Over 40 countries have agreed to phase out their use of coal-fired power, the dirtiest fossil fuel of all.
Set to be announced at COP26 on Thursday, the UK-led Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement will see a total of 190 countries and organizations agree to phase out and not build or invest in new coal power. The pledge says bigger economies must phase out their use of coal for electricity generation in the 2030s, and smaller economies to do so in the 2040s.
However, the bid to “consign coal to history” hit a rocky start. Some of the world's most coal-dependent countries, including Australia, India, China, and the US have not signed up to pledge. On the other hand, it did manage to catch the signatures of a number of coal-hungry countries, such as Indonesia, South Korea, Poland, Vietnam, and Chile.
Coal is the single biggest contributor to human-driven climate change, with the burning of coal contributing to around 46 percent of carbon dioxide emissions globally. On top of this, it’s a significant contributor to air pollution.
In a separate move, the Powering Past Coal Alliance — an international coalition of countries, regions, and organizations aimed at phasing out the fuel — announced on November 4 it had secured 28 new members, including Ukraine, Chile, Singapore, Mauritius, Azerbaijan, Slovenia, and Estonia.
Coal is already on the way out in many parts of the planet; the world has seen a 76 percent drop in the number of new coal plants planned over the past 6 years. However, this new pledge has been heralded as another significant nail in the coffin by some, especially the UK government who wished to make phasing out coal a central objective of their COP Presidency.
"Today marks a milestone moment in our global efforts to tackle climate change as nations from all corners of the world unite in Glasgow to declare that coal has no part to play in our future power generation,” Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK Business & Energy Secretary, said in a statement. “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,” he added.
Others, however, were not so convinced. Some UK politicians criticized the pledge for not being ambitious enough, vague, and filled with potential loopholes.
"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," tweeted Ed Miliband, the UK's Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Greenpeace was also critical of the commitments. Quoted by Sky News, 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."
"The small print seemingly gives countries enormous leeway to pick their own phaseout date, despite the shiny headline," he added.