COP26: Countries commit to shifting away from coal at COP26 - but campaigners say promised action isn't enough

·5-min read

Scores of major coal using countries like Poland, Ukraine and Vietnam have committed to phase out coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels, in a series of commitments announced at the COP26 climate talks.

The countries who have signed up will rapidly scale up the deployment of clean power generation, the UK government said.

It includes a commitment by 18 countries to phase out and not build or invest in new coal power for the first time.

However, China - whose President Xi chose not to take up the invitation to attend the climate talks in Glasgow - has seen increases in its use of coal, putting the impact of this statement agreed by numerous countries into question.

China makes up 55% of the global "pipeline" of coal projects by power generation - coal power facilities that have been proposed and are waiting to be designed, licenced, built or started up.

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said there were "glaring gaps" such as a lack of commitment from China and other large emitters to stop increasing coal at home.

He added: "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.

"Rather than driving the ambition we need, as COP president it has let others off the hook."

Meanwhile Juan Pablo Osornio, head of Greenpeace's delegation at COP26, said "overall this statement still falls well short of the ambition needed on fossil fuels in this critical decade".

He added: "The small print seemingly gives countries enormous leeway to pick their own phaseout date, despite the shiny headline."

On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden lashed out at both his Chinese and Russian counterparts Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin for their failure to turn up to the COP26 climate summit.

Addressing reporters at the end of the second day of the climate conference in Glasgow, the president of the United States said China had "walked away" on the biggest issue of our time and described President Xi's absence as a "big mistake".

President Biden went on to suggest that "China has lost influence" in not accepting the invitation to attend the event.

However, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed concerns that Chinese President Xi's absence from the summit has hampered its chance of success, saying it "doesn't mean the Chinese are not engaging".

Mr Johnson said China has already made "a substantial commitment" in pledging to move to net zero by 2060 or before, but added that more "commitments" are needed.

Highlights from COP26 so far:

• UK will force financial firms and major businesses to publish plans about how they will get to net zero

• Rishi Sunak also announced 40% of global assets totalling $130 trillion will align with the Paris Agreement

• New pledges from COP26 could bring projected warming to below 2°C for the first time in history, researchers say

• At least 110 countries representing 85% of the world's forests agreed to end and reverse deforestation by 2030.

• Scores of world leaders signed a pledge to slash potent climate heating gas methane by 30% by 2030, which significantly help slow short term warming

• Japan committed extra $10bn climate finance over five years, meaning rich countries could hit $100bn a year target one year sooner than expected, US climate envoy John Kerry said, as it "has the ability to leverage" a further $8bn

• Over 40 world leaders back plan to fund clean technology around the world by 2030, the UK government announced

• India finally came forward with a net zero promise - the 2070 target is 20 years later than the key 2050 date but still a big step forward, especially with its commitment to significantly slash emissions by 2030

The new statement also sees the more than 40 signatory countries commit to phasing out coal power in the 2030s for major economies and the 2040s for the rest of the world.

Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the pledges on coal mark "a milestone moment in our global efforts to tackle climate change".

Mr Kwarteng added: "Spearheaded by the UK's COP26 presidency, today's ambitious commitments made by our international partners demonstrate that the end of coal is in sight.

"The world is moving in the right direction, standing ready to seal coal's fate and embrace the environmental and economic benefits of building a future that is powered by clean energy."

Attempts to rapidly end the use of coal are important as the fossil fuel is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

The move is seen as crucial to cutting carbon enough to get the world on track to limit global warming to 1.5C

In September, a report by Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G) on the "collapse" of the new coal power plant projects since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement stated that, in the past six years, 76% of the "pipeline" by forecasted power generation has been cut worldwide.

The UK has been praised for its leadership on the matter, having committed to turning off all its coal power plants by 2024.

However, there are concerns about a proposed coal mine in the northwest of England, which would be used to assist in steel production.

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