COP26 climate negotiators in heated crunch talks after failure to strike agreement by deadline

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COP26 President Alok Sharma had expressed optimism that a deal could be reached by 6 p.m. local time Friday (1 p.m. ET), but that self-imposed deadline elapsed with deep divisions remaining on key issues, including language on just how much the world should allow the Earth to warm, the future of fossil fuels and rules for carbon markets to avoid double counting emissions reduction, or “cheating” on credits.

But the most contentious issue centers around whether wealthy nations in the developed world should be obliged to set up an official fund to pay liabilities to poorer countries for climate crisis impacts, making COP26 one of many climate conferences characterized by a sharp divide between the developed and developing world.

Getting all 197 parties in attendance to reach consensus on each and every word of the final agreement is a painstaking effort. Beyond the simple divide between rich and developing countries are major coal, oil and gas producers showing opposition to an article that calls for the phasing out of unabated coal and an end to fossil fuel subsidies.

“This is a test of COP President Alok Sharma’s nerve and whether he can deliver ambitious outcomes where there isn’t obvious consensus,” a group of climate analysts attending the summit noted as talks ran into overtime.

Sharma has said his main goal for the conference is to “keep 1.5 alive.” The latest UN climate science report makes clear that the world needs to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to stave off worsening climate impacts and steer away from more catastrophic climate change.

Key elements of the previous draft appeared to at least move towards that. It requested countries to come back to the table by the end of next year, at COP27 in Egypt, with updated plans on slashing greenhouse gas emissions. That would be three years earlier than they are required to do now under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

If the final text even makes mention of fossil fuels, it would be an unprecedented inclusion at the history of the COP process. In all 25 COPs before this, never has the role of coal, oil and gas as a driver, let alone the main driver, of the climate crisis made the final text.

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