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Negotiators Struggle for a Climate Deal as Talks Go Into Overtime

Yves Herman/Reuters

Anxious energy filled the halls of the exhibition center in Glasgow on Friday, where diplomats from nearly 200 countries blew past a deadline for striking a global climate accord.

Just before 6 p.m. — the hour at which Alok Sharma, the British politician leading the climate conference, had for days insisted that diplomats would wrap up — negotiators and observers said hours of closed-door discussions still remained.

Diplomats were “overwhelmed at the work still ahead of us,” said Lia Nicholson, who represents small island nations in the negotiations.

Going into overtime has become routine at United Nations climate change conferences, which are supposed to last for two weeks but where diplomats often do not haggle over the details well into the final night.

A draft agreement released in the morning called for a doubling of money to help developing countries cope with climate impacts, and called on nations to strengthen their emissions-cutting targets by next year.

But much of the text in the draft — intended to push negotiators toward a deal that all nations can agree on — remained contentious for many countries. Disputes remain over money, the speed of emissions cuts and indeed whether an agreement should even mention “fossil fuels” — the principal cause of climate change, but a term that has never before appeared in a global climate agreement.

The differences, after nearly two weeks of negotiations, signaled that it would be difficult for negotiators to reach the sort of sweeping agreement that activists and scientists had urged before the start of the United Nations talks, known as COP26. Scientific consensus says that the world must slash greenhouse-gas emissions by nearly half by 2030 to stave off the most disastrous effects of global warming. But under countries’ current targets, emissions would continue to rise.

The latest draft text is laced with what, in a diplomatic document, could be described as rage. It “notes with deep regret” that the rich world has not yet delivered the $100 billion annual aid it promised to deliver by last year. It also calls for a doubling of funds by 2025 to help developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change, including extreme weather and rising sea levels.

One of the most divisive questions involves countries of the global north — which have prospered for over a century by burning coal, oil and gas and spewed greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — and whether they should compensate developing countries for the irreparable harms they have caused. The draft proposes a new “technical assistance facility” to help countries with losses and damages, but experts said questions remain on whether the funding should be new and additional.

Still, some experts said the latest draft showed that negotiators were making progress.

“Overall, on balance, this is definitely a stronger and more balanced text than we had two days ago,” said Helen Mountford, vice president of climate and economics at the World Resources Institute.

But with big polluter nations unwilling to phase out fossil fuels fast enough to keep global temperatures from reaching dangerous levels, another dispute is whether they should be required to return with stronger climate targets by the end of next year. The latest draft “requests” that they do so, which is tamer than “urges,” which was used in the previous draft.

Kacper Pempel/Reuters

There is another major holdup over whether an agreement should include a reference to fossil fuels, the combustion of which is principally responsible for climate change. The draft text released early Friday called on countries to eliminate “inefficient subsidies” for fossil fuels and to accelerate “the phaseout” of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. It’s unclear whether that language will stay in the final version, considering that countries like China, India and Poland rely heavily on coal plants.

The U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres, called on negotiators to take stronger action.

“Every country, every city, every company, every financial institution must radically, credibly and verifiably reduce their emissions and decarbonize their portfolios starting now,” he told the conference on Thursday.

Some 200 nations represented at the talks must unanimously agree on every word on the final text.

Alok Sharma, president of the negotiations, has insisted that the talks are to close at the “end” of the day on Friday, though that appeared unlikely. The last negotiations, in Madrid in 2019, were scheduled to end on a Friday, but extended into Sunday afternoon.

Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Climate activists excoriated a new draft United Nations agreement on climate change released Friday morning, calling it “corrupted” by fossil fuel interests.

The newest version of the text — which nearly 200 nations will have to agree on — calls on countries to accelerate “the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.” That is a change from previous language asking nations to “accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels.”

Activists said that adding the words “inefficient” and “unabated” could help poor countries that want to keep their oil, gas and coal subsidies — but it could also allow big polluting nations to continue underwriting the use of fossil fuels.

