End of coal era looms – but concerns it is not soon enough in climate fight

·5-min read
Coal power plant (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Archive)
Coal power plant (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Archive)

Dozens of countries have signed up to moves to curb the use of fossil fuel energy to limit dangerous global warming at key Cop26 climate talks.

In efforts hailed as putting the end of coal in sight after 250 years, at least 23 nations made new commitments to phase out coal power, including five of the top 20 users, Indonesia South Korea, Poland Vietnam, Chile and Ukraine.

But the world’s biggest polluter, China along with other major users and producers – the US, India and Australia – are not part of the efforts, prompting warnings the end will not come soon enough.

And despite signing up to the new commitments, Indonesia has left itself the option of building new plants while Poland has only pledged to phase out coal in the 2040s.

Separately, 28 new members, including six countries, have signed up to the UK-led “powering past coal alliance”, which includes firm dates to phase out the use of the most polluting fossil fuel.

This is one more nail in the coffin of coal, but only one, and the coffin is not yet sealed

Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace

In another move, 25 countries including the US, Canada, Italy and Denmark have signed a UK-led joint statement committing to ending international public support for the unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022 and to focus on clean energy instead.

The push at the crucial conference in Glasgow comes as scientists warn that carbon emissions from fossil fuels look set to rebound to close to pre-pandemic levels in 2021 – and could even rise further in 2022.

Some 46 countries have signed up to a UK-led non-binding coal to clean power transition statement, including the 23 making commitments for the first time to phase out coal.

The statement commits countries signing up to ending all investment in new coal power generation domestically and internationally and rapidly scaling up deployment of clean power generation.

It also sees them commit to phasing out coal power in the 2030s for major economies and the 2040s for the rest of the world and to ensure the shift away from coal power is fair and benefits workers and communities, though signatories do not have to commit to all parts of the statement

Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International executive director, said: “This is one more nail in the coffin of coal, but only one, and the coffin is not yet sealed.”

She said the signature of countries such as Vietnam and Egypt were “more proof that coal is dying”, but warned that: “Without the USA, Australia, China and India there’s still a very real danger that the end won’t come soon enough.”

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

She said the deadline of the 2030s for richer countries was a “loophole” could allow Germany to stick to its “way too late” 2038 phase out date.

“So, there’s been some heavy spin here, but even taking that into account, this is still a bad day for coal.”

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said: “Any progress towards powering past coal is welcome, but glaring gaps remain.

“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.”

In the wake of the announcements, Cop26 President Alok Sharma said: “Thanks to a package of support from the UK and our international partners, a 190-strong coalition has today agreed to phase out coal power and support for new coal power plants.

“I think we can say with confidence that coal is no longer king.”

He said he would like to see “more detail” from China on its plans to reduce coal after it failed to sign up to the international efforts to phase out its use.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

Efforts to swiftly end the use of coal – the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – are seen as key to cutting carbon enough to get the world on track to limit global warming to 1.5C, beyond which the worst impacts of storms, floods, droughts, wildfires and rising seas will be felt.

Since the Paris climate accord to limit global warming to 1.5C to 2C was agreed in 2015, there has been a 76% cut in the number of new coal plants planned, a cancellation of 1,000 gigawatts of new coal plants, helped by the rapid fall in costs of renewable power.

But while it appears the world’s use of coal peaked in around 2014, it is still not falling significantly, with heavy use and even increases in countries such as China.

The International Energy Agency has warned that all unabated coal power must be phased out by 2040 to meet the goal to cut emissions to net zero by 2050 – needed to curb temperature rises to no more than 1.5C.

Under the latest push, major banks including NatWest have committed to ending finance for coal, in a move coming after commitments from China, Japan and South Korea and the G20 to end overseas finance for coal generation.

Initiatives to phase out coal also include support for emerging economies including finance for South Africa, and partnerships for Indonesia and the Philippines with the Asian Development Bank to back the early retirement of coal plants.

The past few days in Glasgow have shown that momentum away from coal is gathering pace

Leo Roberts, E3G

Leo Roberts, from climate think tank E3G, said: “The past few days in Glasgow have shown that momentum away from coal is gathering pace, with new partnerships, tools and money coming together to consign coal to history.”

He added that the breadth and depth of announcements and initiatives being announced on Thursday were an indication of how rapidly the shift away from coal is gathering pace, saying: “These announcements collectively demonstrate the era of coal is coming to an end.”

Read More

Scores of countries pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030

Johnson hails end of the ‘great chainsaw massacre’ of the world’s forests

COP26: More than 100 countries sign up to end deforestation by 2030

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting