UN conference host Britain said 77 countries had pledged to phase out coal, dirtiest of the fossil fuels that drive global warming, as a study showed the carbon dioxide they release into the atmosphere had rebounded to near pre-pandemic levels.
“We were expecting to see some rebound,” said the study’s lead author Pierre Friedlingstein, a climate modeling researcher at the University of Exeter. “What surprised us was the intensity and rapidity of the rebound.”
Alok Sharma, British president of the COP26 conference in Glasgow, said the two-week meeting was on its way to gradually ending use of the world’s most widely used fuel – for which demand is set to hit a new record this year.
He said on Thursday, November 4, 77 countries had signed a pledge to phase out coal-fueled power plants – which produce more than 35% of the world’s electricity – and stop building new ones.
“Today I think we can say that the end of coal is in sight,” Sharma told the conference.
But the list published on Thursday left out both India and China, which is home to almost half the over 2,600 coal-fired plants operating or under construction around the world.
It also contains no commitment to stop financing new plants.
Many developing countries, not least China, India and Indonesia, rely on cheap, accessible coal and other fossil fuels to grow, despite their costs to the environment and health.
Britain had said on Wednesday, November 3, it expected 190 nations and organizations to sign the non-binding pledge, in which richer countries would phase out coal power before 2040, and poorer countries before 2050.
Poorer countries say they need financial help to end their reliance on coal – and richer countries have failed to meet a promise of providing $100 billion a year in “climate finance” by 2020.
“We need to have funding to retire coal earlier and to build the new capacity of renewable energy,” said Sri Mulyani Indrawati, finance minister of Indonesia, which is the world’s biggest coal exporter and relies on coal for 65% of its energy.
Initiatives to provide financial help are appearing, however.
The Climate Investment Funds (CIF), backed by some of the world’s biggest economies, said India, Indonesia and the Philippines would benefit from a multibillion dollar pilot program to speed their transition from coal to clean energy. South Africa was unveiled on Tuesday, November 2, as the first recipient, with an $8.5 billion partnership.
The International Energy Agency, the world’s energy watchdog, says that to achieve the UN goal of ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050, no new fossil fuel plants should be approved after 2021 – a goal that the coal pledge is sure to miss.
The main aim of COP26 is to get promises of enough cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to put the world on a clear path towards capping the rise in global temperature – already up 1.1C since pre-industrial times.
In 2020, carbon dioxide emissions actually fell by 5.4% as economies ground to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the new report, produced by the Global Carbon Project, forecasts they will rebound by 4.9% this year.
The United Nations says a rise above 1.5C would tip the Earth into potentially irreversible climate effects that would dwarf the intensifying storms, heatwaves, droughts and floods that it is already experiencing.
The UN Environment Programme on Thursday said poorer countries needed five to 10 times more money to adapt to the consequences of climate change – for instance by building dykes against flooding or restoring coral reefs to absorb ocean waves – than they are currently receiving.
At least 20 countries plan to commit at the summit to stop public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of next year, according to two people familiar with the talks.
Financial institutions are expected to step up by announcing mechanisms to help countries quit coal.
More countries may also join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, led by Denmark and Costa Rica and due for launch next week, by pledging to end fossil fuel production within their own borders.
There was a reality check, however, for one of the most eye-catching announcements of the conference – a pledge by more than 100 world leaders to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by the end of the decade.
Indonesia, home to huge tropical rainforests, said the agreement on Monday, November 1, was at odds with its own development plans.
In 2019 alone, an area of Indonesian forest and other land half the size of Belgium was burned for palm oil plantations.
“Forcing Indonesia to zero deforestation in 2030 is clearly inappropriate and unfair,” Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, who attended the summit, said in a tweet. – Rappler.com