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Cop26: Alok Sharma denies climate pact failure and hails ‘historic language’ about coal

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Cop26 president Alok Sharma has denied the climate pact agreed by world leaders was a failure and defended the “historic” language on a commitment to reduce coal dependence.

In a dramatic last-minute intervention at the Glasgow summit, India and China were able to change the wording of the final deal so coal power generation would be “phased down” rather than “phased out”.

Mr Sharma – who appeared to break down briefly as he apologised to delegates and campaigners for the late change – claimed on Sunday that the weakened deal still represented progress.

“This is the first time ever that we have got language about coal in a Cop decision – I think that is absolutely historic,” the UK minister told BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show.

Asked if the pact amounted to a failure to meet ambitions, Mr Sharma said: “I wouldn’t described what we did yesterday as a failure. It’s a historic achievement. We kept 1.5 in reach.”

Asked about his emotional apology in Glasgow, Mr Sharma said: “On a personal level, I have invested enormous amounts of the last two years into this … I’d had about six hours sleep in 72 hours previously, so it was an emotional moment.”

However, the Cop26 president did condemn China and India – saying they would have to “explain themselves” to countries most at risk from the climate emergency.

Mr Sharma said: “There were certain countries that did not want coal language in this compact. We had interventions from China and India in terms of changing the wording … China and India are going to explain themselves to the most climate vulnerable countries in the world.”

Defending his role in the late, behind-the-scenes language change on coal, Mr Sharma explained: “My job was to build consensus. At the end of the day, the reason we were able to get this over the line is because over two years my team and I have built trust among countries around the world.”

Meanwhile, many of the countries most vulnerable to climate were angry that a proposed funding facility to pay for loss and damage from extreme weather events floods was kicked into the long grass.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said the “compromise” deal had failed to achieve many of the Cop26 goals – including ending fossil fuel subsidies, putting a price on carbon, and making good on a long-standing promise for $100bn a year of support for developing countries.

“Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread,” said Mr Guterres following the end of the summit. “We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.”

But Mr Sharma insisted the final pact was “historic” and said the Glasgow climate summit had achieved its goal of keeping global warming within 1.5C “within reach”.

“I can tell you that I have had lots of messages since last night from ministers in many of those [climate vulnerable] countries, thanking us for what the UK has done,” he told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme. “For the fact we’ve closed off the Paris rulebook, for the fact that there is more money on the table to support them,” he added.

“This is a start. We’ve got one year of our presidency, we need to make it count and that means we need to hold countries to account for the commitments that we were made and those commitments have to be translated into action.”

The UN’s climate change chief Patricia Espinosa said on Sunday that 1.5C target was still “definitely alive” after the conference in Glasgow.

She told the BBC: “We are very far from that goal, but we did manage to get together this big package of different decisions that … gives us very, very specific direction on what we need to work on in order to get there.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the two-week summit was a “missed opportunity”, claiming the prime minister was partly to blame for its limited achievements.

Mr Johnson and Mr Sharma will be grilled over the climate deal agreed in Glasgow at a press conference later on Sunday. The pair will be answering questions about the global pact at Downing Street at 5pm.

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