COP26: Activists, tiny nations upset as compromise climate deal struck

Several countries, including small island states, said they were deeply disappointed by the change promoted by India to phase down, rather than phase out coal power, the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Almost 200 nations accepted a compromise deal Saturday aimed at keeping a key global warming target alive, but it contained a last-minute change that watered down crucial language about coal.

Several countries, including small island states, said they were deeply disappointed by the change promoted by India to phase down, rather than phase out coal power, the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread,” United Nation’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

Environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg summed up COP26 climate conference deal as “blah, blah, blah”.


“The real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever,” she said.

In the end, the summit broke ground by singling out coal, however weakly, by setting the rules for international trading of carbon credits, and by telling big polluters to come back next year with improved pledges for cutting emissions.

But domestic priorities, both political and economic, again kept nations from committing to the fast, big cuts that scientists say are needed to keep warming below dangerous levels that would produce extreme weather and rising seas capable of erasing some island nations.

Ahead of the Glasgow talks, the United Nations had set three criteria for success, and none of them was achieved.

Also read: Experts laud India’s ‘bold pledge’ at COP-26 Summit

The UN’s criteria included pledges to cut carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2030, $100 billion in financial aid from rich nations to poor, and ensuring that half of that money went to helping the developing world adapt to the worst effects of climate change.

“We did not achieve these goals at this conference. But we have some building blocks for progress,” Guterres said.

Negotiators from Switzerland and Mexico called the coal language change against the rules because it came so late. However, they said they had no choice but to hold their noses and go along with it.

Swiss environment minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the change would make it harder to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times — the more stringent threshold set in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Many other nations and climate campaigners slammed India for making demands that weakened the final agreement.

“India’s last-minute change to the language to phase down but not phase out coal is quite shocking. India has long been a blocker on climate action, but I have never seen it done so publicly. Others approached the deal from a more positive perspective,” said Australian climate scientist Bill Hare, who tracks world emission pledges for the science-based Climate Action Tracker.

In addition to the revised coal language, the Glasgow Climate Pact included enough financial incentives to almost satisfy poorer nations and solved a long-standing problem to pave the way for carbon trading.

The agreement also says big carbon polluting nations have to come back and submit stronger emission cutting pledges by the end of 2022.

It’s a good deal for the world, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told The Associated Press. It’s got a few problems, but it’s all in all a very good deal.

Before the India change, negotiators said the deal preserved, albeit barely, the overarching goal of limiting Earth’s warming by the end of the century to 1.5 degrees. The planet has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to preindustrial times.

Also read: India makes a mark at COP-26: PM Modi makes Big Five pledges

Negotiators Saturday used the word progress more than 20 times, but rarely used the word success and then mostly in that they’ve reached a conclusion, not about the details in the agreement.

Conference President Alok Sharma said the deal drives progress on coal, cars, cash and trees and is something meaningful for our people and our planet.

Environmental activists were measured in their not-quite-glowing assessments, issued before India’s last-minute change.

India’s Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav argued against a provision on phasing out coal, saying that developing countries were entitled to the responsible use of fossil fuels.

Yadav blamed unsustainable lifestyles and wasteful consumption patterns in rich countries for causing global warming.

After Yadav first raised the spectre of changing the coal language, a frustrated European Union Vice-President Frans Timmermans, the 27-nation EU’s climate envoy, begged negotiators to be united for future generations.

For heaven’s sake, don’t kill this moment, Timmermans pleaded.

Also read: Explained: Why is Glasgow meet on climate change important

“Please embrace this text so that we bring hope to the hearts of our children and grandchildren. Helen Mountford, vice-president of the World Resources Institute think tank, said India’s demand may not matter as much as feared because the economics of cheaper, renewable fuel is making coal increasingly obsolete.