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Countries battle over new climate targets in final days of COP26

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China and other big polluters are resisting a push to bring forward the submission of new emissions targets to the UN as negotiations enter the final stretch of the COP26 summit.

The UK, US and EU are among those demanding that all countries come up with new targets by the end of 2022, a significant acceleration from the 2025 deadline in the Paris climate accord.

But China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and other big emitters are insisting on staying with the original five-year timeframes in the 2015 Paris pact.

The UK, as the COP host country, aims to address the issue as one of the major sticking points in the final texts that will sum up the conclusions of the COP26 when negotiations end, according to officials.

The first versions of those texts were published on Wednesday morning. The texts will still undergo significant revisions as countries fight over the language in the coming days.

The document “urges parties to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in what is known as nationally determined contributions, as necessary to align with the Paris agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022”.

The documents also propose to “accelerate” the phase out of coal, and of fossil fuel subsidies, but some negotiators warned those provisions were unlikely to survive negotiations in coming days.

Significant rifts remained between countries over how to approach the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C, set down as ideal in the Paris accord.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the negotiations had entered the “hard yards” and were “getting tough”, in a low-key press conference on a one-day visit to Glasgow that was overshadowed by questions about sleaze allegations in his party.

The climate summit was in the “nuts and bolts of international climate diplomacy”, he said, but there was “a huge amount to do.”

“We’ve made a difference I hope . . . we’ve moved the ball some way down the pitch but .. we need a determined push to get us over the line.”

Johnson said countries that had spent six years since the Paris Agreement “patting themselves on the back” were now trying to wriggle out of concrete commitments.

“There’s really no excuse because we know what’s at stake here. We have been hearing it all week,” he said, quoting the leader of one island nation who had told him “if the big countries don’t do more we might as well bomb his islands”.

Current national pledges that were submitted by 152 countries ahead of and during the Glasgow summit, put the world on course for between 2.5C and 2.7C of warming by the end of the century.

To address the shortfall of the existing pledges, the UK and others had hoped to persuade countries to come back with updated climate targets, known as nationally determined contributions, next year.

EU climate chief Frans Timmermans threw his support behind that goal on Wednesday, calling for countries to “come together next year” to demonstrate how they might reach the 1.5C target.

“The EU and its progressive allies will continue to advocate for a call on all parties to deliver ambitious NDCs [climate targets] and mid-century net zero strategies, in line with a 1.5C trajectory,” Timmermans said.

However developing countries say the text focuses too much on cutting emissions, and not enough on funding for adaptation to climate change.

The 2015 Paris climate accord, approved by 197 countries, aims to limit global warming to well below 2C. However, as the climate impacts of 2C become starker, an increasing number of countries believe that capping warming at 1.5C, the much more difficult goal, is imperative.

“The big piece that is missing is finance,” said Jennifer Tollmann, senior policy adviser at European think-tank E3G, referring to the need for rich countries to finance developing countries.

Greenhouse gas emissions would need to fall by roughly half this decade from roughly 50bn tonnes presently, to keep the world on a pathway for 1.5C of warming, according to the UN Environment Program.

The summit is due to end at 6pm on Friday, but could run into overtime if negotiators fail to agree on items including the timing of new targets, as well as rules for implementing the Paris accord.

Additional reporting by Neil Hume

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