Major coal countries Poland and Vietnam are among 18 nations committing to phase out the use of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel for the first time, the government said.
Coal-fired power is the single largest driver of global temperature rise and ending its use will be crucial to getting the world on track for limiting global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the aspiration of the Paris Agreement.
Announcing the news, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said it marked “a milestone moment in our global efforts to tackle climate change”.
Nations agreeing to a new UK-led statement have committed to ending all investment in new coal power generation at home and overseas, the government said.
It added that the pact will see major economies phasing out coal power in the 2030s and the rest of the world ending use in the 2040s.
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But a landmark report from the International Energy Agency said that rich nations should phase out coal by 2030 at the latest, with the rest of the world joining by 2040, if the world is to reach net zero. It added that investment in all fossil fuels must end immediately.
Jamie Peters, director of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, said: “The key point in this underwhelming announcement is that coal is basically allowed to continue as normal for years yet.
“Some people may hear what the prime minister said at the opening of Cop, compare it to this, and wonder why there is such a difference between words and action.”
Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst for the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said the news was promising but firmer targets were necessary.
“With well over 90 per cent of the world’s coal use now covered by phase-out plans or net-zero targets...the commitments made at Glasgow have made it abundantly clear that coal will be consigned to history in the coming decades,” he said.
“Given the urgency of emission reductions to keep the Paris Agreement goal in sight, and the heavy burden of air pollution on public health, it is however essential for countries to firm up their targets for this decade.
Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband added that major polluters were missing from the agreement.
“Any progress towards powering past coal is welcome, but glaring gaps remain,” he said.
“There is no commitment from large emitters like China to stop increasing coal at home, and nothing on the phase-out of other fossil fuels.”
He added that the UK’s reluctance to end all new fossil fuel production undermined its efforts to convince other countries to give up coal.
“Whether it’s flirting with a new coal mine or licensing a massive oil field here at home, too often the government has been looking both ways on climate,” he said.
“Rather than driving the ambition we need, as Cop President it has let others off the hook.”
The UK government also announced 28 new members have today signed up to its Powering Past Coal Alliance, an initiative it co-chairs with countries including Chile and Singapore.
In April, the NGO Reclaim Finance accused the initiative of being “not fit for purpose” after its analysis found that many members were still involved in financing coal.
Patrick McCully, senior analyst at Reclaim Finance, said: “We do need to make coal history, and fast. But sadly, this new coalition replicates the failings of the Powering Past Coal Alliance. Put bluntly, the PPCA doesn’t do what it says on the tin.”
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