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Glasgow Summit Faces Heat for ‘Weak’ Draft Text on Fossil Fuels

As many as 503 fossil fuel lobbyists from companies like BP and Shell are present at the conference.

Image Courtesy: The Independent

Environmental activists and experts are furious at the “exceptionally weak” language of the first draft of the Glasgow decision text from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) for not explicitly mentioning a phaseout of fossil fuels despite the worldwide consensus on the need to stop using coal, oil and gas to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goal of reducing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The merely 850-word text, published by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, does not make any commitment to decreasing the reliance on coal, oil and gas except the need to reach the Paris Agreement goal of reducing global warming.

Environmental activists and experts blasted the weak text of the draft. “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 American newspaper and digital media company The Hill.

“The urgency, the acceleration of the action and the urgency are lacking in the text because the next nine years are essential,” Morgan added. The lack of fossil fuel mention is even more dismaying, she said. “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. It’s about time for that to happen after so many years.”

In a statement released on Monday, Greenpeace said: “This glaring omission comes despite the fact that experts at the International Energy Agency have made clear there can be no new fossil fuel projects, beyond those already underway this year, if we’re to deliver the goal of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5 C. After the most recent IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report, the UN Secretary General has said that the latest climate science must sound a ‘death knell for fossil fuels’ and that countries should end all new fossil fuel exploration and production.”

Campaigners are calling on negotiators to “stand up to fossil fuel producing countries, like Saudi Arabia and Australia, which have blocked fossil fuel reduction even being mentioned in the last 25 COP texts and are crippling ambition in the negotiations at Glasgow”, Greenpeace said.

According to Greenpeace, the text is concerning because first drafts are usually more ambitious and watered down by the time the final text is released. “What’s very concerning here in Glasgow is that the first draft of the climate pact text is already exceptionally weak. Usually, the text starts with some ambition which then gets watered down. To keep 1.5 alive, four words must be added: ‘fossil fuels phase out’, and countries must come back next year to close the gap,” Morgan said in the statement.

According to Kate Blagojevic, UK head of climate, Greenpeace, the UK presidency has “let the most vulnerable nations down by supporting such a weak first draft text”. She feels that conference president and UK member of Parliament Alok Sharma “can still fix this and insist world leaders up their game through stronger commitments on phasing out fossil fuels and significantly increasing pledges on adaptation finance in the next draft”.

That action, according to Blagojevic, “can start in the UK today by ruling out all new fossil fuel projects, including the Cambo oil field, and making sure the UK’s climate finance contributions don’t eat into the aid budget”.

Jean Su, director, energy justice, Center for Biological Diversity, told The Hill that the draft “obfuscates the real issue at hand with the climate emergency, which is fossil fuels.” No previous COP decision text called for a fossil fuel phaseout nor did the Paris Agreement, she added. “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.”

Ramon Cruz, president, Sierra Club, an environmental organisation, found the draft text “problematic” as well. “We know that to solve the climate crisis we need to move entirely beyond fossil fuels. Many at 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.”

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”. Organisers 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.”

Shockingly, the draft text didn’t mention fossil fuels despite UN secretary general António Guterres stating in August that the IPCC findings should mark a “death knell for fossil fuels”. “Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil-fuel subsidies into renewable energy,” he had said.

The reason for the “exceptionally weak” draft text is the presence of more delegates at COP26 who are associated with the fossil fuel industry than from any single country, an analysis by international NGO Global Witness shows. According to the BBC, Global Witness assessed the participant list published by the UN at the start of this meeting, which showed that 503 people who lobby for oil and gas industries were present at the summit.

“The fossil fuel industry has spent decades denying and delaying real action on the climate crisis, which is why this is such a huge problem,” Murray Worthy from Global Witness said. “Their influence is one of the biggest reasons why 25 years of UN climate talks have not led to real cuts in global emissions.”

The 503 lobbyists were linked to fossil fuel companies, including Shell, Gazprom and BP. “The presence of hundreds of those being paid to push the toxic interests of polluting fossil fuel companies will only increase the scepticism of climate activists, who see these talks as more evidence of global leaders’ dithering and delaying,” Worthy added.

When questioned on the presence of so many fossil fuel lobbyists, Sharma said, “At the end of the day, it is up to parties and observers who gets accreditation as part of their delegations.”

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary, UN’s climate agency, said that the UN did not invite or acknowledge any official delegation of fossil fuel companies. “It is really the sovereign right of every government to accredit every representative as part of its delegations, persons it deems appropriate. We do not allow open lobbying or open promotion of oil and gas. Of course, that would be against the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the convention.”

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