By Jake Spring and Valerie Volcovici
GLASGOW (Reuters) – A surprise deal between China and the United States, the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, has given the UN’s COP26 climate summit a boost as it enters two final days of tough negotiations to try to prevent global warming. the earth becomes catastrophic.
British conference chair Alok Sharma told delegations that the latest draft conclusions he had seen showed “significant” progress but that “we are not there yet”.
In particular, he called for increased efforts on “climate finance” – the always thorny question of how much the rich countries whose development has caused the most global warming should pay the poorer ones who will bear the most impact.
Developing countries want stricter rules from 2025 after rich countries fail to deliver on their 2009 pledge to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020 to help them curb emissions and cope with the effects of rising temperatures. Campaigners say the amount is woefully inadequate anyway.
An initial draft published Wednesday “only urges developed countries to “urgently scale up” aid to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and calls for more funding through subsidies instead of loans, which increase the debt burden.
China, the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases, has gradually accepted more responsibility for its emissions from an economy that has grown immeasurably over the past two decades.
US climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua released a joint statement late Wednesday in which China, the largest producer and user of coal, pledged to accelerate the transition from the dirtiest fossil fuel.
The deal between two world powers, divided by many diplomatic disputes over other issues, sent a strong message to COP26, including producers of the fossil fuels that are the main cause of man-made global warming.
While numbers are scarce, leaders said it sent a strong signal to other countries and could convince them to do more to seal a deal at the summit.
“This is an impetus for negotiations as we enter the final days of COP26 and continue to work towards an ambitious outcome for the planet,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter.
Kerry said at a press conference: “Together we have expressed our support for a successful COP26, including certain elements that will further the ambition.”
A joint statement said China, home to half of the world’s coal-fired power stations, would begin phasing out its coal consumption from 2026-30 and also cut its emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Observers were concerned before the announcement that Chinese President Xi Jinping would not attend the Glasgow talks, and Beijing had made no substantial new pledges.
China’s climate plan also failed to address methane emissions, which are largely related to its sprawling coal industry.
The United States has set a goal of decarbonizing its economy by 2050, although President Joe Biden has struggled to pass crucial legislation to do so through a politically divided Congress.
“It is really encouraging to see those countries that have been in conflict in so many areas have come to an agreement on what is the greatest challenge facing humanity today,” EU climate policy leader Frans Timmermans told Reuters.
He also said negotiators were moving towards a compromise on a long elusive deal on taxing global carbon markets to fund climate adaptation in poor countries.
Poor countries say a tax on carbon markets would provide crucial support, but rich countries, including EU members, are concerned about the cost.
They also want to drain money from a carbon market that some experts say could reach about $170 billion a year by 2030 to pay for measures to adapt to increasingly devastating floods, droughts and rising seas.
The final two days of negotiations are likely to be fierce and Pope Francis sounded a warning in a letter to Scottish Catholics: “Time is running out”.
The conference’s host, Britain, says the goal is to “keep alive” hopes of limiting global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, which is still is far out of reach under current national commitments to reduce emissions.
The landmark 2015 Paris Agreement legally required its signatories to keep the increase “well below” 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) this century, and to “continue efforts” to keep it below 1.5C. to hold.
Since then, there has been mounting scientific evidence that crossing the 1.5°C threshold would cause significantly greater sea level rises, floods, droughts, wildfires and storms than the current ones, with irreversible consequences.
On Tuesday, the research group Climate Action Tracker said all national commitments to date to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, if fulfilled, will raise the Earth’s temperature by 2.4°C by 2100.
The first draft of Wednesday’s final agreement implicitly acknowledged that current commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 were insufficient to avert a climate catastrophe, and asked countries to review and strengthen their targets next year.
As the first for a UN climate conference, it also called for massive state subsidies to be phased out to the oil, coal and gas industries.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Kate Abnett, William James, Simon Jessop; Writing by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Alexander Smith)