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Draft agreement at the COP26 climate summit looks to rapidly speed up emissions cuts

A stacker-reclaimer next to a stockpile of coal at the Newcastle Coal Terminal in Newcastle, New South Wales. Australia is a major coal producer. A new draft agreement at the climate summit in Scotland calls for ending coal power.
A stacker-reclaimer next to a stockpile of coal at the Newcastle Coal Terminal in Newcastle, New South Wales. Australia is a major coal producer. A new draft agreement at the climate summit in Scotland calls for ending coal power.

A draft agreement being circulated at the United Nations climate summit that's underway in Scotland calls on countries to phase out coal power and to flesh out deeper cuts in carbon emissions by next year in order to reach a goal of limiting warming this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The text of the proposed agreement, released Wednesday by the COP26 president, Alok Sharma, calls on countries to submit by next year targets for net-zero emissions and plans for achieving them, as well as to boost shorter-term targets by 2023.

The draft "recognizes that limiting global warming to 1.5 [degrees] C by 2100 requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net-zero around mid-century."

It also "expresses alarm and concern that human activities have caused around 1.1 C (2 F) of global warming to date and that impacts are already being felt in every region."

The plan seeks a historic end to fossil fuels

Specifically, the proposal aims to update the timeframe for revised targets for countries, known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, to next year – much sooner than the requirement of every five years as laid out in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.

"This is crucial language,'' says David Waskow of the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit climate policy think tank. "Countries really are expected and are on the hook to do something in that timeframe to adjust.''

While some climate advocates were encouraged by the language in the draft, Greenpeace chastised the summit participants, saying that world leaders were "punting" hard decisions until next year.

The draft urges phasing out coal and subsidies for petroleum. If adopted, it would be the first time that a conference of parties officially called for eliminating fossil fuels.

There are unanswered questions about how wealthy nations would help poorer countries

It also acknowledges that rich nations have failed to live up to a pledge to provide $100 billion annually to help poorer countries meet the challenges of climate change.

But the language is vague on how much money richer countries will actually deliver. It also leaves gaps in specifying procedures to monitor whether countries are keeping their promises, and on a system of carbon credits that would allow companies to cancel out their harmful emissions.

Although the draft is likely to lay the foundation for a final agreement at the summit in Glasgow, it is almost certain to evolve as negotiations continue over the final days of the two-week conference.

The version released Wednesday is likely to encounter resistance from major polluters and oil and gas exporters, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. Coal producers, such as Australia and China, are also not likely to be happy about the language. Meanwhile, developing countries will want to see specifics on finance and adaptation that are lacking in the current draft.

An alarming new analysis underscores the stakes

Holding warming this century to no more than 1.5 C (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels — which was agreed to in 2015 — is considered necessary to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

However, the draft pact now being circulated comes as an alarming new analysis by Climate Action Tracker (CAT) points to a rise of 2.4 degrees C (4.3 degrees F) this century based on current short-term goals pledged by countries for reducing carbon emissions. Such a temperature rise could have dire consequences for the planet.

The CAT assessment paints a more dire picture than an analysis put out last week by the International Energy Agency. The IEA, which is part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said if nations honor their latest pledges to cut carbon, the rise in average global temperatures by the end of the century could be held to 1.8 degrees Celsius.

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