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Take 2: Second draft of Glasgow climate change agreement fails to resolve ongoing disputes

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GLASGOW, Scotland — Just hours before the United Nations Climate Change Conference was set to wrap up, a new draft report of the final agreement was released showing that key differences remain on how to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. 

Negotiators worked through the night Thursday to try to close the gaps among nations on vexing questions such as how much money richer nations should pay for the damages that climate change has already caused in poorer countries, as well as what specific emissions targets are necessary and when they should be implemented. 

"Most glaring is the lack of any mention of the finance plan for loss and damage that was proposed last night by the G77 group of developing countries," Tracy Carty, head of Oxfam's COP26 delegation, said of the second draft in a statement. "'Acknowledging' loss and damage will not bring back the submerged homes, poisoned fields and lost loved ones. Rich countries must stop blocking progress and commit to doing something about it."

The differences among the nations assembled in Glasgow persist despite repeated warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that time is running out to avert a cascade of extreme weather disasters brought on by rising temperatures. But the merger of policy and science has proved difficult to achieve over the last two weeks. 

Pledges made in Paris in 2015 for wealthy countries to mobilize $100 billion per year in grants and loans to the developing world have not yet been fully met, which the draft document states it "notes with deep regret." New wording added in the second draft calling for rich countries to double such funding by 2025 could prove a stumbling block to a final agreement because rich countries may balk. 

Climate activists, meanwhile, say that even the current wording lets the industrialized world, which has emitted far more greenhouse gases that have caused climate change, off the hook on financing for developing countries and eliminating their own use of fossil fuels. 

Climate activists, including children, hold an arrow-shaped sign that reads: Climate justice.
Climate activists outside the U.N. Climate Change Conference venue in Glasgow, Scotland, on Friday. (Reuters/Dylan Martinez)

"As the minutes tick down, accepting responsibility and how to ramp up climate finance should be the theme of negotiations," Rachel Kennerley, international climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. "But instead, it looks like rich countries are preparing their escape hatch. This new draft released this morning speaks about removing inefficient fossil fuels subsidies, as if efficient ones are acceptable."

The second draft factored in sharp criticism from developing nations, and while some activists remain unhappy with its wording, other outside groups see it as a marked improvement. At a Friday morning press conference, officials at the World Resources Institute, a think tank, said that the second draft, while still falling short in key areas, also was better overall. 

"Overall, on balance, this is definitely a stronger and more balanced text than we had two days ago," Helen Mountford, vice president of climate and economics at WRI, told reporters.

Underscoring the differences between the parties, however, is the ongoing debate about whether to include the words "fossil fuels" in the draft. 

While the overall goal of COP26 has been to recommit nations to the pledges made in Paris in 2015 to keep global warming below 1.5°C, this year's agreement contains sober wording acknowledging that the world must now prepare to adapt to the reality of climate change. The draft released Friday warns that "climate and weather extremes and the adverse impacts on people and nature will continue to increase with every additional increment of rising temperatures."

It now appears likely that whatever final agreement emerges from the conference will not be finalized until Saturday, or perhaps Sunday.

"This is the final countdown. Negotiators should come back to the table armed with commitments that are equal to the challenge that millions of people around the world are facing every day," Carty of Oxfam said.

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