GLASGOW — Negotiators from 200 countries appeared to be closing in on an agreement aimed at setting conditions to prevent dangerous levels of global warming late Saturday, but not without tension over how to pay countries that are least responsible for the problem but suffering irreparable harms.
John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, said “If it has been a good negotiation, all the parties are uncomfortable. And this has been, I think, a good negotiation. We are seeking the shared goal of keeping the Earth’s temperature at a level that the worlds’ scientists say we must do.”
Representatives spent much of the day arguing over language in a revised draft agreement — the third version cobbled together during the summit, known as COP26. By tradition, all countries must agree on language; if any one objects, the talks deadlock.
Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Union, urged negotiators to accept the third version and said he feared “stumbling in this marathon a few meters short of the finish line.”
He pleaded for each country to set aside its particular concerns and focus on the larger crisis.
“For heavens’ sake, don’t kill this moment by asking for more text, different text, deleting that and deleting this,” he said, urging the group to “act with the urgency that is essential for our survival. Please embrace this text so we can bring hope to the hearts of our children and grandchildren.”
Andrea Meza of Costa Rica summed it up this way: “We don’t have a perfect package but we have a possible package,” she said.
The latest draft, which is broadly similar to one released on Friday, called on nations to return next year, instead of 2025, with stronger pledges to cut planet-warming emissions in this decade. It urged wealthy nations to “at least double” by 2025 the financial aid that they provide to developing countries to help them adapt to heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires.
It retained language calling on countries to accelerate efforts “toward the phaseout of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.” That language recognizes the need to help workers in polluting countries who could be displaced after a transition to wind, solar or other green energy.
The reference to “fossil fuels” would be the first time the words are mentioned in an international climate accord, despite the fact that burning fossil fuels is a root cause of global warming.
Dan Jorgensen, Denmark’s minister of climate, energy and utilities, said he was optimistic that the coal and fossil fuel language would remain in the final agreement.
“We all agree that climate change is the biggest threat to our civilization, and we all know what the causes are,” he said. “This is not about shaming those countries. We all need to acknowledge that countries that need to move away from coal also need help.”
But behind closed doors, negotiators said, that language faced opposition from nations like India, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, which are all either large producers or consumers of fossil fuels.
The text released Saturday included new language on the issue of “loss and damage.”, another term for reparations from wealthy countries that have pumped greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to poor countries that are now experiencing climate disasters. Activist groups complained that it didn’t include a mechanism to direct funds to poor countries, just a dialogue to “discuss the arrangements for the funding of activities.”
Ahmadou Sebory Touré, the lead negotiator for Guinea who spoke Saturday on behalf of a bloc of 134 developing countries, said the group expressed “extreme disappointment” over this outcome.
“But,” he added, “in the spirit of compromise, we’ll be able to live with this paragraph in the understanding that it does not reflect nor prejudge the unequivocal outcome that we seek on finance for loss and damage to reach the most vulnerable.”
Simonetta Sommaruga, the representative of Switzerland, said that while it is not unusual for climate summits to leave everyone “a little unhappy,” she was concerned “that we are leaving this COP with everybody more than a little unhappy.”
As workers began to dismantle the pavilions and caterers started to clean out food stands, negotiators were still haggling.
Alok Sharma, the British politician and president of the summit, appealed to diplomats to accept the draft of a final summit document, calling it a “comprehensive, ambitious and balanced” accord that would help keep the goal of averting catastrophic warming within reach.
“This is the moment of truth and this is the moment of truth for our planet, and moment of truth for our children and grandchildren,” Mr. Sharma said. “You will know the world is willing us to be bold, to be ambitious.”
The United States was in the center of that argument. By midafternoon, the U.S. climate envoy, John Kerry, stood in the middle of a gaggle of diplomats from other countries, including Mr. Timmermans, the top climate official for the European Union, and Xie Zhenhua, the Chinese climate envoy. At one point, Mr. Kerry was seen in an extended side discussion with Mr. Xie and his translator.
China indicated it is not happy with everything in the agreement, but would not block it. Yingmin Zhao, speaking for China, called the deal “by no means perfect,” but said, “We have no intention to open the text again.”
The summit host, Britain, had said its goal was to ensure that the planet would not heat more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, compared with the average global temperature during the Industrial Revolution. That is the threshold beyond which scientists say devastating heat waves, fires and floods become significantly more likely.
That goal is nowhere within reach.
The world has already warmed an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution, although some places have already heated more than that. One analysis found that even if all current pledges are kept, temperatures will still skyrocket by 2.4 degrees Celsius by 2100.
A call for leaders to go home and take action came from Seve Paeniu, the representative of the island nation Tuvalu. What they do in the coming months and years, after all, holds the key to actually averting catastrophic climate change.
“My fellow political leaders — our response to climate change should never depend on whether our domestic response to climate change would get us elected in the next elections,” he said. “Responding to climate change is critical to the survival of our communities.”
Lisa Friedman contributed reporting.