Government negotiators from nearly 200 countries have adopted a new deal on climate action after a last-minute intervention by India to water down the language on cutting emissions from coal.
Several countries including small island states said they were deeply disappointed by the move to “phase down,” rather than “phase out” coal power, the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Other nations described the revision as odious and against the rules, but said it was something they had to accept to bring the two weeks of U.N. climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland to a close.
Before India succeeded in getting the change made, nation after nation talked about the final provisions not going far or fast enough but a compromise was better than nothing and provided progress, if not success.
Negotiators say the agreement is aimed at keeping alive the overarching goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. The world has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit.)
During nearly three hours of discussions, nation after nation said the proposed agreement did not go far enough, but only India and Iran appeared inclined to object. Negotiators have started the traditional posing for photos signifying some kind of success.
The deal calls for an eventual end of some coal power and of fossil fuel subsidies. It also includes enough financial incentives to almost satisfy poorer nations that anticipate harms from climate change out of proportion with their roles in causing it.
Most importantly, negotiators said, it preserves, albeit barely, the overarching goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. The world has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit).
Ahead of the talks in Glasgow, Scotland, the United Nations had set three criteria for success, and none of them were achieved. The U.N.'s criteria included pledges to cut carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2030, $100 billion in financial aid from rich nations to poor, and ensuring that half of that money went to helping the developing world adapt to the worst effects of climate change.
The draft agreement says big carbon polluting nations have to come back and submit stronger emission cutting pledges by the end of 2022.
A rich-poor divide widened at the U.N. summit in recent days, with developing nations complaining about not being heard. But when the representative from Guinea, speaking for 77 poorer nations and China, said his group could live with the general results, negotiators applauded.
The Chinese delegation also said it was fine with the positions that would come out of a Glasgow in a final conference agreement. But Indian Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav potentially threw a wrench when he argued against a provision on phasing out coal, saying that developing countries were “entitled to the responsible use of fossil fuels.”
Yadav blamed “unsustainable lifestyles and wasteful consumption patterns” in rich countries for causing global warming. It was unclear whether India would try to stop a potential deal. “Consensus remains elusive,” the minister said.
Iran said it supported India on not being so tough on fossil fuels.
A frustrated European Union Vice President Frans Timmermans, the 27-nation EU's climate envoy, begged negotiators to be united for future generations.
“For heaven's sake, don't kill this moment,” Timmermans pleaded. "Please embrace this text so that we bring hope to the hearts of our children and grandchildren.”
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry expressed support for the most recent provisions, calling the draft a “powerful statement.” Kerry and several other negotiators noted that good compromises leave everyone slightly unsatisfied.
“Not everyone in public life ... gets to make choices about life and death. Not everyone gets to make choices that actually affect an entire planet. We here are privileged today to do exactly that,” he said.
Gabon's delegation indicated it couldn't leave Glasgow without “scaled up” and predictable assurances for more money to help poorer nations adapt to the worst effects of global warming. Kerry tried to assure Gabon's representatives that the United States would redouble its efforts on adaptation finance.
Small island nations that are vulnerable to catastrophic effects of climate change and had pushed for bolder actions in Glasfow said they were satisfied with the spirit of compromise, if not outcome of the talks.
“Maldives accepts the incremental progress made in Glasgow," Aminath Shauna, the island nation's minister for environment, climate change and technology said. “I'd like to note that this progress is not in line with the urgency and scale with the problem at hand.''
Shauna noted that the latest provisions are not vigorous enough to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times by the end of the century, which was the goal nations agreed to six years ago.
"The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is a death sentence for us," Shauna said, noting that to stay within that range the world must cut carbon dioxide emissions essentially in half in 98 months.
Earlier Saturday, the negotiators in Glasgow pored over fresh proposals for sealing a deal that they hoped could be credibly said to advance worldwide efforts to tackle global warming.
The last-minute huddles focused on a potential loss-and-damage fund for poor nations hurt by climate change and forest credits in a carbon-trading market.