Activists slam lack of fossil fuel pledges in COP26 draft

Activists slam lack of fossil fuel pledges in COP26 draft
© Associated Press/David Cliff

Environmental activists are crying foul over the first draft of decision text from the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) for not explicitly mentioning a fossil fuel phaseout.

While the 850-word first draft speaks of the need to reduce emissions to keep warming limited to 1.5 degrees, it makes no mention of fossil fuels in general, or of oil, gas or coal in particular.

Previous decision texts have also not called for such a phaseout, but environmental groups like Greenpeace said the initial draft out of Glasgow was particularly concerning, since first drafts are typically more ambitious and pared down by the time the final text is released.

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In a statement released Monday, Greenpeace blasted the draft language as “exceptionally weak” and out of step with the action and policies experts have said is necessary to prevent catastrophic warming.

“The draft that’s out today we find to be much too weak for a range of reasons. One is that it acknowledges there will likely be a gap to [keeping warming to] 1.5 [degrees], but there’s not a timeframe at which countries would not come back to the table to fill the gap,” Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan told The Hill.

“The urgency, the acceleration of the action and the urgency is lacking in the text, because the next nine years are essential,” Morgan added.

The lack of fossil fuel mentions, she said, was even more dismaying.

“We know that in order to keep 1.5 degrees in sight we need to see a phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies and also a halt to all new coal, oil and gas projects,” she said. “It’s about time for that to happen after so many years."

Jean Su, director of energy justice at the Center for Biological Diversity, similarly argued that the draft “obfuscates the real issue at hand with the climate emergency, which is fossil fuels.”

Still, Su noted that no previous COP decision text has called for a fossil fuel phaseout, nor did the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

Sierra Club President Ramon Cruz told The Hill that the lack of mention of fossil fuels in the draft text “of course, for us, is problematic.”

“We know that to solve the climate crisis we need to move entirely beyond fossil fuels,” Cruz said, adding that many at the summit have pushed for "basically writing the last chapter in the book of coal, and for that to not be reflected in this text is disappointing.”

"We’ve been advocating for the insertion of fossil fuels into the text and into these cover decisions for the last 10 years and essentially we’re not getting anywhere,” Su said.

Reached for comment, a COP26 spokesperson told The Hill that the draft is “a summary of issues highlighted by Parties as important for inclusion in the COP26 cover decisions. Its aim is to facilitate further discussion and not to prejudge the final negotiated text.”   

Organizers are “listening to the views of all parties and the final text will be agreed by consensus,” the spokesperson added. “We’re looking forward to further productive negotiations this week."

The draft text comes after U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said earlier this year that findings from the organization's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should mark a “death knell for fossil fuels” while calling for "no new coal plants" to be built after 2021.

“Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil-fuel subsidies into renewable energy,” Guterres said in August.

Not all of the news out of the Glasgow summit has been disheartening for environmental advocates. Su noted several positive developments, as well as other avenues for participants to take aggressive climate action.

She pointed to an international pledge joined by the U.S. to ban public financing for oil and gas projects abroad and also cited what she said was encouraging language on wealthier nations’ financial responsibility for loss and damage from climate change in the Global South.

Su urged individual countries to go beyond what is agreed to in Scotland, invoking a similar call to action by U.S. climate envoy John KerryJohn KerryBiden's second-ranking climate diplomat stepping down A presidential candidate pledge can right the wrongs of an infamous day Equilibrium/Sustainability — Dam failures cap a year of disasters MORE. "There are pledges that can be made outside the text that are just as strong,” she said.

Cruz emphasized that despite the lack of specific pledge, more nations are focused on moving away from fossil fuels. "I think there has been in that regard, advancement in this summit in terms of pledges and that’s also corroborated by recent years’ actions within the U.S.," he added.

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“We’re continuing on this until we get it but we know it takes years,” he added.

Morgan acknowledged other pledges were “rays of sunshine” but noted the commitments are voluntary and would need to be backed up by national legislation.

In the meantime, there are a number of drawbacks, she added. For example, under a coal phaseout agreement that Poland joined, it would be considered a developing country — meaning the agreement would allow them to use coal through 2049.

The backlash over the text is the latest conflict at the summit between world leaders and activists who are seeking more immediate action.

Last weekend, youth activists including Greta ThunbergGreta ThunbergEnergy & Environment — The biggest climate news of 2021 Overnight Energy & Environment — Analysts predict rising gas prices Greta Thunberg says it's 'strange' Biden is considered a leader on climate change MORE and Vanessa Nakate demonstrated at the site of the summit, calling attention to the consequences of climate change already visible in developing countries.

Thunberg also drew attention to the presence of fossil fuel industry figures at the conference, tweeting Monday, “I don't know about you, but I sure am not comfortable with having some of the world's biggest villains influencing & dictating the fate of the world.”

Cruz said those very demonstrations, however, were an indicator that the will exists to make the necessary changes to avert climate catastrophe. “Ten thousand people in the pouring rain were demanding that change,” he said. “Real change is certainly coming.”