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Takeaways from Wednesday at COP26: China and US surprise summit, negotiations heat up, car deal flops

<i>Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Wednesday was big day at the COP26 climate summit
AFP via Getty Images
Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images
Wednesday was big day at the COP26 climate summit

By Ivana Kottasová, Angela Dewan, Amy Cassidy and Ingrid Formanek, CNN

Wednesday was big day at the COP26 climate summit, with the first draft of an overarching agreement released. The draft is a sort of a wish list put together by the COP presidency and its final version will be negotiated between national delegates over the next two days.

Depending on whom you ask, it’s either “ambitious” or “a total flop.”

The US and China also made a surprise pledge to work together on addressing the climate crisis.

Here’s what happened on Wednesday.

China-US surprise

The US and China announced an agreement Wednesday to ramp up their cooperative climate ambitions, just days before the end of the conference.

“There is more agreement between the US and China than divergence, making it an area of huge potential for cooperation,” China climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said at a news conference. “The release of this joint statement shows again that cooperation is the only choice for both China and the United States. By working together our two countries can achieve many important things that are beneficial not only to our two countries but the world as a whole.”

In a news conference immediately following Xie, US Special Climate Envoy John Kerry said he was “pleased” about the agreement between the two countries.

Kerry said the US and China had two choices: they could either depart COP26 not working together and leaving “the world wondering where the future’s going to be, clearly with a gap … Or, we can leave here with people working together in order to raise the ambition and begin to move down a better road,” Kerry said. “That’s really the choice.”

Strong 1.5 commitment — with little to back it up

The draft agreement includes the strongest-ever language on the need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which would be a win for the COP26 presidency given that some of the world’s biggest polluters have been, until recently, reluctant to commit to the goal.

While analysts welcomed the language, many were quick to point out that the rest of the agreement doesn’t actually deliver on the goal.

Mark Maslin, a climate scientist at University College London told CNN the draft was “a bit wishy washy.”

“It acknowledges that there is a huge need to cut emissions as fast as possible by 2030 to be on target for 1.5 degrees temperature. However, later in the document, it asks countries to submit new sort of pledges, NDCs that are all aligned to keeping temperatures below two degrees. So the beginning and the end of the actual document don’t match up,” he said.

Fossil fuel subsidies get a mention

The draft agreement also asks governments to “accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels.” This is an important first, as up until now, no COP agreement has ever mentioned fossil fuels specifically.

“It’s absurd that … we are still paying taxpayer money in hundreds of billions of dollars a year to encourage production and consumption of fossil fuels,” Alden Meyer, senior associate at E3G said in a briefing.

“The first rule of holes is that when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. And we’re still digging the hole deeper by paying people to pollute and to produce and use more carbon,” Meyer said. “It’s insane.”

But there’s no guarantee the language around coal and fossil fuel subsidies will survive the next two days of negotiations.

Meyer said he expects there to be “one hell of a fight” over this before a final text is agreed.

“Saudi Arabia and other countries will come in and try and remove this paragraph,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International.

Johnson pleads with delegates

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is back in Glasgow after spending the last week or so in London, trying to get his party’s latest political scandal off the front pages.

The PM has acknowledged the climate negotiations are getting tougher as delegations iron out the final agreement.

“Now is the time for everyone come together and show the determination needed to power on past the blockages,” Johnson said in a speech at the conference.

“Here in Glasgow the world is closer than it has even been in signaling the beginning of the end to anthropogenic climate change,” he said, calling on delegates: “Will you help us do that? Will you help us grasp that opportunity or will you stand in the way?”

Saudi Arabia pushes back

Saudi Arabia is shaping up to be a big hurdle on the way to a substantial agreement and the UK is desperately trying to get the kingdom on board.

Downing Street said Johnson spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday and that the two “discussed the importance of making progress in negotiations in the final days of COP26.”

In a speech, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister asked the world to stop showing bias for or against specific forms of energy.

“It is imperative that we recognize the diversity of climate solutions, and the importance of emissions reduction as stipulated in the Paris Agreement, without any bias towards or against any particular source of energy,” Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud said.

Several experts familiar with the talks have said openly over the past week that the kingdom is blocking progress on language around fossil fuels and 1.5 degrees. Saudi officials have not replied to CNN’s request for comment on the issues.

Jennifer Tollmann, a senior policy adviser at E3G, said the next 48 hours will be crucial, and will show “whether ministers work together to drastically increase ambition across the board, or give a win to Russia, Saudi Arabia and Brazil and lose any clear signals that all countries will have to come back with more ambition this decade.”

Car deal disappoints

Some of the biggest players in the car industry poured cold water on the idea that COP26 could be the beginning of the end of the combustion engine era.

According to a declaration published Wednesday, the UK COP26 presidency wanted to get governments, manufacturers and investors to promise to “work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission globally by 2040, and by no later than 2035 in leading markets.”

But the proposal wasn’t signed by several key countries and companies.

Germany, China, Japan, South Korea and the United States did not sign the declaration. Toyota, Volkswagen, BMW and Nissan also refrained from signing.

German Environment Minister Jochen Flasbarth said Wednesday that Germany and other states “could have signed” the declaration if the UK Presidency had not put an “unnecessary barrier” in place, referring to the fact that the agreement didn’t take synthetic fuels into account.

Still, there were some notable signatories. Ford and General Motors agreed, as did Jaguar Land Rover Mercedes-Benz and Volvo. Among coutnries, US states and cities that signed up were the UK, Canada, Poland, Kenya, India, Australian Capital Territory, Catalonia, Atlanta, San Diego, New York City, San Francisco and Seoul.

Finance gap

The gap between the “haves and have nots” is growing bigger and the COP26 draft agreement is not doing enough to address the crisis, the director of UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Hansjoerg Strohmeyer said on Wednesday.

“We already have low levels of funding for the most vulnerable. We have a humanitarian assistance system that is at its limits. And at the current growth of trajectory of global warming, the need will grow, those are the most vulnerable,” he said.

The draft agreement makes some strong points in a long section on the need to deliver $100 billion a year in climate financing to the developing world, a promise made by the world’s richest countries more than a decade ago. However, the text is very thin on details.

“It is fuzzy and vague. The missed deadline for the $100 billion promise doesn’t get acknowledged — and this is a key ask from vulnerable countries,” said Mohamed Adow, director of the climate think tank Power Shift Africa.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Walé Azeez and Chris Liakos in London contributed reporting.

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