Almost 200 countries have agreed a pact to tackle climate change, despite disagreements over phasing out fossil fuels and financial help for poorer countries.
Cop26 president Alok Sharma brought the gavel down on a two-week conference in Glasgow after delegates agreed on a text more than 24 hours later than scheduled.
In a historic move, fossil fuels feature for the first time in a final Cop decision by way of a call for “accelerating efforts towards the phase down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”.
In a dramatic move in the closing minutes of the meeting, India proposed a change to the language, replacing the words "phase out" with "phase down".
Mr Sharma appeared close to tears as he apologised for the way the process had unfolded, saying he was “deeply sorry” but he called on delegates to accept the change and approve the text.
“I understand the deep disappointment, but it’s vital that we protect this package,” he said to applause.
The European Union expressed disappointment at the change, warning it should not mean that it will take longer to exit from coal. But European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans said that should not stop the conference from endorsing what he described as a historic agreement.
Representatives from Fiji and the Marshall Islands also protested against the last-minute change but said they would accept the agreement because it included measures their people needed.
The deal, known as the Glasgow Climate Pact, recognises the need for deep emissions cuts this decade in an effort to contain global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees – though commitments made before Cop26 and during the summit have come up short of delivering this.
As a consequence, the decision requests countries revisit the targets “as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022, taking into account different national circumstances” – and in particular to strengthen 2030 targets next year.
In the final hours of negotiation, developing countries – representing over six billion people – pushed for a “loss and damage” finance facility to build back in the aftermath of extreme weather events linked to climate change though there is no financing mechanism secured.
This was blocked by wealthy countries though they agreed to limited funding for technical assistance and a “dialogue”.
For the first time, a goal for adaptation finance was agreed – which was strongly backed by Ireland during negotiations. The commitment to double funding is below what developing countries asked for and need, but if realised it will increase support to developing countries by billions, according to negotiators.
Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan welcomed the agreement as a compromise that kept the goal of 1.5C alive.
“What the world has done today is to keep 1.5 alive, recommitting to keep the global temperature increase at a level that is liveable for humanity. We can only do that by delivering, including keeping our promises in Ireland to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half this decade and to reach net zero by 2050.
“However it is deeply disappointing that the proposal to phase out unabated coal and inefficent fossil fuel subsidies has been watered down as part of the compromise needed to agree a deal,” he said.
“We also have to deliver on climate justice by seriously addressing loss and damage in countries worst affected – something Ireland is working to progress. Glasgow has injected fresh momentum in the fight against climate change. We now have to go home and prove it will result in real action that protects people and the planet, and provide a just transition and a better economy for all.”
Jennifer Morgan of Greenpeace International said the declaration was weak, and the 1.5-degree goal “is only just alive”.
“But a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that matters,” the Cop veteran added. “While the deal recognises the need for deep emissions cuts this decade, those commitments have been punted to next year. Glasgow was meant to deliver on firmly closing the gap to 1.5 degrees and that didn’t happen, but in 2022 nations will now have to come back with stronger targets.”
Cop26 saw progress on adaptation, with the developed countries finally beginning to respond to the calls of developing countries for funding and resources to cope with rising temperatures, she acknowledged.
“There was a recognition that vulnerable countries are suffering real loss and damage from the climate crisis now, but what was promised was nothing close to what’s needed on the ground. This issue must be at the top of the agenda for developed countries as the Cop goes to Egypt next year,” Ms Morgan said.
The line on phasing out unabated coal and fossil fuel subsidies “is weak and compromised but its very existence is nevertheless a breakthrough, and the focus on a just transition is essential”, she said.
The call for emissions reductions of 45 per cent by the end of this decade “is in line with what we need to do to stay under 1.5 degree and brings the science firmly into this deal. But it needs to be implemented,” Ms Morgan said.
On carbon market issues, she said: “The offsets scam got a boost in Glasgow with the creation of new loopholes that are too big to tolerate, endangering nature, indigenous peoples and the 1.5-degree goal itself. The UN Secretary General announced that a group of experts will bring vital scrutiny to offset markets, but much work still needs to be done to stop the greenwashing, cheating and loopholes giving big emitters and corporations a pass.”
On the outcome Oxfam International director Gabriela Bucher said: “Clearly some world leaders think they aren’t living on the same planet as the rest of us. It seems no amount of fires, rising sea levels or droughts will bring them to their senses to stop increasing emissions at the expense of humanity.”
She accepted the request to strengthen 2030 reduction targets by next year was an important step. “The work starts now. Big emitters, especially rich countries, must heed the call and align their targets to give us the best possible chance of keeping 1.5 degrees within reach.
“Despite years of talks, emissions continue to rise, and we are dangerously close to losing this race against time.”
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said: “In the last fortnight, the climate justice movement that came out in force in Glasgow and around the world became mainstream.
“We showed that you can’t tackle climate change without a radical transformation of the global economy and reparations from those who fuelled climate change to those facing its worst impacts,” he said.
“But this hollowed-out agreement shows that, for all the lip service they paid, world leaders and big business have not listened.”