John Kerry has called fossil fuel subsidies the “definition of insanity” as talks surrounding the final Cop26 climate deal went into overtime on Friday night in Glasgow.
The US special climate envoy noted that close to $2.5trillion had went into lowering the cost of oil, gas and coal over the past five or six years – even as the developed world failed to meet its $100bn goal of annual finance for poorer nations struggling to adapt to the climate crisis.
“That’s a definition of insanity,” Mr Kerry said. “We’re allowing to feed the very problem we’re here to try to cure. It doesn’t make sense.”
Talks among negotiators representing 197 countries continued on Friday evening as the 6pm deadline for reaching an agreement passed.
At a plenary session on Friday, Mr Kerry spoke in support of the updated language in the latest draft agreement which was published on Friday morning.
The first draft of the potential Glasgow pact on Wednesday called for countries “to accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”.
But by Friday, an updated draft instead called for “accelerating the phaseout of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”.
Environmentalists criticised the watering down of the agreement. Murray Worthy, gas campaign leader at Global Witness, said: “While the words ‘coal’ and ‘fossil fuels’ have remained in the new draft decision, huge new loopholes have been introduced that see these efforts significantly weakened.”
“The aim to phase out all fossil fuel subsidies has now been rowed back to just ‘inefficient’ subsidies – which begs the question of what an efficient use of public money to bankroll the fossil fuel industry could possibly be.”
He added: “The phase out of coal power has now been watered down to a phase out of ‘unabated’ coal power – leaving the door open to keep running climate-wrecking coal fired power stations on the future promise of carbon capture and storage (CCS) cutting their emissions. The fossil fuel industry has always promised that CCS has already been just over the horizon, but has never materialised at scale. The false promise of CCS should not be used as an excuse to keep the coal industry alive.”
But despite his opposition to wholesale subsidies for the fossil fuel sector, which is driving global heating, Mr Kerry said the words should stay in the final Glasgow pact because technology could be created in future to capture and store CO2 emissions.