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People look at the Jaenschwalde lignite coal-fired power plant

People look at the Jaenschwalde lignite coal-fired power plant, which is among the biggest single emitters of CO2 in Europe, on October 29, 2021, in Peitz, Germany. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

If Fighting Climate Crisis Is the Goal, Critics Say COP26 Coal Reduction Deal 'Falls Spectacularly Short'

"Agreed at COP26 is an inadequate agreement that allows coal to continue for nearly 20 more years."

Andrea Germanos

COP26 officials on Thursday are heralding developments they say signal that "the end of coal is in sight"—but advocates for strong climate action suggest holding the applause.

"An agreement that only tackles coal doesn't even solve half the problem."

"Agreed at COP26 is an inadequate agreement that allows coal to continue for nearly 20 more years," tweeted Extinction Rebellion. "But that's excluding major nations who refuse to sign at all."

Among the key developments at the ongoing climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland is the new Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement signed by nearly four dozen countries, though notably not the U.S., China, or Australia——among the world's top coal producers.

With the statement, signatories pledge to "make clean power the most affordable and accessible option globally, with ensuing economic and health benefits as we build back better from the Covid pandemic." By signing, countries commit to four specific actions:

  • To rapidly scale up our deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures in our economies;
  • To rapidly scale up technologies and policies in this decade to achieve a transition away from unabated coal power generation in the 2030s (or as soon as possible thereafter) for major economies and in the 2040s (or as soon as possible thereafter) globally;
  • To cease issuance of new permits for new unabated coal-fired power generation projects, cease new construction of unabated coal-fired power generation projects, and to end new direct government support for unabated international coal-fired power generation;
  • To strengthen our domestic and international efforts to provide a robust framework of financial, technical, and social support to affected workers, sectors, and communities to make a just and inclusive transition.

A United Nations-led report released last month said that global governments' plans and projections would lead to about 240% more coal in 2030 than would be consistent with meeting the 1.5°C warming limit.

The U.K. government, which is chairing the climate summit, also welcomed the Wednesday addition of 28 new members to the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), which encourages richer countries to phase out coal by 2030 and other nations by 2050. Neither the U.S. nor Australia is listed as an alliance member.

In an additional development at the summit, over 20 nations, including the U.S., vowed Thursday to stop public financing for international fossil fuel projects, including coal, by the end of next year.

"From the start of the U.K.’s presidency," declared COP26 President Alok Sharma, "we have been clear that COP26 must be the COP that consigns coal to history. With these ambitious commitments we are seeing today, the end of coal power is now within sight."

But Murray Worthy, campaign leader at Global Witness, was far less enthusiastic. He issued a statement reflecting concerns about the agreement to phase out coal power. 

"This announcement falls spectacularly short of what this moment requires," he said.

"An agreement that only tackles coal doesn't even solve half the problem," Worthy said, adding that "emissions from oil and gas already far outstrip coal."

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