The COP26 conference finished 26 hours late on November 13, with a last-minute intervention by India watering down the final agreement’s commitment on coal.
The Indian delegate, Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, in the final hours objected to the agreement’s commitment to “phasing out” unabated coal-fired generation, instead inserting the weaker “phasing down,” into the document.
The coal article also does not set any time limits for an end to call-fired generation.
India’s action, supported by China, was met with widespread disappointment by a number of country’s delegates, especially from developing and island nations, but the agreement was adopted unanimously, as required, at 8 pm on the evening of Saturday 13.
Critics claim the deal does not go far enough and will prove unable to limit global warming to 1.5C by the end of the century.
Conference chairman Alok Sharma spoke strongly against the intervention by China and India, while also welcoming the entry of coal into a COP agreement for the first time.
India and China will “have to explain themselves to poor nations,” he said.
“We are on the way to consigning coal to history. This is an agreement we can build on. But in the case of China and India, they will have to explain to climate-vulnerable countries why they did what they did,” he said, the Guardian reported.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was bullish, however, saying the deal signed in Scotland “sounded the death knell for coal power.”
China’s support for India came after the phrase “phasing down of coal,” was included in the US and China’s bilateral Declaration on November 10. Beijing said in this agreement with the US that it would phase down coal consumption.
And Yadav had said earlier in the day on November 13, saying he disagreed with the language on fossil fuel subsidies and that the draft lacked balance.
India may have taken last-minute action to change the wording of the deal, but the country itself is making progress to deal with coal. On the first day of the conference in Glasgow, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced 2070 as its target date for net zero, and the COP26 agreement is the first time it has signed any agreement about moving away from the fuel.
Crucially, India is the leading developing nation to argue that it needs coal to meet rising power demand and to accelerate economic growth.
“India setting a net-zero target and agreeing to phase down of coal is surely a step forward from where it was in terms of national policies and commitments before arriving at COP this year,” said Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in India.
Dahiya said India’s first step should be to set a target date for peak coal.
“If India formulates a detailed plan for coal phase-down and aggressive renewable energy deployment, they will be on track to diminishing coal capacity and consumption,” he said.
Nicholas Stern, a UK climate economist, was also hopeful about the wider success of the conference and the consensus on 1.5C and moving away from coal.
“The last-minute watering down of this statement is unfortunate but is unlikely to slow down a strong momentum past coal, a dirty fuel of an earlier era, he said.”
Green think-tank E3G said the deal “offers a political lifeline for accelerating action to keep [the] temperature rise below 1.5C and respond to rising climate impacts.”
The think-tank highlighted that while the agreement covered a wide range of issues, coal was the key political issue.
“The political fireworks over the coal and fossil fuel language on the floor of the plenary show the vital role of coal in climate action.,” E3G said.
On the other hand, E3G said that the progress made on adaptation and loss and damage was not enough for developing countries. But it failed to offer dedicated finance for loss and damage, and vulnerable countries have agreed to compromise on the understanding that more help will be coming soon, including on loss & damage finance.
“Delivering on their promises in the next 12 months will be key to addressing the disappointment raised by some on the plenary floor that the deal didn’t go far enough. Alongside countries’ pledges on cutting emissions from coal, methane and deforestation and unlocking trillions of dollars of finance, the negotiated deal shows the Leaders’ level politics has shifted. The real test of the Glasgow Climate Pact will be whether finance ministries take the tough decisions over the next 24 months to deliver on the faster action now promised to their citizens.,” said Alex Scott, E3G Climate diplomacy and Geopolitics lead.
However, despite the final change on coal, there were a number of achievements at the conference,
The agreement has urged governments to improve and republish new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), containing more ambitious emissions reduction targets for 2030, by the end of 2022.
Countries are now expected to bring their NDCs into line with the 1.5C goal at the next COP in Egypt in 2022.
The NDCs now in place after Glasgow would result in 2.4C of global warming in 2011, when compared to pre-industrial temperatures.
Countries are also expected to constantly update and improve their NDCs in years to come.
Meanwhile, the document also stressed that developed countries should increase climate finance for developing countries beyond the current $100bn target.
Meanwhile, the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) aligned over $130 trillion in private finance behind net zero.
This commits around 40% of the world’s financial assets to limiting global warming to 1.5C.
The document also called for the “doubling” cash for adaptation, or loss and damage payments to developing countries in order to repair what climate change has already done, such as flooding and drought.
What the world can take away from Glasgow is the now universal acceptance that fossil fuels and CO2 emissions cause global warming, and that the 1.5C target for 2010 is needed. Even India and China have agreed to this principle, even though they forced a climb-down on coal.
Other plusses were a list of agreements on sectoral issues, principally deforestation, ending coal and reducing methane emissions. These contained more definite dates and targets.