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Out of time: Climate talks go past deadline over coal, cash

by Val Pearon | November 13, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.
China's chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua, right, walks with John Kerry, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Going into overtime, negotiators at U.N. climate talks in Glasgow are still trying to find common ground on phasing out coal, when nations need to update their emission-cutting pledges and, especially, on money. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) -- Going into overtime Friday night, negotiators at U.N. climate talks in Glasgow were still trying to find common ground on phasing out coal, when nations need to update their emission-cutting pledges and, especially, on money.

Talks are at a "bit of a stalemate," and the United States, with support from the European Union, is holding back talks, said Lee White, the Gabonese minister for forests and climate change.

Mohamed Adow, of Power Shift Africa, a long-time talks observer, said poorer nations are beyond disappointed with the way the United Kingdom presidency has come up with drafts and that this has become "a rich world" negotiation. He said poorer nations cannot accept what has been proposed.

As the talks approached midnight, rich nations had a much more optimistic view, showing the split that might occur after new drafts appear today.

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, host of the meeting, said through a spokesperson that he believes "an ambitious outcome is in sight."

U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry told the Associated Press on Friday night that climate talks were "working away," commenting after a late night meeting with his Chinese counterpart and before a hallway chat with India's minister.

Chinese Climate Envoy Xie Zhenhua told Kerry in the hallway: "I think the current draft is more close" in a conversation that AP witnessed.

When Kerry asked him if he felt better about it, Xie answered: "Yes, I feel better about it because Alok Sharma is a smart guy."

No agreement was ready by the 6 p.m. local time scheduled end of the conference. And sometimes, that helps diplomats get in a more deal-making mood.

"The negotiating culture is not to make the hard compromises until the meeting goes into extra innings, as we now have done," said long-time climate talks observer Alden Meyer, of the European think tank E3G. "But the U.K. presidency is still going to have to make a lot of people somewhat unhappy to get the comprehensive agreement we need out of Glasgow."

Three sticking points were making people unhappy on Friday: cash, coal and timing.

A crunch issue is the question of financial aid for poor countries to cope with climate change. Rich nations failed to provide them with $100 billion annually by 2020, as agreed, causing considerable anger among developing countries going into the talks.

A Friday morning draft reflects those concerns, expressing "deep regret" the $100 billion goal hasn't been met and urging rich countries to scale up their funding for poor nations to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change -- an issue with which developed countries are also grappling.

Poorer nations said regret isn't enough.

"Don't call them donor countries. They're polluters. They owe this money," said Saleemul Huq, a climate science and policy expert who is director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh.

The draft also proposes creating a loss-and-damage fund to help poor countries tap existing sources of aid when they face the devastating impacts of climate change. But rich nations such as the United States, which have historically been the biggest source of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, are opposed to any legal obligation to compensate poor countries.

But Gabon's White said rich countries, particularly the United States and the European Union, had said they weren't ready.

"They said we never agreed to that. It won't work. It's too complicated," White said.

The proposal for creating this mechanism is like creating a bank account, said Adow, of Power Shift Africa. "We don't need to push cash into the account now. It is just the opening of the account."

This was the "elephant in the room," said Lia Nicholson, lead negotiator for the alliance of small islands at the summit. She said developing nations and China had a "united position" on this but the proposal hadn't met with "significant pushback" from rich countries.

"Small islands can't always be the ones who are asked to compromise our interest with the objectives of reaching consensus," she said.

That Friday draft also called on countries to accelerate "the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels."

A previous draft Wednesday had been stronger, calling on countries to "accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuel."

Kerry said Washington backed the current wording.

"We're not talking about eliminating" coal, he told fellow climate diplomats. However, he said: "Those subsidies have to go."

Kerry said it was "a definition of insanity" that trillions were being spent to subsidize fossil fuels worldwide. "We're allowing to feed the very problem we're here to try to cure. It doesn't make sense."

However, there was a mixed response from activists and observers on how significant the addition of the words "unabated" and "inefficient" was.

Richie Merzian, a former Australian climate negotiator who directs the climate and energy program at the Australia Institute think tank, said the additional caveats were "enough that you can run a coal train through it."

Countries like Australia and India, the world's third-biggest emitter, have resisted calls to phase out coal any time soon.

John Kerry, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate speaks on the phone outside the Chinese delegation office at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Going into overtime, negotiators at U.N. climate talks in Glasgow are still trying to find common ground on phasing out coal, when nations need to update their emission-cutting pledges and, especially, on money. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
John Kerry, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate speaks on the phone outside the Chinese delegation office at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Going into overtime, negotiators at U.N. climate talks in Glasgow are still trying to find common ground on phasing out coal, when nations need to update their emission-cutting pledges and, especially, on money. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
China's chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua, right, walks with John Kerry, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Going into overtime, negotiators at U.N. climate talks in Glasgow are still trying to find common ground on phasing out coal, when nations need to update their emission-cutting pledges and, especially, on money. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
China's chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua, right, walks with John Kerry, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Going into overtime, negotiators at U.N. climate talks in Glasgow are still trying to find common ground on phasing out coal, when nations need to update their emission-cutting pledges and, especially, on money. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
A climate activist holds a placard next to police officers near the venue for the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
A climate activist holds a placard next to police officers near the venue for the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Delegates from Iraq and Iran chat before a plenary session at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Negotiators from almost 200 nations were making a fresh push Friday to reach agreements on a series of key issues that would allow them to call this year's U.N. climate talks a success. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Delegates from Iraq and Iran chat before a plenary session at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Negotiators from almost 200 nations were making a fresh push Friday to reach agreements on a series of key issues that would allow them to call this year's U.N. climate talks a success. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Luxembourg negotiator Andrew Ferrone runs inside the venue of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Negotiators from almost 200 nations were making a fresh push Friday to reach agreements on a series of key issues that would allow them to call this year's U.N. climate talks a success. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Luxembourg negotiator Andrew Ferrone runs inside the venue of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Negotiators from almost 200 nations were making a fresh push Friday to reach agreements on a series of key issues that would allow them to call this year's U.N. climate talks a success. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Gabon's environment minister, Lee White gestures as he speaks at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Gabon's environment minister, Lee White gestures as he speaks at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres walks through the venue of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Negotiators from almost 200 nations were making a fresh push Friday to reach agreements on a series of key issues that would allow them to call this year's U.N. climate talks a success. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres walks through the venue of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Negotiators from almost 200 nations were making a fresh push Friday to reach agreements on a series of key issues that would allow them to call this year's U.N. climate talks a success. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A climate activist wearing a mask of US President Joe Biden takes part in a demonstration against the use of fossil fuels outside the venue for the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Negotiators from almost 200 nations were making a fresh push Friday to reach agreements on a series of key issues that would allow them to call this year's U.N. climate talks a success. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
A climate activist wearing a mask of US President Joe Biden takes part in a demonstration against the use of fossil fuels outside the venue for the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Negotiators from almost 200 nations were making a fresh push Friday to reach agreements on a series of key issues that would allow them to call this year's U.N. climate talks a success. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Protestors wear masks during a small demonstration inside the venue of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Negotiators from almost 200 nations were making a fresh push Friday to reach agreements on a series of key issues that would allow them to call this year's U.N. climate talks a success. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Protestors wear masks during a small demonstration inside the venue of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Negotiators from almost 200 nations were making a fresh push Friday to reach agreements on a series of key issues that would allow them to call this year's U.N. climate talks a success. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
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