After two years of planning and 14 days of negotiations, the Glasgow climate pact was adopted on Saturday (13 Nov). The pact is a first layer of recognition of the need to transition away from fossil fuels. While the focus of COP26 was on giving up coal-based power altogether, as expected, coal became a major bone of contention.
While issuing concluding remarks at the summit, the COP26 president Alok Sharma said that India and China will need to explain to developing nations why they pushed to water down the language on efforts to phase out coal at the COP26 conference.
“In terms of the reaction of developing nations, I think you heard that Tina Stege for instance who represent the Marshall Islands, talked about the fact that she was bitterly hurt as a result of that change. These are countries on the front line of climate change. For them 1.5 is really bad news and 2 degrees is a death sentence. Of course it mattered to them and there were lots of emotions there. In terms of China and India, they will on this particular issue have to explain themselves to developing countries,” said Alok Sharma.
The original draft had contained a pledge to phase out coal and India introduced an amendment at the last moment to replace this phrase with the words “phase down.”
According to reports, this amendment came as a result of consultations among India, China, the UK, and the US. Not just that, during the final minutes before the COP26 joint statement was released, China played a crucial part in pushing for the change in language.
However, it was not India that first called for phasing down of coal instead of phasing out. The phrase first found its mention in the much celebrated US and China climate agreement. “The statement lays out important steps on CO2 emissions as well including the need to accelerate using best efforts by all of us to “phase down” unabated coal in this decade as fast as is achievable,” said John Kerry during the announcement.
While it was the US and China that had embraced the coinage coal phase down, India had a different contention; one that focused only on coal would disproportionately impact developing countries, it wanted all fossil fuels to be phased down.
But such an equitable fossil fuel phase out would have put the burden squarely on the United States and rich European countries. India called out this inequity but was branded as “obstructing” the process.
Coal was a topic of contention at the COP26 summit and one of the major disapprovers was Australia. Just last week, the second largest coal exporter in the world vowed to continue to sell coal for the next few decades. It even conveniently skipped the session on phasing out coal at the summit.
Australia has the highest per capita coal emissions in the G20 and in the world it stands at 5.34 tons of carbon dioxide per year. The average Australian emits five time more CO2 from coal power than the average person globally.
China is the world’s largest coal power consumer and has the fifth highest per capita coal emissions in the G20 at 2.71 tons of carbon dioxide per year. The average person in China emits 2.5 times more CO2 from coal power than the global average.
It is the same story for the United States too as the US has the fourth highest per capita coal emissions in the G20 at 3.08 tons of carbon dioxide per year and the average American emits almost three times more C02 from coal power than the global average.