“We have sadly seen the hand of fossil fuel interests interfering with that text to water it down with weasel words,” said Catherine Abreu, executive director of Destination Zero, an environmental group.

Caroline Rance of Friends of the Earth Scotland, an environmental group, said: “It looks like the fossil fuel lobby had their hands on the text to weaken it.”

While burning fossil fuels is the dominant cause of climate change, the phrase “fossil fuels” has never made it into a final agreement in more than 25 years of climate negotiations. Other experts said that any reference to ending subsidies that appeared in the ultimate agreement would be an important shift in openly discussing the root cause of climate change.

The latest draft, which is intended to push negotiators toward a final agreement, was released early Friday morning. The discussions were scheduled to end on Friday, but they went into overtime as negotiators struggled to reach an agreement.

Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, on Friday described fossil fuel subsidies as the “definition of insanity,” denouncing measures taken by governments that artificially lower the price of coal, oil or gas.

Speaking at the United Nations climate summit, where negotiators for nearly 200 nations are trying to seek agreement on a deal that averts the worst impacts of climate change, Mr. Kerry called for rapidly phasing out the subsidies. But he defended new language in the latest draft of an agreement that appears to have watered down a push to curb fossil fuels.

The newest version, released early Friday after negotiators haggled into the predawn hours, calls on countries to accelerate “the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.” The addition of the words “unabated” and “inefficient” was seen by some environmental groups as a loophole that would allow subsidies to continue.

But Mr. Kerry argued that the wording “must stay” in the final agreement because commercial technology to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions could be developed in the future. He said that “knowing what the evidence is” about how sharply global emissions needed to be cut, countries cannot rule out the use of new technologies.

But he spoke forcefully about ending fossil fuel subsidies broadly. The U.N. Development Program recently calculated that the world spends $423 billion each year to subsidize oil, gas and coal, about four times the amount needed to help poor countries address climate change.

“That’s a definition of insanity,” Mr. Kerry said, adding that underwriting oil, gas and coal allows governments “to feed the problem we’re here to cure. It doesn’t make sense.”

Officials from other countries argued that the words “unabated” and “inefficient” should be removed from the agreement.

“We need clear language on the need to eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies, not only the inefficient ones, and to accelerate the phaseout of coal power,” said Andrea Meza, Costa Rica’s environment minister. Tina Stege, the climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, a South Pacific nation threatened by rising sea levels, said, “Fossil fuel subsidies are paying for our own destruction.”

Daniel Leal-Olivas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

GLASGOW — Conventional wisdom says good food and drink can grease the way to a good deal.

The organizers of the international climate summit in Paris in 2015 took that to heart. Naturally, being French, they claimed their hot baguettes, buttery croissants and poulet à la persillade, washed down with French wine, helped to yield a landmark global accord.

The contrast is hard to miss in Glasgow. On offer here: Scotch beef ramen, venison sausage rolls, and “neeps and tatties.”

And after 13 days of back-to-back sessions, some of the negotiators, working late into the night, have taken matters into their own hands.

A pair of Canadian negotiators on Thursday night were rushing back to their windowless chamber holding boxes of takeout Dough Ball pizza. Some members of the American delegation had resorted to buying bread, peanut butter and jelly at a local market, then assembling sandwiches to sustain them through the summit. An Algerian negotiator was sticking to plain pizza from the on-site restaurant.

“This is under the standards,” Athmane Mehadji, the negotiator from Algeria, opined. “The best dishes are from the Mediterranean Sea.”

It’s hard to say if a strong menu can cook up a good deal.

But a 2016 research paper on gastrodiplomacy did find that eating a meal together improved social interactions between those who dine together, not to mention fewer hierarchical displays of dominance and submissiveness.

“In other words, agreeable behaviors were found to increase during meals, as compared to at other times,” it said.

