesterday he understood why young people were “frustrated” with climate inaction from leaders and that “most countries have failed” to live up to promises they made in the Paris Agreement. Obama, who was US leader in 2015 when the landmark accord was struck, said the world needed to “step up” its emissions-cutting pledges and work together to limit global temperature rises. “We have not done nearly enough to address this crisis,” he told delegates in Glasgow. “We are going to have to do more and whether that happens or not to a large degree is going to depend on you.”

In the six years since the Paris deal – which seeks to limit global heating to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius – planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions have continued to mount, and an assessment last week said that carbon pollution will rebound this year to pre-pandemic levels. “By some measures the agreement has been a success,” Obama said. “(But) we are nowhere near where we need to be yet.” He admitted that “some of our progress stalled” when his successor Donald Trump chose to unilaterally withdraw the US from the Paris deal. President Joe Biden re-joined the accord when he took office.

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. – AFP

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