In a fight to curb climate change, several major coal-using countries on Thursday announced steps to wean themselves – at times more slowly – from heavily polluting fossil fuels.
The resolution to phase out coal comes on top of other promises made at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, which the head of an International Energy Organization said by several tenths of a degree below projections of future warming. is trimmed. But outside experts called that optimistic.
Optimism also abounds with regard to promises over coal, which has the dirtiest carbon footprint of the major fuels and is a significant source of planet-warming emissions.
“Today, I think we can say that the end of coal is near,” said Alok Sharma, who is presiding over the conference of nearly 200 countries, popularly known as COP26.
Critics say the vision is obscured by a lot of smoke as several major economies have yet to set a date to end their reliance on the fuel, including the United States, China, India and Japan – which was called by protesters on Thursday. The summit was targeted outside the site. dressed as animated characters.
What the nations have promised is different. Some have promised to give up coal altogether at a future date, while others say they will stop building new plants, and even more so, to stop funding new coal plants abroad, including in China. are doing.
The British government pledged new or earlier deadlines to eliminate coal use from more than 20 countries, including Ukraine, Vietnam, South Korea, Indonesia and Chile.
Some came with notable caveats, such as Indonesia’s request for additional aid to push its deadline to the 2040s.
Meanwhile, Poland, the second largest user of coal in Europe after Germany, backed away from any ambitious new commitments within hours of the announcement.
“Energy security and jobs assurance is a priority for us,” Poland’s climate and environment minister Anna Moskwa said in a tweet, citing the government’s current plan, which “provides a departure from hard coal by 2049.” Earlier in the day it looked like Poland could extend that deadline by at least a decade.
Campaigners reacted angrily at the apparent U-turn.
“Moskva underscores that her government cannot be trusted to sign postcards, let alone a responsible climate pledge,” said Catherine Gutmann, campaign director for Europe Beyond Cole Group.
Separately, more than two dozen countries, cities and companies joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance, whose members commit to ending coal use by 2030 for developed countries, and later by 2050 for developing countries. No. Banks that are members pledge not to give loans for the worst kind of coal-fired power plants.
Meanwhile, the United States, Canada, Denmark and several other countries signed a separate pledge to prioritize the funding of clean energy over fossil fuel projects abroad.
While not completely ruling out financial support for coal-fired power plants, the countries said they would refrain from any “new direct public support” for coal except in limited circumstances.
That move was seen as a significant move by environmental campaigners, who said it could prompt international lenders to stop providing loans for new fossil fuel projects.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, to discuss the officials’ thinking, said the US had not opted to engage in coal phase-out promises, but that its commitment to a clean energy future was clear. The Biden administration wants to reach 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035.
Underscoring the urgent need for action on coal, a new analysis by scientists at the Global Carbon Project found that emissions from the fuel increased dramatically in 2021, not only from the pandemic-hit 2020 levels, but also in the past. Even compared to the level of pandemic 2019. The group tracking annual carbon pollution said the world spewed 14.7 billion metric tons (16.2 billion tons) of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, a 5.7% increase from last year.
The report said it was mostly driven by dramatic growth in China, which this year reached a new peak of coal emissions of 7.6 billion metric tons (8.4 billion tons) of carbon dioxide, more than half the world’s coal emissions. Is.
Still, experts said the announcement made so far at the summit and others showed the increasing pace of digging coal.
“Today’s commitments will help move entire continents on the journey to phase out coal,” said Dave Jones of energy think tank Amber.
Ukraine, Europe’s third largest coal consumer, is pushing its coal deadline from 2050 to 2035.
Coal production in Ukraine has dropped significantly over the years: from 40.9 million metric tons in 2016 to 28.8 million in 2020 (from 45 million tons to 32 million), according to the Ministry of Energy.
The figures do not include production in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine’s coal fields, which before the 2014 uprising accounted for about half of Ukraine’s mines.
“The coal progress being shown at COP26 shows that the conditions are ripe for global coal exhaustion,” said Leo Roberts, a senior researcher at environmental think tank E3G.
“We now need to rapidly provide the massive coming in clean energy finance to ensure that all countries move from coal to clean,” he said.
But some environmental activists said the commitments didn’t go far enough.
“Emissions from oil and gas are already far outnumbered by coal and booming, while coal is already entering a terminal decline,” said Murray Worth of the campaign group Global Witness. “It’s a small step when a big leap was needed.”
The agreements on coal are not part of the formal talks at the UN talks in Glasgow. But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose country is hosting the conference, said he would like to see deals on coal, cars, trees and cash.
International Energy Agency chief Fatih Birol said on Thursday that a new analysis by the Paris-based body shows it is fully achieving all emissions-reduction promises made in the past – including the potent greenhouse gas methane – May allow the world limit warnings to 1.8 °C (3.2 °F) above pre-industrial levels.
The goal that countries set at the last conference in Paris is to limit temperature rise to 1.5C (2.7F). A United Nations analysis showed that the world was headed for an increase of 2.7C (4.9F) before Glasgow, while other analyzes also showed warming in the mid to upper -2-degree range.
Niklas Höhne of the New Climate Institute and Climate Action Tracker called Birol’s figure optimistic, saying it is based on countries receiving pledges to emit only what can be absorbed – so-called net-zero plans – When they haven’t implemented any action yet that will get them there.