Lisa Friedman/The New York Times

The conference venue has a cafeteria, a bar, and a string of “grab and go” food stands that have been open through dinner time. On Friday, a few of them were open all night, as negotiators prepared to stay indefinitely.

At lunchtime the other day, two observers from Ecuador wandered through the Conwy restaurant, examining the options. They went to the stand calling itself the Scottish Larder. They had never had the Scottish national dish, haggis, before, and didn’t know whether it was vegetarian or not. (Haggis is made from sheep heart, liver and lungs, though the cafeteria offers a vegetarian version as well.)

Paúl Hannibal Sevilla Tinajero, a provincial official from Ecuador, eyed the menu board.

“I don’t know either ‘neeps and tatties.’ I don’t know those two words,” he said. (The menu explained it was turnips and potatoes.)

“Might be good?” he asked. He said he was an adventurous eater. But then he settled for the fish and chips, which he said he had tried before.

The U.S. transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, treated himself to haggis for breakfast during his visit to the summit this week and said he liked it. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Instagram to tout Irn-Bru, Scotland’s cherished soft drink. Bubble-gum flavored, it is also known to be a hangover cure.

Lisa Friedman/The New York Times

The menu boards at the summit prominently displayed the carbon footprint of each dish. Scotch beef ramen, with pickled root vegetables, had 3.0 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent, while pearl barley and root vegetable hotpot with marinated cabbage came in at 0.1 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent.

There are a lot of root vegetables. Not surprising, because 95 percent of the food served at COP26 is from Britain and, the summit organizers said, “largely sourced from Scotland” and seasonal.

There have been plenty of vegetarian options inside the venue eateries, from tempura broccoli to woodland mushroom risotto and a variety of sandwiches.

Food offerings at climate summits vary widely. The 2019 summit was held in a Madrid convention center with fast food chains on site and little else. The 2014 summit in Lima, Peru, had an outdoor pisco sour bar.

Mohamed Adow, an activist with Power Shift Africa, who has attended several of these international climate summits, rued that the food offerings have not sweetened the diplomacy this year, as was the case in Paris. “A hungry man is an angry man,” he said. “You start with good nutrition to have the deal making you need this process. We haven’t had that here.”

Mohammed Seeneen/Associated Press

One of the toughest pieces of the climate negotiations in Glasgow, which are in the final stretch, is something that Mohamed Nasheed has had a hand in drafting.

Mr. Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, leads a group of countries called the Climate Vulnerable Forum that includes atoll nations like his own as well as developing countries like Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

They want countries, especially industrialized nations that have been emitting greenhouse gases, to return each year with more ambitious plans to cut their pollution until temperature rise is kept within relatively safe levels, or within 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial times.

Their demand has already had an effect. The latest draft of the summit document “requests” that countries return with enhanced climate targets by the end of next year. It’s unclear if that language will survive in the final document.

The 2015 Paris climate agreement calls for countries to adjust their emission targets every five years, starting in 2025. And there’s not much appetite among many powerful countries to do more.

But five years, Mr. Nasheed said, “is a very long time. And we might not exist.”

Small and thin, Mr. Nasheed, 54, smiles often when he talks, and is known to dance exuberantly when the music is right. He has been arrested over a dozen times for his political activities. He has been tortured in prison — twice. This year, he survived an assassination attempt.

“You cannot give up,” he said flatly. “I’ve been put many times against the odds, and we can win against the odds.”

You know, they tortured me twice,” he continued. “But we were able to come back.”

A longtime climate champion, his most inventive stunt came just before the 2009 international climate summit in Copenhagen. As the Maldivian president, he and 13 of his cabinet members made a video of themselves, in scuba suits, holding a cabinet meeting 13 feet under water. It was meant to drive home the point that many countries could be under water if major polluting nations do not pivot away quickly from fossil fuels.

