Glasgow climate talks must consign coal power to history, Cop26 president urges

·4-min read

Cop26 must consign coal power to history, signal the end of polluting vehicles and call time on deforestation, the president of the climate summit has urged.

In a speech from Whitelee wind farm, outside Glasgow, Alok Sharma said the United Nations meeting in the city in November was the “last hope” for keeping the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C alive.

And despite the ongoing pandemic, he said he hoped to see a physical summit in which delegates from developing countries were able to sit around a table, face-to-face, with the world’s biggest polluters.

In a press conference after the speech he said details of how the conference could be delivered safely for delegates and the people of Glasgow – such as vaccines and testing – were being worked through and would be set out later.

In the speech, he relayed a message from his daughters to world leaders urging them to “pick the planet”, and take action to slash emissions to keep alive the aim of limiting warming to 1.5C – as countries signed up to in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Mr Sharma said keeping to 1.5C of warming – beyond which hundreds of millions more people will be hit by the impact of climate change and many more species will lose their habitats – was critical.

And he said: “If we are serious about 1.5C, Glasgow must be the Cop that consigns coal power to history, the Cop that signals the end of polluting vehicles, the Cop that tackles methane emissions, and that calls time on deforestation, by making sustainable production pay.”

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He urged countries to abandon coal power plants, as the UK has committed to do by 2024 – although there has been criticism of plans to open a mine in Cumbria for coal in use in steel production – and to commit to all new cars being zero emission by 2040, or earlier.

Countries should use the Covid-19 recovery to reimagine their economies, as the investments being made to repair the damage inflicted by the pandemic would shape the decade.

“Whether we like it or not, whether through action or inaction, we are now choosing the future,” he warned.

Mr Sharma also said that delivering on a decade-old pledge to ensure 100 billion dollars (£71 billion) a year in public and private finance would flow to developing countries to help them cope with climate change was “a matter of trust”.

The Government has said it will double its climate aid contribution and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he wants to secure a “substantial pile of cash” from leaders of major economies at the G7 meeting next month for climate finance.

Quizzed on whether the UK also needed to reverse its cuts to overall aid, which was reduced from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5% in the face of the pandemic, Mr Sharma said the country would still be providing £10 billion of support in the next year to support some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

“We are still one of the biggest overseas aid donors in the world.

“We are doubling the climate finance commitment, and we’ve also said the shift to 0.5% is temporary and as the economy improves then we will look to reinstate this and I very much hope that is what’s going to happen,” he said.

The Armadillo
The Armadillo at Scottish Event Campus will be one of the venues for the conference (Andrew Milligan/PA)

In the speech, he said: “This is our last hope of keeping 1.5C alive, our best chance of building a brighter future, a future of green jobs and cleaner air.

“I have faith that world leaders will rise to the occasion and not be found wanting in their tryst with destiny.

“That, in six months’ time, when we are packing up and going home, we will be able to say that at this critical juncture, each of us took responsibility, that we chose to act, and that we kept 1.5C alive.”

Kate Blagojevic, head of climate at Greenpeace UK, welcomed Mr Sharma’s commitment to the 1.5C goal, but said more action was needed.

“The UK can’t claim climate leadership overseas whilst at home the Government continues to entertain a new coal mine in Cumbria or maintains the planning block on English onshore wind,” she said.

“With only six months left, the clock is ticking – if the Government wants to be climate leaders, it’s time they act like it.”

Leo Roberts, coal transition expert at climate group E3G said: “Putting the world on course to ending coal power generation is the single largest action the COP26 presidency could deliver in Glasgow.”

He said it would be the major enabler to ensure that countries were able to achieve their targets to cut emissions to net zero by mid-century – which involves reducing pollution to almost nothing, with steps such as planting trees to absorb what is left.

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