During the latter stages of a golf tournament, some commentators have started referring to what they call the ‘moving day’ when the shape of the final leaderboard begins to crystallise out from the background pack. It’s a bit like that at COPs. The posturing of the World Leaders is long over and the positioning of national negotiators has now been well established over the past week. Now that the political leaders in the form of Ministers have arrived, the end game has begun.

The UK Presidency has now issued a draft document incorporating a range of decisions they envisage as possible and it is now up to the various parties to accept or reject various aspects. At first sight this is a very positive document that encompasses several progressive elements. Progress has clearly been made by the many negotiating teams. For the first time anyone can remember, the document makes an explicit reference to fossil fuels and ‘Calls upon Parties to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels.” Usually the inclusion of the words ‘fossil fuels’ is blocked, and this may be a portent of the pressure which is being put on recalcitrant oil-producing countries by the overwhelming majority of the 196 nations represented here. Elsewhere the document “Stresses the urgency of increased ambition and action in relation to mitigation, adaptation and finance in this critical decade to address gaps between current efforts and pathways in pursuit of the ultimate objective of the Convention and its long-term global goal.” 

Positive statements are also evident concerning the need to step up efforts to adapt to future climate stresses and to scale up the provision of finance from developed to developing countries. This is to enable them to handle the increased impacts being imposed on them through the historical greenhouse gas emissions of the developed countries. Allied to this is an acknowledgement that such impacts will increase significantly with further warming. Up until today, no country has gone much further than acknowledging there is a problem. However Scotland yesterday changed the status quo by announcing a nominal financial commitment to loss and damage reparations. Other countries will now be considering their position on this.

The Irish non-governmental contingent has met over the past day with Minister Ryan and his colleagues in DECC. Minister Coveney was also present today. In what was a useful exchange of information it is clear that there are mutual benefits in that both sides can provide insight into what is going on at a macro level and what are likely to be key sticking points. These certainly remain and include:

  • How countries can be persuaded to retire their overhang of unused past allowances from the Kyoto era a decade ago and which, if used now, would facilitate large emitters such as Australia and Brazil to offset their future emissions. 
  • To persuade the major emitters such as China and India to tighten their targets towards 2030 and their net zero target towards 2050 in line with most countries
  • To convince developing countries that the promise to mobilise $100B to aid their sustainable development based not on fossil fuel energy sources will materialize 

Of course, it is important to remember that these are only draft proposals and are subject to modification and removal in the final analysis. The next 24-48 hours will determine if COP26 will provide momentum for the more radical changes that are implied necessary in the IPCC reports, or will be remembered as Copenhagen Mark 2. Truly this is crunch time, perhaps epitomized by an emotional Mary Robinson who stressed you can’t negotiate with science and conveyed the reality that some of the leaders who could do most are not in crisis mode. Calling out China, Russia, Brazil Australia and Saudi Arabia, she identified the countries most likely to water down the draft over the next couple of days. Listening to this veteran campaigner close to tears was a reminder that this was a ‘moving day’ in more ways than one.

Prof. John Sweeney

See also previous report from Glasgow: COP26: The End of Week 1