Mr. Nasheed says plainly that countries are not doing enough to limit global warming but he is hopeful nonetheless. He pointed to the conservative leaders around the world who have lately embraced climate action, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain.

“The people have actually decided that when they vote, they will look for those who are thinking of saving the planet,” he said in an interview here recently. “People are realizing that we are moving to a doomsday situation. People do understand that the planet is losing its balance. And that shouldn’t be left to happen.”

Hence, the idea of coming back every year until the 1.5 degree Celsius goal is within reach. That’s the threshold beyond which scientists say the likelihood of deadly heat, floods, storms, fires and species extinction increases significantly. The planet has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius.

Even if all countries realize their current pledges, the average global temperature is projected to rise by 2.4 degrees Celsius, an existential threat to low-lying island nations like the Maldives.

Mr. Nasheed said many world leaders were unable to act because of what he called the influence of the fossil fuel industry. But he was persuaded that even that would soon diminish.

“The whole idea about of politics is to lead, not to follow,” he said. “We must talk to the people. We must tell them what’s happening and we must point out the morality of the issue. And I think generally people are decent.”

More than 700 activists packed the main plenary hall at the United Nations climate summit on the last day of the talks, demanding that countries get more ambitious with their climate pledges and address global inequities.Alastair Grant/Associated Press

More than 700 activists packed the main plenary hall at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow on Friday and then joined protesters outside, demanding that countries get more ambitious with their climate pledges and address global inequities.

On the last scheduled day of the talks known as COP26, as negotiators in another part of the venue worked to hammer out an agreement, the activists chanted for “climate justice” and “people power” and carried with them a long bolt of red cloth, which they called their “red line.”

The chants and songs of the protest, which was sanctioned by the U.N., added a jolt of energy to proceedings that have been dominated by well-crafted speeches on stage and arguments over verbs in closed-door negotiations.

The protesters were demanding more immediate action to move away from fossil fuels, and to ensure that developing countries that have historically done the least to contribute to climate change are compensated for the harms it has already caused them.

“People have to be heard, people not in these halls and people in these halls have to be heard,” said Jana Merkelbach, a 36-year-old from Germany. “We are not seeing the ambition that we need. The science is very clear and governments are not delivering on this.”

“There are a lot of ambitious promises. Implementation is what we are looking forward to,” said Disha Sarkar, 25, of India.

“Keep it in the ground,” the protesters shouted, referring to fossil fuels, as they marched slowly past the rooms where negotiators are huddled, and where countries like Saudi Arabia and Australia have set up elaborate pavilions.

At one point, the group stopped at a door leading to a warren of country delegation offices and chanted. “Fighting for justice,” they sang, in a call and response, stomping their feet on the ground, “and for liberation.”

Inside the plenary hall, Mohamed Adow of Power Shift Africa, an environmental group, said: “The time for words without action has come and gone. We no longer have the luxury of time to sit back and allow governments and private interests to destroy our future.”

The activists exited the conference center at about noon to join protesters assembled outside. As they emerged, the midday sun peeked through the clouds over Glasgow.

Bryan Denton For The New York Times

While the science of climate change is widely agreed upon, the scope of the topic and rampant disinformation make it hard to separate fact from fiction. The Times asked Julia Rosen, a journalist who holds a Ph.D. in geology, to explain some of what we know, and how we know it. She writes that the impact of climate change will depend on how aggressively the world acts to address it:

If we continue with business as usual, by the end of the century, it will be too hot to go outside during heat waves in the Middle East and South Asia. Droughts will grip Central America, the Mediterranean and southern Africa. And many island nations and low-lying areas, from Texas to Bangladesh, will be overtaken by rising seas.

Conversely, climate change could bring welcome warming and extended growing seasons to the upper Midwest, Canada, the Nordic countries and Russia. Farther north, however, the loss of snow, ice and permafrost will upend the traditions of Indigenous peoples and threaten infrastructure.

