Credit: Lucy Dunn

What’s so significant about the language of the draft deal?

By Lucy Dunn

Since Wednesday 10 November, there have been a number of updated versions the COP26 draft deal produced as the conference heads towards making its final announcement. With each update comes subtle changes in phrasing, that hint towards more larger changes in meaning.

From phasing out of coal to “unabated” coal, to the reduction of “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies, the “watered down” language of the draft deal updates have caused tensions to rise over yesterday and today. Despite mixed opinions on the efficiency of COP26 from the get-go, initially country pledges in the territory of coal particularly looked promising. However, as the drafts have been amended, it looks as though more space is being given to protect the fossil fuel industry.

The language changes as seen in reference to coal mean that instead of phasing out the entire coal industry, only older coal factories will be targeted. Newer factories that use more up-to-date technology will not be affected by COP26.

With respect to fossil fuel subsidies, the insertion of “inefficient” is also significant: if fossil fuel subsidies are seen as being “efficient” then they will again not be affected. The change was meant to distinguish between “direct tax breaks” for the extraction of fossil fuels, rather than public funding that would affect the UK’s warm homes discount, which takes money off your bills over winter periods if you qualify.

This is despite John Kerry, the US climate envoy, calling for the phasing out of oil and gas subsidies to be included in the COP26 deal, stating: “$2.5 trillion in the last five, six years, went into subsidies for fossil fuels – that’s a definition of insanity. We’re allowing to feed the very problem we’re here to try to cure, it doesn’t make sense.”

“We’re allowing to feed the very problem we’re here to try to cure, it doesn’t make sense.”

A former Australian climate negotiator, Richie Merzian, described the new phrasing as “weasel words” allowing “countries to get away with” continuing to use fossil fuels. Merzian emphasised the need for the draft to urge Parties to clearly state their new emission-cut intentions, which should be in tune with “keeping 1.5 [degrees] alive” by next year. “That is missing,” he said. “That’s been watered down.”

The conference has been extended into Saturday 13 November, with mixed opinions on whether it will be completed by this evening. A member of ITV said that she thinks it will be a “long day” however: “I think it will get finished today.” Another journalist said that her “best estimate of a deal” is “late tonight”.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, said: “If I was a young person looking into this summit right now, I would say it’s not good enough. There’s still time to get it even further forward and to really make the Glasgow Agreement one that lives up to the urgency of the emergency we face.” However, with the failing of current proposals to cap global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – and instead closer to 2.4 degrees – things are not looking overly optimistic for Glasgow.


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