A last-minute demand from China and India weakened the agreement by changing the “phase out” of coal to the “phase down” of coal. The demand came as a shock to many negotiators. “The coal thing? No, not all. That was unexpected,” Costa Rica’s environment minister Andrew Meza told Politico. The underlying tensions brewed throughout the conference, however, Bloomberg reports.

Top negotiators from China, India, the U.S. and EU (all men, with ages ranging from 52 to 77), sat in a room off the main plenary hall where China reportedly threatened to tear apart the entire negotiations over the change; U.S. climate envoy John Kerry was silent, Politico reported. The U.S. and China employed “phase down” language in the bilateral agreement earlier in the week. Numerous countries objected to the eleventh-hour changes, including the Marshall Islands, Mexico, and Switzerland, on both its substance and the manner in which they were made. “We have been sidelined in a nontransparent and noninclusive process,” said Camila Isabel Zepeda Lizama, Director General for Global Issues for Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

‘Balanced and pragmatic … will be too late’

“Coal and the phase-down of coal is on the books. It’s part of the decision. And you have to phase down coal before you can end coal. So this is the beginning of something,” Kerry said at a news conference Saturday evening.

“What is balanced and pragmatic to other parties will not help the Maldives adapt in time. It will be too late,” Aminath Shauna, the Maldives’ Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Technology, reminded the delegates, speaking generally about the summit.

Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa, also warned the narrow language creates a “loophole that will now allow ongoing subsidization and massive expansion of oil and gas extraction in the U.S.” (Politico, Bloomberg $, The Guardian, Reuters, FT $, The Guardian, S&P Global, Wall Street Journal $, Reuters, CNN)