It’s complicated, but the underlying message is simple: unchecked climate change will likely exacerbate existing inequalities. At a national level, poorer countries will be hit hardest, even though they have historically emitted only a fraction of the greenhouse gases that cause warming.

Even within wealthy countries, the poor and marginalized will suffer the most. People with more resources have greater buffers, like air-conditioners to keep their houses cool during dangerous heat waves, and the means to pay the resulting energy bills. They also have an easier time evacuating their homes before disasters, and recovering afterward.

On top of that, warmer weather is aiding the spread of infectious diseases and the vectors that transmit them, like ticks and mosquitoes. Research has also identified troubling correlations between rising temperatures and increased interpersonal violence, and climate change is widely recognized as a “threat multiplier” that increases the odds of larger conflicts within and between countries.

In other words, climate change will bring many changes that no amount of money can stop. What could help is taking action to limit warming.

Ben Stansall/AFP — Getty Images

Traditional Scottish cuisine tends to be heavy on fish, like salmon and haddock sourced from the waters around Scotland’s miles of coastline, and meat, like Scotland’s signature dish, haggis.

But around Glasgow, vegan restaurants and dishes are plentiful. Chefs say the increase in vegan options on menus in recent years is a reflection of changing demands from customers, who increasingly ask for vegetarian or dairy-free options.

Inside the climate summit, menus list the carbon footprint associated with each dish. (A Scottish beef burger, for example, was calculated to “cost” the equivalent of 3.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide.)

At Ubiquitous Chip, one of the top restaurants in Glasgow, the head chef Doug Lindsay said that the increase in demand for vegetarian options from patrons over recent years was remarkable. “There are a lot more vegan restaurants now in Glasgow than there ever were before,” he said, adding: “I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t eat meat all the time. I think if you eat meat, you should be treating it as something special; it’s not something you eat everyday.”

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

Whatever the outcome of the down-to-the-wire negotiations in Glasgow over an agreement to slow the rise in global temperatures, the United Nations climate conference known as COP26 has made some progress on key issues.

Here are some of the deals already announced at the two-week talks:

U.S. and China

The United States and China announced a joint agreement to do more to cut emissions this decade, and China committed for the first time to develop a plan to reduce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The pact between the rivals, which are the world’s two biggest polluters, surprised delegates to the summit.

But the agreement was short on specifics. China did not commit to a new timetable for reducing emissions, nor did it set a ceiling for how much its emissions would rise before they started to fall. And while China agreed to “phase down” coal starting in 2026, it did not specify by how much or over what period of time.


Leaders of more than 100 countries, including Brazil, China, Russia and the United States, vowed to end deforestation by 2030. The landmark agreement covers some 85 percent of the world’s forests, which are crucial to absorbing carbon dioxide and slowing the pace of global warming.

Twelve governments committed $12 billion, and private companies pledged $7 billion, to protect and restore forests in a variety of ways, including $1.7 billion for Indigenous peoples. But some advocacy groups criticized the agreement as lacking teeth, noting that similar efforts have failed in the past.


More than 100 countries agreed to cut emissions of methane, a potent planet-warming gas, by 30 percent by the end of this decade. The pledge was part of a push by the Biden administration, which also announced that the Environmental Protection Agency would limit the methane coming from about one million oil and gas rigs across the United States.

The countries that signed the Global Methane Pledge include half of the world’s top 30 methane-emitting countries, and U.S. officials said that they expected the list to grow.


For the first time, India joined the growing chorus of nations pledging to reach “net zero” emissions, setting a 2070 deadline to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. One of the world’s largest consumers of coal, India also announced that it would significantly expand the portion of its total energy mix that comes from renewable sources, and that half of its energy would come from sources other than fossil fuels by 2030.

Yves Herman/Reuters

The carbon footprint of this year’s United Nations climate summit is expected to be double that of the previous conference in 2019, according to a report produced for the British government.

