Cop26: The 'end is in sight' for polluting coal

Countries, including the large coal consumers Poland and Vietnam, commit themselves in their initiatives announced at the Cop26 climate talks to move away from the most important fossil fuel.

The British government welcomed the move away from coal announced on Energy Day at the conference as a signal that “the end is in sight” for fossil fuels, which are the major contributors to climate change.

Initiatives include a UK-led declaration on the transition from coal to clean electricity, in which countries commit to stop investing in new coal-fired power plants domestically and abroad and to rapidly expand the use of clean electricity.

The declaration also provides for them to commit to phasing out coal energy in economies in the 2030s for major economies and in the 2040s for the rest of the world, and to ensure that the move away from coal energy is fair and workers and benefit communities.

More than 40 countries have signed the declaration, including 18 that have pledged to phase out and refrain from building or investing in new coal power for the first time, such as Poland, Vietnam and Chile, the UK government said.

Separately, 28 new members have joined the UK-led Powering Past Coal Alliance to phase out the most polluting fossil fuel, including Chile, Singapore and Durban.

Efforts to quickly end the use of coal – the single largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions – are seen as key to reducing carbon emissions, putting the world on the right track to limit global warming to 1.5 ° C Beyond which the worst effects of storms, floods, droughts, forest fires and rising sea levels will be felt.

Since the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 ° C in 2015, the number of planned coal-fired power plants has been cut by 76%, which means the removal of 1,000 gigawatts of new coal-fired power plants – roughly ten times the UK’s total electricity generation capacity, said British officials.

While global coal consumption appears to have peaked around 2014, it is still not declining significantly, with heavy consumption and even increases in countries like China.

In May, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that investments in new environmentally harmful coal-fired power plants and mines as well as new oil and gas projects would have to be halted from 2021 in order to combat climate change effectively.

For the planet to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 – which are necessary to meet the internationally agreed 1.5C target – global electricity production must hit that target a decade earlier, the IEA said.

As part of the latest push, major banks, including NatWest, pledged to end coal funding after China, Japan and South Korea and the G20 pledged to stop funding coal production abroad, the government said.

Coal phasing out initiatives also include helping emerging economies move away from fossil fuels in ways that serve workers in coal-intensive economies.

Economy and Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Today marks a milestone in our global efforts to combat climate change as nations from all corners of the world come together in Glasgow to declare that coal is not a part of our future electricity generation.

“Led by the UK’s Cop26 presidency, today’s ambitious commitments from our international partners show that the end of coal is in sight.

“The world is moving in the right direction and ready to seal the fate of coal and reap the environmental and economic benefits of building a clean energy future.”

Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband said any progress in past energy supplies is welcome, but there are “glaring gaps” such as a lack of commitment by China and other major emitters to stop coal expansion in their own country – and nothing about phasing out oil – and gas.

He added, “Whether it’s flirting with a new coal mine or licensing a huge oil field here at home, too often the government has looked both ways when it comes to the climate.”

“Instead of pushing the ambition we need, as cop president it has let others off the hook,” said Miliband, calling for an exit from fossil fuels and a just transition for workers.

Juan Pablo Osornio, Head of the Greenpeace Delegation at Cop26, said: “For some countries that sign this, particularly Vietnam and Egypt, the obligation to foreclose new coal projects is important given the role coal plays in their economies.

“But overall, this statement lags far behind the ambitions required for fossil fuels in this critical decade.

“Despite the shiny headline, the small print apparently gives the countries enormous leeway to choose their own exit date.”

He said countries like Poland and Germany need a plan to end coal by 2030 at the latest, and require a solid commitment from all governments to end new coal, oil and gas projects immediately in order to stand a chance Limit global warming to 1.5C.

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