India and Iran expressed fierce opposition to the inclusion of fossil fuels in any final agreement at the COP26 climate talks, potentially thwarting what would have been a major breakthrough in the history of climate action at the 11th hour.
In all 25 COPs before Glasgow, never has an agreement made even a mention of fossil fuels as drivers of the climate crisis, despite clear science and data showing that coal, oil and gas are the biggest contributors to human-made climate change.
The draft text had called for the phasing out of unabated coal and fossil fuel subsidies, with several caveats added between drafts as major fossil fuels had it watered down, as multiple sources told CNN.
In an informal session to give feedback on the draft Saturday, delegates from dozens of countries listed their grievances with the potential agreement, but most -- even Bolivia, which had several complaints -- said they would ultimately accept the draft as a compromise.
Indian Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said that "consensus remains elusive" and that fossil fuels had allowed parts of the world to achieve wealth and high living standards. "How can anyone expect developing countries to make promises about phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies?" he asked, adding that developing countries had to deal with poverty eradication.
"Subsidies provide much-needed social security and support," he said, giving the example of how India uses subsidies to provide liquefied natural gas to low-income households. Yadav also questioned a key measure on requesting countries come forward with updated plans on slashing emissions by the end of next year, a centerpiece in the draft text. That brings the deadline for new ambitions forward three years than the 2015 Paris Agreement requires. He complained that the same sense of urgency hadn't been given to climate finance.
Iran's delegation also said it backed India's stance on fossil fuels. "We are not satisfied on paragraph 36 on the phase out of fossil fuel subsidies," an Iranian delegate said. An agreement requires getting all 197 parties in attendance to reach consensus on each and every word of the final text, a painstaking effort that involves compromises and frank discussions about the world's structures of power and who is most responsible for the climate crisis.
The comments followed late-night marathon talks in which slow progress was made, but still, some 24 hours after that deadline, an agreement hasn't been struck. COP26 President Alok Sharma had earlier made an impassioned plea to delegates to back the draft, saying it was a "moment of truth" for the planet as talks went deep into overtime without clear sign that consensus was near.
In an effort to avert failure at the talks, Sharma called on countries to seize the moment, saying negotiations had "reached a critical juncture where we must come together." "The world is watching us," he said, urging them to "reach an agreement here for the sake of our planet and for present and future generations.