The COP26 summit in Glasgow, which is scheduled to end on Friday, is projected to generate emissions that are equivalent to about 102,500 tons of carbon dioxide, says a report compiled by Arup, a professional services firm, and first reported by The Scotsman.

About 60 percent of those emissions are estimated to come from international flights, while accommodations, policing for the event, local transportation and energy for the venue make up other large portions, the report said.

The environmental impact of the summit did not go unnoticed inside the hall. Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from Uganda, on Thursday called out business leaders and investors, saying they had not taken immediate action but instead were “flying into COP on private jets” and “making fancy speeches.”

Previous climate summits had much smaller carbon footprints, including COP25 in Madrid in 2019, which emitted the equivalent of 51,101 tons of carbon dioxide.

Not all COP events leave behind a carbon footprint. The host government for COP20 in Lima, Peru, in 2014 offset all emissions, according to the United Nations.

Cansin Leylim of, an organization working to end the age of fossil fuels, said the focus should not be on the summit’s emission numbers.

“The question shouldn’t be how do we reduce emissions at these type of events, but how do we speed up the phasing out all fossil fuels, end fossil finance and leverage the climate finance needed to support a global just transition, so that we don’t have to have these type of conferences in the first place,” she said.

Dr. Stephen Allen, an expert on energy and carbon analysis at the University of Bath in England, said in-person negotiations were sometimes critical to progress on issues like climate change.

“It is a big number,” he said of the summit’s projected carbon footprint. “But it is essential that we get an international commitment. I suppose in a way, we’re investing carbon emissions in trying to secure a good international agreement that then leads to really big carbon savings.”

Getty Images

One of the biggest fights at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow is whether — and how — the world’s wealthiest nations, which are disproportionately responsible for global warming to date, should compensate poorer nations for the damage caused by rising temperatures.

Rich countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan and much of Western Europe, account for just 12 percent of the global population today but are responsible for 50 percent of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels and industry over the past 170 years.

Over that time, Earth has heated up by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), fueling stronger and deadlier heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires. Poorer, vulnerable countries have asked richer nations to provide more money to help them adapt to these hazards.

Explore the data behind the struggle over compensation, and how wealthy and developing nations compare in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, in this article.

Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

Three years ago, Montargis, a provincial town 75 miles from Paris, became a center of the Yellow Vest social uprising, which began as a protest movement over an increase in gasoline taxes. It was rooted in a class divide that exposed the resentment of many working-class French people, whose livelihoods are threatened by the clean-energy transition, against the metropolitan elites, especially in Paris, who can afford electric cars and can bicycle to work, unlike those in the countryside.

Now as residents of Montargis watch the global climate talks in Glasgow, where experts and officials are warning that immediate action must be taken in the face of a looming environmental catastrophe, the economic and political disconnect that nearly tore apart France three years ago remains just below the surface.

If the theme of COP26 is how time is running out to save the planet, the immediate concern in Montargis is how money is running out before the end of the month.

Household gas prices are up 12.6 percent in the past month alone, partly the result of shortages linked to the coronavirus. Electric cars seem fancifully expensive to people encouraged not so long ago to buy fuel-efficient diesel automobiles. A wind turbine that will slash property values is not what a retired couple wants just down the road.

“If Parisians love wind turbines so much, why not rip up the Bois de Vincennes and make an attraction of them?” asked Magali Cannault, who lives near Montargis, alluding to the vast park to the east of Paris.

For President Emmanuel Macron, facing an election in April, the transition to clean energy has become a delicate subject. He has portrayed himself as a green warrior, albeit a pragmatic one, but knows that any return to the barricades of the Yellow Vests would be disastrous for his election prospects.

Talk of a clean energy revolution feeds into a much broader sense of alienation felt by those in the outlying areas that France calls its “periphery.” Jean-Pierre Door, a conservative lawmaker with a lot of angry constituents, said: “We want to go too fast. People are being pushed to the limit.”

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